What You Should Know About Poultry Production Claims

A flock of pastured chickens and their mobile shelter, being raised for Tendergrass FarmsI’m grateful to have our friend David Maren of Tendergrass Farms pen today’s guest post. This is the first post in a three part series on the assertions that retailers make about the way their poultry, pork, and beef is raised.

Every year in the United States the average person eats about 66 pounds of poultry, comprised of about 53 pounds of chicken and 13 pounds of turkey.1 Nearly every pound of poultry sold in the US is raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) but the poultry industry is very aware of the growing demand for naturally raised alternatives. Americans spend more than $50 Billion on chicken and turkey annually2 so the financial incentive for them to cater to this shifting demand is gigantic. A few independent farms have opted to actually change the way they raise their birds but improving poultry production practices, especially raising poultry outdoors on pasture, raises the labor costs of production dramatically. For this reason many companies have decided to turn to clever marketing techniques to meet the demand for alternatives instead of actually changing the highly profitable CAFO-style system in which their birds are raised. Today, poultry production claims that boast about the superiority of certain brands’ “organic,” “cage free,” “hormone free,” or “free range” poultry can be seen almost everywhere from poultry labels in grocery stores to restaurant menus and even online meat shops’ product descriptions. Tragically, these poultry production claims are often relatively meaningless. They’re designed to paint a picture of what the customer wants to buy without requiring significant changes in the old CAFO poultry production model.

From my perspective as a grass fed and pasture raised meats farmer, the claims and the intricate marketing loopholes that poultry companies have manufactured to carve out their portion of the often ignorant and uninformed public seem extremely harmful – both to the farmer who is trying to do things right and competing in the marketplace and the consumer who isn’t eating what they think they are. Ultimately, meat companies depend on people not informing themselves and I’d like to work against that.

It’s important to start by realizing that many times poultry companies depend on their customers making assumptions about their products. Legally, they cannot technically lie on their labels, websites, or restaurant menus so a wide variety of hazy and unclear production claims are utilized to deceptively lead uninformed consumers to believe things about how their birds were raised that simply are not true. Although I cannot give an exhaustive analysis of every possible poultry production claim that’s used today I’ll do my best to shed some light on several of the terms most commonly used in the poultry industry.

Perdue Chicken

A Perdue brand “Cage Free,” vegetarian fed chicken label

“Cage Free,” Vegetarian Fed

The above label is from a Perdue brand pre-cooked whole chicken. The label has a lot on it but let’s focus in on the fact that Perdue boasts that its product was “raised cage free.” The term “cage free” means, of course, that the chicken was raised in some fashion that did not require it to live in a cage. There’s only one problem with that: no chickens or turkeys are raised for meat in cages anywhere in the world. As you’ve probably seen in photos of big chicken confinement houses, typically upwards of 20,000 chickens are packed into a warehouse-style building without a single cage. The truth is that using cages to raise chickens (or turkeys) for meat would be extremely expensive, difficult, and all-around just plain impractical. Notably, egg layer chickens are often confined to cages so it would appear that companies that claim to offer “cage free” poultry are using that fact to their advantage in hopes that consumers won’t notice the difference. Reality is that caged chicken is pretty hard to come by unless you’re eating very cheap canned chicken soup made from old spent layer hens.

In addition to the “cage free” claim, Perdue says that their chicken is fed an “all vegetarian diet.” While that may sound heartwarming at first I don’t think it’s quite as significant as one might presume. Chickens and turkeys are by nature omnivores, not vegetarians. There’s nothing they love more than a good juicy worm, cricket, or beetle. Their beaks and claws are perfectly designed to enable them to find and catch little meaty insects or even a small snake or two every once in a while. I’d be willing to bet that to a chicken the thought of having to be a vegetarian for their entire life is very depressing. (Perhaps this is something you could relate to.)

Trader Joe's Chicken

A Trader Joe’s brand “free range, USDA Organic chicken label

“Free Range”, USDA Organic

This Trader Joe’s chicken label makes several interesting claims but let’s first take a look at the fact that it crows that it is “Free Range.” The USDA’s definition of “free range” states that the birds must have “continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle.3 Doesn’t that sound just wonderful? When you read that you probably get an image in your mind of a quaint flock of a few hundred chickens pecking around in a grassy meadow beside a red barn where they roost at night to get away from the neighborhood fox. While the definition of free range theoretically could include that, the financial side of actually raising chickens on pasture is pretty hard-hitting. In most cases, “continuous access to the outdoors” is interpreted to mean that a cat door or similar contraption is screwed to one end of an existing warehouse-style confinement house where, at least in theory, the birds could venture out onto a dirt lot every once in a while if they pushed their way through the door. Note that that the regulation does not specify that the birds need to be taught to actually take advantage of their “access to the outdoors.” Truth be told, most free range chickens and turkeys never make it outside to see the light of day on the imaginary “range” that they have “access” to.

Granted, this doesn’t mean that every single farm, brand, or company that claims that their poultry is “free range” is necessarily a sham. But let’s think about this. If for you, the poultry company, the entire purpose of your production claims is to differentiate your products from those of other companies, and your birds were raised to superior standards than those that would qualify your product to be called “free range,” wouldn’t you avoid using that term for fear that consumers might not appreciate the unique standards that your farmers were adhering to? Most producers who really are going the extra mile to truly raise their animals on pasture would never use a term that would fail to distinguish their product from the common deceptively labeled “free range” products found in the grocery store. The cost of raising truly pastured poultry is many times that of raising poultry to the USDA’s “free range” standard so real pastured poultry farmers want their customers to see the difference so that they’ll pay a premium price. Look for the term “pastured” or “pasture raised” if you want a bird that was actually raised out on the free range.

The term “USDA Organic” brings along with it a plethora of USDA regulations and loopholes that I won’t even start to try to unravel here. What I would like to shed some light on, however, is a little bit about what “USDA Organic” does not mean. As a person who has spent countless hours tending to chickens and turkeys out on real grassy pasture the most striking point to make about “USDA Organic” poultry is that it is in fact not actually required to be raised outdoors as many people assume. As with the term “free range,” “USDA Organic” poultry must technically have “access for all animals to the outdoors.”4 The term access, once again, usually refers to some type of small door at the end of a conventional confinement house which the birds may or may not really use. Unless the terms “pasture raised” or “pastured,” are used, when you see “USDA Organic” chicken or turkey think “CAFO birds raised on certified organic feed without antibiotics.”

Trade Names, “Antibiotic Free” and “Hormone Free”

As I mentioned previously, it is always best to make sure that you don’t make assumptions about a product’s production claims until you know the whole story. Some online grass fed meat retailers will use trade names that include the word “grass” when describing their poultry products even though their poultry isn’t actually raised in grass. For example, a company may call it “grass prairie” poultry or “grassland” poultry. I don’t know about you, but when I see terms like that in the name of a natural chicken product I think it would sure seem to imply that the birds had some kind of relationship to land that has grass on it. Not so fast, my friend. I contacted one such company (that will go unnamed since I can’t corroborate the following conversation) recently. Their customer service representative informed me that “grass prairie poultry” is actually a trade name. I asked the representative if the product I was looking at on their website, their ground chicken, was pasture raised outdoors. She responded that the chicken was “free roaming.” I pressed a bit harder to try to find out if these birds were actually raised outdoors. Finally, she conceded that they were actually raised indoors but that they had “some access to sunlight” and that the birds were never “crated.” It sounds to me like there’s at least one window in each of their confinement houses. Incredible. The claim that they were not “crated” was almost precisely the same as Perdue’s phony “cage-free” claim above. Sorry, nobody raises meat chickens in “crates.” It’s critically important to scrutinize even your most trusted primal/paleo meats suppliers in order to hold them accountable to high standards with regard to straightforward marketing. Even your most beloved online meats shop may be taking advantage of your ignorance by using trade names to deceive you into assuming that their products are raised to higher standards than they actually are.

Additionally, many companies boast that their chicken is raised without hormones or antibiotics. As it turns out, federal regulations have never permitted hormones or steroids in poultry3 so this statement is somewhat comparable to someone claiming that their bottled water is “fat free.” Sure it is. But that’s only exciting if you know nothing about water. For the record, Tyson, Perdue, MacDonald’s, and even Wal-Mart’s Great Value chicken is also raised without artificial hormones.

The claim that ground chicken is “Antibiotic Free” is, on the other hand, a legitimate claim a company could make about a poultry product. Much of the conventional poultry raised in this country is fed subtherapeutic antibiotics every day of their lives. “Subtherapeutic” refers to the fact that these antibiotics are not meant as a specific therapy or cure for a disease but that they are intended as a growth promotant that improves the birds’ feed conversion ratio.

Heritage Foods

A screen shot from a Heritage Foods USA chicken product description page that uses the claim “raised on pasture”

“Raised on Pasture,” “Pastured”

As you can see in this Heritage Foods USA website screenshot, they boast that their birds are “raised on pasture” which is synonymous with “pastured.” This claim specifically indicates that the birds were actually raised outdoors and I have a neighbor here in southwest Virginia who has raised birds for this outfit so I can assure you that this is the real McCoy. However, as with the other claims we’ve looked at so far, it’s important to know the details before supposing too much. One common assumption is that chickens and turkeys raised on pasture only eat grass, clover, and other green leafy plants with no supplemental feed. This is virtually never the case. Being that cows are ruminants they can efficiently derive all of their necessary nutrients from forage alone (which ought to always be the case with grass fed beef) but this is not the case with poultry. Because of their comparatively simple digestive systems they need at least some highly concentrated protein in their diet.

Tendergrass Farms

A screenshot showing that Tendergrass Farms claims that their chickens and turkey are “pastured”

In theory, a pastured or pastured raised bird’s protein source could just be bugs. When a farmer has, for instance, ten or fifteen chickens on their farm at a given time the naturally occurring insects in his fields are probably sufficient.  The only problem with that is that the maximum profit per chicken that any pastured chicken farmer can expect to net is between $3.00 and $4.00 for raising each bird. (Some farmers who peddle their chicken at farmers markets may claim to make more but they must recognize that their extra “profit” is actually generated by their marketing efforts not their farming.) This means that in order for a pastured chicken farmer to earn, for example, $30,000 net income per year he or she must raise about 10,000 chickens each year. While this is a miniscule number compared to the hundreds of thousands that are raised annually by the typical CAFO chicken farmer, the number of insects that would be needed in order to keep the pastured birds fat and happy on bugs alone would be staggering. For this reason pastured poultry farmers give their chickens and turkeys ample high protein feed in addition to the forage and insects that they eat out in the pasture. This feed, at least in the case of the ration Tendergrass Farms partner farmers use, consists of non-GMO whole roasted soybeans and non-GMO corn with a touch of fish meal (for which our very non-vegetarian birds are quite grateful) but pastured poultry feed formulas vary considerably from farm to farm. In most cases, after the first few weeks of life subsequent to hatching during which the baby chicks are still too weak to survive outdoors, the birds have some type of mobile shelter that is moved onto new pasture every single day throughout their lifespan which protects them from the sun, rain, and predatory hawks (see the photo at the top of this post).

Just Ask Your Farmer, (or Google it)

There are a remarkable number of poultry production claims that I wasn’t able to cover in this post. Notice for example the fact that here at Tendergrass Farms we call our poultry and pork “Beyond Organic.” Just take the time to poke around and investigate the true meaning of the production claims you encounter. If your farmer, restaurant, grocery store, or online meats shop is honest they’ll be proud to define their terms. On our website we’ve dedicated an entire page to telling you just exactly what “Beyond Organic” means. Once you find out how the poultry was actually raised you can make an informed decision before you make your purchase. Just because a certain company’s poultry wasn’t raised outdoors doesn’t mean it’ll kill you. But don’t you want to know if you’re paying a premium price for a product that was raised in a very similar manner to Tyson’s?


1As of 2000, according to the USDA Factbook, Chapter 2, page 14: Profiling Food Consumption in America

2Based on 2010 broiler production statistics published by the USDA

3This regulation is posted on the USDA website under “National Organic Program.”

4Code of Federal Regulations, Title 7 § 205.239: Livestock living conditions.

David Maren is a husband, father, farmer, and co-founder of Tendergrass Farms. Tendergrass Farms is a cooperative-style online grass fed meats shop that exists as a bridge between the often geographically isolated family farmer and committed grass fed meats enthusiasts like yourself. The Tendergrass Farms vision is to sustain family farms through making it easy for you to purchase their meats by taking advantage of appropriate technology and ultra-efficient transportation models that enable their meats to be shipped to fans all around the USA.

If you’re not already a huge fan of Tendergrass Farms, you’re missing out: Go bookmark their site, like their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, and check out their grass fed blog!

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141 thoughts on “What You Should Know About Poultry Production Claims”

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  1. I hate that all these companies try to trick all of us as consumers into buying all these products and meats that usually aren’t what the company says they are. These companies all just seem to care about is raking in the money to keep themselves on top of the world.

    1. meat poultry not raised in cages ANYWHERE in the world? Hey, I saw them in large (approx 20 birds per) raised cages at Kibbutz Ramat David in the mid-1970’s.

    2. Given the small 3-4$ profit/chicken I can at least see why grocers are so desperate to risk their reputations doing this. Even if they are the middlemen they still probably have very low profit margins. To make more money than the competition they need something to differentiate themselves.

    3. Living in the belly of the poultry CAFO beast here on the Delmarva peninsula, I can attest to the idiocy of all claims made by the likes of Perdue and Tyson in particular. I actually had occasion to challenge their corporate PR drone on the “cage free” bullcrap and she wasn’t the least bit bashful in admitting that the American consumer has been identified by their marketing research as being a half step from a mushroom in terms of intellect… so “it’s not their fault that people are misinformed”. Pretty funny coming from the ones doing the misinforming.

      FWIW Perdue’s latest Franken-chicken can legally be claimed to be hormone and antibiotic free, according to our FDA that the chemical corporations own and operate. Along with never meeting a Genetic Mutant that they didn’t love and approve, they have blessed the mutant chickens’ being gene blasted with such goodies as the ability to produce their own antibiotics. They have also mutated the genes of the plants that make up that touted “Vegetarian” diet. The plants also now have the ability to create their own antibiotics, and there are already examples of their errant pollen infecting innocent open pollinated varieties nearby with their antibiotic madness, thereby rendering the plant permanently altered and mutated for all time. This stuff does not repair itself!
      We literally have mutant strains of corn that were never intended to be screwed with that produce their own tetracycline. Guess what happens when you eat that crap? The constant low dosing not only renders the antibiotic useless in fighting anything, it also destroys any good flora in your gut in the doing, but who needs that? The yogurt and pharmacological corporates already have a cure for whatever other ailment they’ve helped create, you just have to line up to buy it.

      You see, therein lies the real beauty of the GMO’s being unleashed upon nature… they have absolutely no idea or control over where they go or what they impact, but each new problem they create brings with it a new opportunity for a partial solution that will make them more money from your misery. Once you eat that crap it becomes you, and the result is that your DNA ends up mutating as well. In the short time that this garbage has been foisted upon us it is already so prevalent that it can be found in nearly every human on the planet… but not to worry, both the Democraps and Republitards of the U.S. Congress have seen fit to dance their pimp’s dance and declare that we need not worry our simple little minds with such worrisome nonsense as labels on the crap that is GMO. Congratulations folks… you got exactly what you voted for and deserve, and yes that especially includes Mr. Obama.

      You want food security, grow your own or make friends with a responsible like minded farmer nearby. If I want to see what my beef is eating I can drive down the road to the farm anytime that I wish, and I do, to sell them eggs, which they in turn come by and pick up anytime that they wish. Try and just drive down the lane of a Perdue, Tyson, or Hormel, animal concentration CAFO camp sometime. If the cameras and signs telling you to KEEP OUT don’t scare you away, they’ll have you arrested and prosecuted (with our government’s blessings and full support) for anything from trespass to domestic terrorism. Yeah… that’s where I want to see my food coming from. Thank gawd for Homeland Security! How could my tiny little brain possibly cope with all of these great big problems if it weren’t for my blessed government protecting me from all of those terrible heathens and dirty sustainable farms.
      Google the tainted beef recalls for National Beef Packing sometime. You’ll never eat WalMart or fast food meat again.

      As for raising sustainable, pastured, chickens. We’ve been working to eliminate the need for any off site or commercial feeds to be brought in for our critters for several years now, and while it remains a work in progress, we have made substantial strides, so don’t give up and except that commercial and GMO polluted crap is an unavoidable consequence. Our farming now includes raising everything from service fly larva, meal worms, and dubia roaches, to spirulina algae, fruits, vegetables, and our own non-GMO grains, just to feed our critters. Not only does it reduce our production costs, but it also accomplishes further decoupling us from Mother Oil and the ubiquitous spread of genetic mutants.

      Folks need to stop looking for everything worthwhile to be made easy for them. Easy is what has them all lining up to drive by windows to handle their fake money, buy their fake food, and get their daily dose of anti-depressants and cholesterol pharmaceuticals. All they need now is a drive thru window on the drug rehab.
      America… probably the only country on the planet where it’s easier to buy tar heroin than it is a gallon of raw milk. The jail sentence is probably lighter too. 🙁

      1. Great comments, and the fact that you made your name John Galt makes them even better haha

    1. That’s what I was thinking, why the heck would a chicken eat grass? I’ve had friends who raised chickens for eggs and I never saw the hens eat grass, or even have a preference for grassy areas over regular dirt.

        1. I have pastured hens (8) and they definitely eat grass as well as bugs, lizards, seeds, and scraps.

        2. I used the book Chicken Tractor to build my moveable chicken shelter and to learn about raising pastured chickens.

      1. My neighbor’s chickens like to eat small clover buds. I’ve never seen them eat ants. They love whatever scraps are fed to them, even left over seafood.

        1. Our laying hens eat grass from the yard, weeds, greens such as spinach, kale and chard that may have been burned in the sun or gone to seed. They also eat anything from squirrel size down that they can catch. Lizards, salamanders, etc. They chase the squirrel for territorial reasons I think? They go after a wren (small bird) as if it were a large insect. When you see an egg carton in the store that states “Vegetarian” fed, think animal cruelty. . .

          If you want to know what chickens are like, think velociraptor from Jurassic Park. Thankfully they’re only a foot and a half tall, and have no teeth.

          David Maran is correct, do some research, Joel Salatin is the face of pastured poultry, beef and pork. Find someone in your area that uses rotational grazing practices. Visit their farm, see the animals, gain your own sense of assurance.

          Hey, Grok was self-reliant, self-sufficient or he was dead. We should be too. Not the dead part.

        2. “Velociraptor” is exactly what we call our birds! 🙂

        3. Man, I’d love to have my own chickens one day, so I can have fresh eggs everyday…

          But, Ron Burgundy lives in San Diego, no? That doesn’t seem like the best place for chickens. Then Bon Rurgundy must live elsewhere? 😛

      2. I’ve only been raising chickens for 7 years, but all my chickens eat grass. My chickens have free and open access to pasture and forest and only spend the nights locked up in their coop. They constantly take random bites out of anything green and growing, grass included.

      3. Yes, they do eat grass. I don’t give a crap what the books say… When I get the insides from my farmer’s fresh pastured chickens, and open up the gizzards to clean them… they’re chock full of rocks, grass, and a bit of chicken feed. I’ve found pieces of bugs occasionally, too. It’s disgusting and cool all at the same time!

      4. I raise chickens, and they all eat grass and other green stuff in the yard. I have seen them eat pretty much any bug they come across, including bees. Their favorite is mealworms I give them as treats. I have pretty happy hens!

        1. Unfortunately my hens also eat all the plants on my deck! So I had to put up some chicken wire where they could jump up.

      5. My Chickens love grass!!! The rain, mud, and snow has covered all of their chicken run so we often grab handfuls of wild grasses from all over the yard and they go crazy for it right out of our hands! And the grass that was originally in the chicken run? They ate it all right away.

  2. Those shady producers are bastards, really. Join your local Weston A.Price Foundation (there are thousands). Most have fantastic raw milk products and grass fed/finished meats from local farmers, etc. They are very strict in who they let in to sell their products. If enough of us quit buying the crap, we will see changes. Hit ’em in the pocketbook…

    1. Thanks for the suggestion to join a chapter of the Weston A Price Foundation. I had my doubts about locating Canadian chapters but lo and behold! they have chapters in mine and my family’s hometowns. Thanks again!

  3. I see that Joel Salatin produces pastured products for Tendergrass Farms. I can personally vouch for the quality of his products as I was a member of Joel’s buying club when I lived in Maryland. I’ve also been to Joel’s farm, Polyface Farms, in Swoope, Virginia. It was a very inspiring day.

  4. My Opa raises chickens, so I had learned most of this information already. I always smirk in grocery stores when I see “vegetarian diet” on the egg cartons. Some of Opa’s chickens went after a squirrel that got in their backyard open-air pen (really open to the air). Nearly pecked that squirrel to death! Chickens definitely aren’t vegetarians!

    1. I love it! Chickens going after a squirrel – that’s a new one… Just a couple of days after I wrote this post last week I was out by my barn and I found a 4-foot black rat snake in the grass and the chickens we close behind him. Needless to say, they decided he was a little too big.

      1. One time out on my parents’ ranch, a mama mouse decided that one of our chicken nesting boxes would be a great place to have her babies….. Well when we uncovered the babies the chickens ate them! Definitely not vegetarians!

  5. In a world without ethics we are all lost. Sometimes I just want to resign from the human race. of course suicide is illegal because they can no longer profit from you!

    1. The average human is beat down by many concerns, and can no longer find the strength to care. Their ethics are still intact to the extent that the vast majority would not personally abuse a chicken or other sentient being. Perhaps you would care to join the small-but-growing group of us who are, as Douglas Adams put it, “outside the asylum” ?

  6. My former mother-in-law talked about a time when she uncovered a mouse nest in the chicken house. Baby mice went darting everywhere, and the chickens ate them with gusto. Chickens also scavenge meat off of carcasses. Chickens love mammals – they taste delicious!

  7. You might find feature of mine interesting/useful about extensive use of antibiotics on farms in the UK and how the industry is largely in denial about the need to cut back. In newspaper the Daily Mail – see it at:

    1. Hi Jerome.
      I’m in the UK and was just about to buy raw milk and your article has made me think tiwce about it.

      Think i noticed an error in the piece

      Half of antibiotics used in this country go to animals, and experts fear farms are breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant drugs.”
      Think that last word should read ‘bugs’?

  8. Anybody know about these guys? https://www.gffarms.com/ They talk about “free range,” “free roaming,” and “clean dry bedding.” But the idea seems to be that they come from small Amish farms. Do the Amish run horrid factories where “free range” means an unused cat door?

    1. Their phone number is on their website (330.263.0246). Give them a call and ask the hard questions! If they’re the real deal they’ll be proud to tell you about it.

    2. Alice you must live in NC also. I have been looking at ggfarms.com too. I go to farmers markets around the charlotte area to get my beef and some eggs. How do we really know at farmers market who is honest about the raising methods and who isn’t?

      1. I also live in Charlotte and I can vouch for Windy Hill Farms. They raise their animals the right way and all their products are high quality. They sell at the Atherton Farmers Market.

    3. Amish practices vary considerably. Some amish communities maintain very high ethical standards in their practices and others take full advantage of the widespread expectation that they must be that way since they’re amish. Get to know the ones you’re buying from to know for sure.

  9. Highly informative piece–thank you.
    My chickens have a large roaming area with both grass and dirt (leaves and compost that I’ve placed to create a large worm habitat). They love to peck and scratch for bugs and worms, but they also eat greens throughout the day. They seem to follow a heavy scratching/pecking session with eating different greens. Clover is their absolute favorite. They also like new little shoots poking through the grass. Chickens are omnivores for sure.

  10. Chicken with the USDA Organic certification is not ideal, but it is better than chicken that is pumped full of antibiotics. And it tastes very good. I buy it at my local Trader Joe’s where it’s $6.99/lb. I cannot afford to buy truly pastured chicken. It’s just too expensive. It would be nice to have have several acres in the country where I could raise vegetables organically and livestock on pasture. But I don’t have the financial means to do that. So I look for the best of what’s available and what I can afford.

    1. $7/lb – really? Where do you live? Seems like you should be able to get the standard organic, free-range chicken for half that. Do you buy whole chickens, parts, or breast meat only?

      1. I buy Organic Chicken Breast Tenders from Trader Joe’s for $6.99/lb. It’s not as good as truly pastured or “beyond organic”, but it’s good enough for me. It tastes very good and is very tender.

        1. That explains the price. The tenders are the filet mignon of the chicken. It’s the very small strip of meat on the underside of the breast. Very lean but definitely tender. How do you feel about thigh meat? If you don’t like chicken on the bone, you can get boneless thighs for a lower price and you’ll get a little more flavor and fat.

  11. Great article. Only bummer:

    Even great we’ll intentioned, great practicing farms have to give feed to their chickens that contain SOY and CORN. it’s a bummer that that is the only way to be able to feed enough chickens to make money.

    That ring said, it’s important to go meet the animals that you are eating. Each week I pick up eggs from a local small farm and the chickens greet me at my car and mostly try to hop in for a ride. I like knowing the farm and the animals that my family will be eating.

    1. Speaking of chickens hopping in for a ride…every time Hubby ad I go out to a Farm Day pickup of our pre-orders, the farmer’s chickens either get underneath the parked cars and refuse to leave (and we don’t leave until they’re out from under us), or they team up and blockade the dirt driveway so nobody can go! Smart chickens.

      On the subject of feeding non-GMO grains/soy, nowadays, there IS no such thing as non-GMO–try as they might, every grain and legume used for animal feed has been tainted. The only way to get non-GMO feed is to grow it yourself in a glass dome or greenhouse, and even that is no guarantee!

      1. Have you ever tried to buy non-GMO feed including soy? We use it with our birds and as an organic certified grower our supplier (a small granarie in canada) is subject to having samples regularly tested for GM Soy contamination. The fact that >95% of soy grown today is GMO says more about just how much soy is grown annually. Those few percentage points of non-GMO soy actually represents quite a lot of grain, some of which goes into our chickens. GM technology proliferation obviously does bring some major concerns but the idea that “every grain and legume used for animal feed has been tainted” is simply not realistic.

        When I branch off into my own operation, I intend to experiment with using worms from vermicomposting as a primary protein source (instead of soy). It’ll be interesting to see how it scales up. At least one other farmer, somewhere in Hawaii, is supplying his poultry’s protein via compost-fed Soldier Fly larvae, which are also worth exploring.

        I’d also like to encourage everyone to consider switching to goose. Pastured goose, of course. Goose are great because they graze exclusively: like cows, they get all their sustenance from growing greens. They’re also very self-sufficient, handling weather conditions and chasing off predators on their own. Absolutely delicious fat as well, mostly monounsaturated (oleic) and saturated, lower in PUFA.

    2. What does a diet of SOY and CORN do to the chicken’s PUFAs? I’m guessing it makes them worse… ?

      1. Unfortunately chickens are very susceptible to their diet, and anything but a true pasture running bug-eatin’ bird is likely to have stupid amounts of the bad stuff in the most delicious part – the skin and fat.

        Ruminants are far less susceptible to poor diet (grain instead of grass etc), their profiles DO change somewhat, but not to particularly dangerous levels for chronic consumption.

        For this reason 95% of my mammal consumption is beef/lamb/etc (and grass-fed when possible), and I limit poultry to once or twice a month.

        1. That’s really interesting; do you have a source you can share for this information?

        2. Lately the only birds we buy are the little Tesco’s poussin as my once a weak quick lunch…so tasty!!! I can eat one by myself so good…all the other chicken and turkey tastes funny!

        3. Also the farmer’s market guinea fowl when is in season, less tender but definitely fresh!!

    3. We raise our chickens in tractors, on lush grassy pasture, moved almost every day. They are slowly raised, not quite as fast as Joel’s method. They are fed an organic soy FREE / corn FREE feed, and some seeds. They get organic garden “scraps” and organic produce. We have them processed at an FDA processing plant.
      So they are pasture raised, fed no meat by-products, antibiotics or GMOs. Humanely processed, too.
      We charge $17 per bird, approx. 5-6 pounds in size, whole or cut up (pieces).

      I WISH the market in central Illinois would understand that the profit on each bird is less than $3! I only raise them that way, because that is the way I want my food raised. The small farmer doesn’t have a chance to make a decent living, when the big companies misrepresent their food, and do not charge much for it!

      1. Do you have a website where you sell your no sot no corn chickens?


  12. I raise my own chickens for both eggs and meat, what is most frustrating is that all the chicken scratch at the local coop here is all vegetarian and no animal product feed. So I buy the best I can and let the chickens roam and forage all they want. With the foxes and coyotes around I have to lock them up at night and whenever I leave. So they don’t get to roam all the time but I do the best I can. I got so fed up with the local poultry scene I decided to do it myself!

  13. I’ve been purchasing meats from Tendergrass for the past year. I’ve spoken with David on the phone a couple of times and his products are the real deal. I’m just hoping he can add buffalo to his list of products in the near future. 🙂

  14. Yes, very informative, but after looking at the prices of truly pastured and appropropriately fed poultry, I wonder how this kind of quality is even remotely affordable for the average consumer. I understand that the quality of the product is great, but still, $25 for a 2 pound turkey breast, and $15 for 1 pound of chicken breast is not in my food budget. When I go to a place like Whole Foods and pick up a grass fed steak, it feels like a splurge. Other times, I make due with the best quality meat I can afford. I do think the paleo style of eating- animal proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts is how humans on the planet should eat to live healthy lives. It is concerning that it is not affordable to all.

    1. I can’t afford to buy meat from pastured animals, and I only have myself to feed. If I had a family to feed, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d probably be forced to raise chickens in the back yard.

    2. Number 4 girl –

      Unfortunately you’re right. Pastured poultry isn’t cheap to produce. In fact that is exactly why so many companies have been lured into the type of unethical marketing tactics mentioned in this article. However I would like to point out that the 2 poultry breast products that you mentioned are the most expensive poultry cuts you could buy because boneless breast is always in very high demand. Our 4-LB pastured turkey soup pack, on the other hand, works out to about $4.75/LB. There are always creative ways to eat more affordably but it does take real effort.

      All of that said, I agree completely with Mark’s point of view on grass fed/pasture raised meats: if you can afford them, great! If not, Tyson won’t kill you. I just hope to have helped to inform you and other about the choices you have.

      1. David, I appreciate your cost structure and I really wish I could afford this great food for my family. But lets be real. Do you know how elitist it sounds when you tell us your spare turkey parts and bones works out to 4.75/lb? I have a choice. I can either make a gallon of broth from your $19 package or I can get almost 22 pounds of chicken legs at my neighborhood store. Sorry, unless Tyson *will* kill me, I can’t buy your products.

        1. Joshua,

          I’m always up for a gentleman’s debate. I understand that you don’t believe that pastured poultry fits your personal budget but I don’t fully grasp the nature of your critique. In order to bring our prices down we could (a) lower the margins that our farmers make raising them or (b) lower the production standards that we hold them to. Both of those options are unacceptable for us as an organization committed to providing healthy meats and sustaining family farms. We’ve done a lot of research with regard to the economics of small scale family farms and grass fed/pasture raised meats production and I’d be happy to discuss it with you in more detail. My direct line is 540-267-5721. (You might be surprised to know that as an organization we’re actually currently running Tendergrass Farms at a net loss – even with the current pricing!)

          PS: For the record, our pastured turkey soup pack might be a lot meatier than you think. Here’s a recipe that calls for it over at Robb Wolf’s blog: https://robbwolf.com/2013/04/24/turkey-curry-recipe-and-giveaway/

        2. There’s probably a middle ground there somewhere. I try to buy the whole bird – whether turkey or chicken – but it doesn’t look like that’s an option with Tendergrass. Even Whole Foods had “level 4” whole chicken for about $4/lb. A $15 bird give me enough meat for at least 4 meals plus the carcass for use to make stock or soup. I’m guessing that there’s some marketing mumbo jumbo that goes with their 5-step grading system, but then again at least you know more-or-less what you’re getting.

          I’ve also been getting air-chilled, fresh whole chicken for pretty good prices ($3.29/lb at most), so at least I’m minimizing the chance that my chicken actually will kill me (air chilling reduces the spread of salmonella).

        3. Sure Organic Veggies and Pastured Animals are expensive but you can weave them in here and there or just buy the big bang items like the cheap cuts of good meat and start there. The key is to start thinking about what you eat and know what and why you are eating it. You are the driver of your diet whatever that may be! If I’m gonna buy Chicken I’m not going to spend the extra money on half measure CAFO organic chicken I’ll buy the best quality std fair I can get or truly (AFAIK) pastured chickens…… Unless its just a killer sale…guess I’m still human.

        4. @David

          I noticed you reply to other poster on the second page which I also had posted on.

          I don’t agree with the word “elite”, but I get what the poster is saying. If you are a lower middle class to middle class family with children, trying to to leave within your means, $4.75 per pound for soup bones is not a realistic price point. 🙁

          I interpret what he said as a bit of frustration that you’re not really willing to acknowledge the economics of responsible family food budgets. And I noticed that you choose to ignore entirely my point that we’re spending 30% of monthly take home pay on *conventional* meat. We’re already outstripping what the “average” Mexicans spends. I’m pretty sure I can’t keep going up.

          The thing is, as painful as the original poster’s critique might be, he might have a point. If you’re running Tendergrass Farm at a loss, then it’s hard to say that the economics of raising poultry the way you do to date has been wildly successful. 🙁 I want to see you in business, even if I personally can’t afford your products. The economic reality might be that right now, your products aren’t for everyone. 🙁

    3. If you have a yard and your zoning permits chickens, buying baby chicks cost only a few bucks. Some zoning allows for hens but not roosters. Learn to slaughter a chicken. Your trash output will go down as they eat all food scraps and they are fun to watch.

      1. They are so fun to watch and yeah they eat a lot of scraps such as watermelon rinds lately (white part).

    4. I know how you feel. I have two boys to feed (hubby and son.) and I can’t afford the superior. I was getting ‘organic’ chicken from my local store or TJ’s but you know…I went back to conventional because the meat from every organic brand I have tried has been TOUGH. Like, you literally can’t chew it and I didn’t overcook it! Parts were fine, tender then boom some really hard muscle to chew through. Wasn’t ligaments or tendons either. I’m talking breast meat and thighs. I think someone told me it means it’s ‘old’ meat. O.o

      I have access to good grass fed beef so I do that more often and then do the chicken and wild caught salmon to break up the other days. 🙂 I think if you don’t put the muffins, breads, cookies in your cart you are ahead of the game. I had a discussion with a vegetarian hippie in the store about that. He’s like “Oh no! Don’t eat the fat!” And I grinned and went “I’d be a vegetarian if bacon grew on trees.” Told him what I Just said, as long as all that empty carb content doesn’t go in the cart you’re ahead. We eat whole foods, we do our best, that’s all we can do.

      Now, I don’t know if you have them but we had a Sprouts put into our big city down the hill and man am I impressed! Big selection of produce, not bad prices on organics and they had kangaroo meat! And elk, bison, venison. They did have organic chicken but I opted for the non because of my experience. >.< I'm not gonna pay triple for something that's inedible. I can't have chickens 'free' roaming because of the dogs and predators.

      Eggs, I usually have to settle for Egglands best or the organic eggs in flats from Costco because the local pastured eggs sell out SO FAST. Plus I can't get to the Farmer's markets these days what with one car so again. We do our best. Don't feel bad. 🙂

      Btw that elk meat, was 7.50 for a pound, and it was 30g of protein per 4oz. 4oz of me is plenty IF you put some bacon on the side and avocado or other fats. My hubby however can't control his appetite and he eats two servings. *SIGH* -.- The elk meat had more protein per serving than beef or bison even I think. I read so many labels that day but ended up choosing the elk. Mild tasting meat too.

      1. I like Sprouts too, but I think some of their marketing tactics are a little murky. They get a lot of their produce and seafood from other countries (Mexico, China, South American countries, etc.) where agricultural practices may be less regulated than even here in the US. I think they use words like “natural,” “fresh,” etc. to imply more than what’s actually there. Still, I think if you shop smart, there are some good deals.

      2. Most conventional chicken is injected with water/salt solution. That is why it can seem more tender when cooked. But, you are also paying per pound for that water, and sometimes the chicken contains up to 17% of it.

      3. You can teach your dogs not to kill chickens. At night they go in their shelter.

    5. Instead of just breasts, buy whole birds. Instead of steaks, buy pot roast or other large cuts. You’re talking about getting the prime cuts. You’ll get more nutrition, value, and flavor from the rest of the animal. Buy organ meats, buy in bulk and freeze, and probably most important – don’t shop at Whole Foods. You’ll pay extra just for the privilege of being surrounded by all those pretty people.

      1. I encourage my customers to use a crock pot! The whole bird falls off the bones, and the meat is tender.

        If you want to bake, cover it with something (lid, foil, another pan) and only uncover for the last 15-20 minutes to crisp to the skin, if necessary.

    6. Hasn’t Mark always said that if you can’t afford to grass-fed, organic, etc, that you should always buy as lean of meat as possible, since the toxins accumulate in the animal’s fat?

    7. Yep

      We’re a family of 5 and there is absolutely no way we could ever afford to eat pastured products. Switching to a primal diet nearly doubled our grocery budget because we buy higher quality meat and a lot more produce that we used to. If I had to pay $10 per pound for ground meat (and more for steaks, chops, breasts, etc.) we’d have to be vegetarian 5 days a week and splurge on the weekends. I understand that it’s incredibly expensive for farms to raise animals the right way, and kudos to them for doing it! Unfortunately, as with many things, higher quality = higher price = out of reach for your average person.

    8. I do think we are a bit spoiled about food prices (just like about clothing prices). I believe that in Europe, people are used to spending a higher percentage of their income on food. You have to decide what is important. One way I save money is by buying a side of beef from a local rancher who raises grass-fed beef. It works out to about $6.60 per pound after butchering/packaging. And that is for t-bones to ground beef. Gotta save up $1400 bucks and have a big freezer!

    9. For me the only current solution is virtual vegetarianism until I’m in a position where I can afford to eat animals that I KNOW have not lived a life of suffering. I don’t feel like the health benefits of meat are worth enforcing a system of cruelty.

    10. As Joel Salatin explains in his books, chicken used to be the expensive meat that people rarely ate and red meats were the cheap everyday meat. It’s not possible to raise chicken cheaply except in CAFO’s. We’ve got to stop thinking we’re entitled to cheap chicken. What I do to make pastured meats affordable is buy in bulk direct from local farmers. That brings the price WAY down compared to Whole Foods or any other store. You do have to invest in a large freezer to do this, but chest freezers are cheap. The most affordable meats when buying in bulk are beef, bison and pork. Lamb is still expensive, even in bulk so I buy that less often.

    11. This article is so depressing!!!

      On one wage family I thought I do good buying our free range eggs for us and organic for the kids but now I might just fill them up with unnecessary PUFA’s…back to our gf porridge!!!

      I get raw buffalo milk from farmers market, does anyone in UK (London) does this? I am starting to question it too!!!

  15. This is why I now buy my meat from a local butcher shop. It’s all CAFO. Since I know that CAFO is the same as the stuff at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, I’m at least not paying for an expensive label. There are some local farmers and I will buy chicken and other meats from them, but to obtain the quantity of meat I feel I need for a healthy diet, I have to save their meat for special occasions. That real pastured chicken does taste way better than the CAFO stuff, so it’s special occasion food.

  16. David and Mark, this is a lot of information to digest all at once but I am very glad to have read it. I have book marked this and will be referring back to it in the future.

    I think there are a lot of misconceptions in labeling and you just helped clarify a lot of them for me.

    The only fair thing would be to have a universal labeling system and a chart as to what it actually means. I don’t think is actually going to happen so I will continue to do my research and get help from people like you who are willing to share your knowledge.

    Thank you! I think it is very important that we all be informed about what we are putting in our bodies.

  17. It makes me very sad that I cannot afford to buy all pasture-raised animals…it’s just not feasible for me. Plus, I live in Alaska, and the prices here for non-organic produce and regular proteins is already expensive…I’ve tried going to the farmers markets in the summer, and they’re great for produce, but the prices for local poultry and meat is just out of my budget. $9 a pound for a turkey or chicken? I just can’t afford that. The good news is that I don’t eat chicken often…if I’m going to spend money on something pasture raised it’s going to be a juicy steak. Otherwise, I’ve been leaning toward buffalo and lamb for my protein, and as always have lots of eggs. Maybe someday I’ll make enough and live somewhere where pasture-raised is more doable.

    1. Well hey Stace – I don’t know where you live, but I’m in Anchorage and just made it over to the Sears Mall last week to check out the farmer’s market to see what was what. I’d never been and wanted to see what the prices were like. At the very least, I thought I’d leave with some honey. Beef and pork were around $12.99 per pound (and up!) on the day I went. And I couldn’t afford the honey either. I thought it ironic that I could order from US Wellness, have it *shipped*, and end up spending less!
      I’m also interested in learning where you get your eggs. 🙂

  18. Something I remember Joel Salatin writing about, and that I saw in action at one of the local farms I’ve patronized, is the idea of increasing efficiency through diversity. For example, WRT poultry, there are plenty of insect larva if the birds are allowed to cycle through the paddocks cattle have grazed: cows eat the grass, and before they over-graze, they are moved to a paddock where the grass has grown back and is ready for grazing; by this time, the grazed paddock has plenty of manure that flies and other insects are attracted to, and will hatch eggs in; a few days later, this is cleaned up by the birds.

    As a bonus, the manure acts as natural fertilizer for the grass to regrow and the cycle starts over.

    I know too that farms that raise vegetables and fruit are perfect for raising pastured hogs: there is always some degree of vegetable matter waste, and the hogs root through it with glee. Again, it may have been Salatin (?) who described stomping homegrown ears of corn into the ground in spring and letting the hogs root for it, thus providing free tilling.

    One local farm (very new farm, young couple runs it) has worked out agreements with a local supermarket. Fruit and veggies that cannot be sold but are still deemed fit for human consumption get donated to food banks, but if a few days past that they are donated to the farm, where once again the hogs love it. There’s also a nearby cheese maker whose farm uses milk only from pastured cows, and they trade with the hog farmers who use the whey as feed for the hogs. (Reminds me of the deal Parma, Italy farmers have, feeding hogs that will become Parma ham whey from Parmesan cheese!)

    If you think about these sorts of systems, waste is minimized, everything works together, and the sorts of measures of efficiency traditionally used to compare CAFO to pastured animals really comes up short, so to speak.

    1. Joe Salatin talked about the “Pigness of the Pig” in the video “Food Inc.” which talked about the corn and the free rooting…or it might have been in the special features…

  19. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m confused by these two statements:

    “Additionally, many companies boast that their chicken is raised without hormones or antibiotics. As it turns out, federal regulations have never permitted hormones or steroids in poultry…”

    “The claim that ground chicken is “Antibiotic Free” is, on the other hand, a legitimate claim a company could make about a poultry product. Much of the conventional poultry raised in this country is fed subtherapeutic antibiotics every day of their lives.”

    So does most conventional poultry contain antibiotics?

    1. Yes, much of the conventionally raised poultry available today is raised with (subtherapeutic) antibiotics. However no poultry is raised (legally) for US consumption with the use of hormones or steroids.

      In short, hormones and steroids are not legal in poultry but antibiotics are. Does that help?

  20. I have backyard chickens, and their favorite thing to do is chase the cats away from the cat food or a bird carcass.Left to their own devices, chickens have much more in common with vultures than vegans!

    To all who get pastured poultry through this deal, share with friends!!The more people who get to eat orange-yolked eggs, grassfed beef, pastured turkey & wild pig, the more they will viscerally understand how broken our food system is.

    Great guest post!

  21. I have bought Tendergrass Farm products and really enjoyed their quality. With that said, I’ve become reluctant to purchase further items from Tendergrass. Why?

    One pays a hefty premium for all their food’s goodness and supposed superiority, yet when it comes to providing basic nutrition information about their products, the Tendergrass web site is seemingly AWOL.

    So…with all the lofty talk about “informing consumers,” the essential calorie, carb, fat and cholesterol and etc. information isn’t provided upfront before one orders

    As a low-carb, high-fat consumer who pays attention to his diet details, this type of information is essential. A high-priced, superior quality food producer should not be reluctant to readily provide this information on their web site.

    Other expensive providers of quality food actually walk-the-talk of providing online consumers with the nutrition basics (visit http://www.vitalchoice.com for an example of how the best do it); and, producers that also profess a higher, organic/natural calling for their food should do the same.

    At some point, the regulators will finally force companies like Tendergrass to be upfront with their online customers regarding nutrition. Until then, Mark and other paleo/low-carb bloggers should consider refusing to accept advertising a given firm’s products until they meet at least a minimum of online nutrition information for their food items.

    Heck….putting the readers and consumers first is always the superior ethical choice. Come on, Dave, make it easy for your customers to review the nutrition info for your great products.

    (And for the record, the Tendergrass pastured pork grass fed franks are excellent! The turkey breast too.)

    1. Jim,

      Thank you for taking the time to express your concern about our utter lack of nutrition facts on our website. Accountability is exactly what I was trying to promote in my post above and now we get to see it in action – in real time on MDA! I’m sure you’re not the first person to notice that we don’t offer nutrition facts on our website but you are the first person to publicly bring this issue to our attention. I applaud that.

      There are at least two answers for why we currently do not offer official nutrition facts statements on our website. The first is philosophical and historical and the second is more of a legal technicality.

      Let’s start with the philosophical side and consider the history of mandatory nutrition facts labeling. It turns out nutrition facts on labels are actually a very new thing. The Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990 (yes – that’s right, not 1890) is the law that has brought about the nearly universal nutritional facts labeling of packaged products that people take for granted today in the US.

      This might leave some people wondering how people ever ate healthfully before 1990. There are a lot of answers to that question but the two most significant ones are (1) people didn’t buy food from sources that couldn’t be trusted and (2) they used their natural senses (taste mostly) to determine the salt, fat, and sugar content, etc. There’s more to it than that but it’s amazing just how far those two principles can take you. While we don’t post sodium %DV’s on our Franks you’d be able to tell if we over salted them and well, frankly, you’d probably stop buying them. We believe that if we’re straightforward and honest about how we raise out animals and what ingredients (if any) we use to season them – which is only in the case of our sausages anyway – that should serve as a more than adequate statement of nutrition information. It was good enough for Grok, right?

      On the more technical legal side of things it just so happens that there are exemptions from mandatory nutrition facts labeling laws that apply to very small organizations like Tendergrass Farms. I happen to be friends with Randy Hartnell, the owner of Vital Choice Seafood and Organics, and I think he has a great business. His business is, however, about 40 times as large as Tendergrass Farms so he is forced to display nutrition facts for his products by law.

      Before long, Tendergrass Farms may be large enough that we also will need to do this. In preparation for this transition we started investigating the issue in depth and we ran across a couple of interesting facts. Having foods analyzed for nutrition facts labeling can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because of this unfortunate reality the USDA publishes generic nutrition facts information that can be used on any all-meat product (steaks, chicken breast, etc.). I looked around to see if this had been done for pastured/grass fed meats as well as conventional meats and it had not. That’s when I came across a particularly interesting discovery.

      I called my regional USDA contact to ask them about how we might explore the best way to comply with the nutrition facts labeling laws (without dropping $500,000 at a lab) and she informed me that their generic nutrition facts labels would be perfectly acceptable for our products because they’re allowed to be up to 20% incorrect in any direction. (Makes you wonder what a Twinkie’s real nutrition info is, doesn’t it?) We’ve actually already started using their generic nutrition facts on a few of our product labels even though we know they’re not exactly correct. Tragically, it’s the only financially viable solution we have as we prepare to comply with all of their regulations as our organization grows. To say that the USDA is actually forcing us to begin to provide misinformation about our products wouldn’t be much of an overstatement.

      The alternative? Placing the responsibility back in the hands of the consumer, where it was for the last few thousand years, who should be encouraged to only do business with reputable outfits and cultivate a discerning a palate.

      1. Perhaps you could contact other farms with similiar rearing practices as you and all pool together to get your poultry tested. Or you could simply use the information from a trusted farm with similiar rearing practises which has already engaged in testing for its products. It will at any rate be more accurate than the USDA’s generic statistics. I don’t know if these are practical suggestions though, and you’ve probably not undertaken them for a reason!

      2. Dave, have you seen the Mother Earth News chicken and egg pages? They’ve done numerous tests on the nutritive value of pastured eggs from various farms versus supermarket “eggs,” I believe in conjunction with Penn State. And didn’t UC Davis do a study on the nutrient content of organic vs. conventional produce?

        I wonder if there wouldn’t be some way that a study could be done on pastured meats? Have you contacted the American Grassfed Association, or perhaps Jo Robinson of eatwild.com to see if something like this might be in the works?

      3. Interesting. I’m generally far less interested in nutritional info than in just a straight-up list of ingredients. As long as I know what’s in the food, I’m pretty capable of figuring out whether it’s good for me or not. In general, I’m kind of tired of people expecting the government to spoon feed them every little piece of information about food, drugs, education, air quality, safety, etc. Why is it that we can – in the same breath – blame the government for coming up with dietary standards that are wrecking American health and then expect them to be the watchdogs for what food producers are supposed to be feeding us?

        1. So true! I’ve purchased several hundred pounds of meat from Tendergrass Farms and have been astounded at the taste difference between their meats (especially the chicken and pork), and store-bought meats (even those labeled organic).

          That being said, I don’t feel that there is a need for a complete nutrition label breakdown of such high quality meat. I’ve read the info on their website, and feel confident that they are trying to do the right thing, by raising animals the way that nature intended ( and helping them along with high quality feed). If that means that the chickens ate some bugs or a snake, that’s ok — as long as the bugs or snakes don’t contain pesticides or antibiotics or hormones, etc. I am more interested in what is NOT in the meat!

          When it comes to their sausages (delicious, not rubbery, not fatty, and not dry), I felt that, as long as I know the ingredients, I don’t need to know the breakdown of each one, including sodium — my taste buds tell me that they are seasoned just right — in fact, I sent them an email telling them just that: whatever they do, don’t change the recipe!

          As far as cost, yes, you get what you pay for. We have become accustomed to low prices for meat, simply because of the CAFO practices, but the reality is that these farmers are living in the same economy that we are — and are paying the same high prices for their equipment, feed, gasoline, etc.

          It all boils down to how much you value your health, and try to fit your budget accordingly. I still buy some meats locally, but I try to get as much as possible from Tendergrass. I want to see them succeed, because I believe in what they are doing.

  22. I live in Canada and have bakyrd chickens for eggs and they eat everything. they love tomatoes ( and the acidity is good for warding of gape worms internally in the chickens) but they also eat worms and aunts, and beatles, grubs, any left over scraps i feed them bfore I compost, and if left long enough if a neighbour kid forgets to feed them while you’re away, they’ll eat thier on eggs. My chickens love a good peice of leftover beef fat, burnt bacon ( sacrilege i know!) and even chicken scraps. my vegan friend crringe when I tell them that.

    this article was very timely as I cannot afford good organic meats with our low disability income, so I have been talking with a neighbour down the road ( we live rural in a small village) . he has a decommissioned farm and he has offered to let me raise meat chickens in his barn and fenced in yard to allow them to go freerange…for nothing!!! just some of the chickens, and at less than a dollar a chicken…i can handle that. I guess I’ll have to tell him the new term is pasture raised, as 20 years ago he was doing the real free-range organic meat farming that large farming operations decided to copy wit twisting the meaning of what it is. ( that is like stepping in the tub while your kid answers the door to tell the salesmen that your mom in in the tub, to avoid the knock, while still “the truth” it is a deliberate lie)

    My neighbour is even willing to teach me how to dress the chickens myself ( meaning, yes chop of their heads and de-feather and gut them and prep them for freezing. ) I grew up on farm so harvesting meat is nothing new to me. I’m planning on starting soon and raising 10 to 20 meat hens for a 15 weeks supply for the first go round, we’ll be dressing them in 12 weeks from birth. How’s that for going primal!?

    New low carb/primal adopter.
    17 pounds down, 3 pants sizes down, more energy, A LOT less joint pain and out of medication dependant insulin resistance in just 3 months!

  23. please excuse the typos! i’m in a hurry out the door and rushed my response and only skimmed the spellings, and I have dyslexia and two kids behind me yelling for the computer!

    1. LOL – I was about to say that you should keep your aunts away from your chickens!

      Incidentally, one of the reasons chicken producers label their products with “vegetarian-fed” is to dispel concerns about cannibalism, which was commonly practiced by industrial farms before the USDA made it illegal. Bad things like mad cow disease can occur when animals are fed remnants of their own kinds. It’s probably not significant if they’re just getting cooked leftover scraps, but raw pieces or any part of the nervous system should definitely be off limits.

  24. Thank you for the guest post David, and thanks to Mark for the good guests. I haven’t delved into pastured chicken because, as many have mentioned, it is a stretch to the budget. Since going Primal over two years ago, I’ve lost my taste for chicken. Maybe it’s the CAFO chickens, but they are just so bland and lean. If I do have it, I like the wings.

    I’ve always found turkey too lean, and ground turkey is an abomination to me, LOL. Soooo dry.

    I would love to live where I could raise my own chix for eggs and meat.

    I will make chicken soup, so I’ll check out the web site to see what I can budget.

    1. Yeah, I find grass-fed beef to be a decent price if bought in bulk, but pork and chicken can be pricier. I just signed up with a farm I hadn’t tried before for a meat CSA, so I get a good mix of beef, lamb, pork, and chicken. It’s a little pricier, but the quality is amazing, and I get the variety.

  25. I’m wondering approximately what percentage of the chickens’ diet at farms like Tendergrass is comprised of soy and corn vs. whatever they happen to come across while foraging. I don’t eat soy myself because of the issue of phytoestrogens, so I think it’s a relevant issue. I’m aware that some chemicals (natural or otherwise) an animal eats can get concentrated in their meat.

    It would be interesting to know if the soy these chickens ingest causes the chicken meat to have higher levels of estrogen than chickens that just eat insects and vegetation (assuming that someone somewhere has that data).

    I can see that it would be impossible to raise a significant number of chickens without supplementing, and that farms like Tendergrass do their absolute best to provide the best food possible, so this is a quandary for me. I’d like to support this type of kinder, gentler and ( I hope) healthier chicken farming, but at the same time I’d also like to safeguard my testosterone levels.

    1. Some farmers raise soy-free meat chickens but they’re typically quite expensive. I’ve mostly switched to red meats, as you can buy them in bulk from farmers for much less than pastured chickens.

  26. I need to get up to speed on all the label deception that has fooled me all my life. Makes me mad, but the best reaction I can have to the label assault is to get smart and know what I am buying.

    Also, 53 pounds of chicken is the average annual consumption? That’s roughly a pound a week; what is that 2-3 chicken breasts a week? Yeah, I can see how that adds up.

  27. Some random musings:

    I wonder sometimes when people comment that they can’t afford the price of this or that when it comes to food, how accurate that statement truly is. In my realm of experience when people talk about not being able to afford something, the unspoken subtext is “….,living the way I do currently.” I think the drive of consumers to use price as the only criteria has gotten us where we are in the food market. People can easily shift around priorities for something they care enough about spending money on. It’s just that we’ve become accustomed to food taking up a certain percentage of our income and any deviation from that is perceived as out of the realm of possibility.

    Maybe this just demonstrates we haven’t been paying the “true price” of the food we’ve been eating all along? I’ve always wondered if we should be paying more for food grown/raised the right way, with a lot more farmers than we have today.

    1. Some people have arranged their life in such a way that their food bill has to be ridiculously low because they’re blowing their money on luxuries, large and small.

      On the other hand, we spend very close to 30% of my husband’s net pay on food because we are largely Paleo. That’s about $900 a month for the 5 of us, which easily outstrips every other single area of spending (including housing and transportation). And that’s largely conventional, on sale or reduced price meats.

      I have recently begun to think of Paleo ways to stretch our food budget, including stock prep and incorporating more animal fats and offal (currently very cheap, even organically). As always, we’re a work in progress. 🙂

      We’re profoundly lucky to able to afford such a high quality diet. But converting to all organic meats really would require a huge sacrifice (including like living in some not so nice neighborhoods). If forced to live that way, we’d probably eat many more soups and I’d probably add rice back to our diets to try and make up the calorie loss rather than completely up end our middle class lifestyle.

    2. Very interesting points, Jason. (Too bad your comment got stuck on page 2.) Just for perspective, today the average Mexican family spends about 25% of their income on food while the average American family spends less than 7%. I happened to run across a blog post earlier today where the writer shows that food prices have actually fallen by about 82% over the last 100 years in the US (largely due to “factory farming”). Want to eat like they used to? Well, it’ll cost you. It’s funny what you learn when you study even recent history: https://mjperry.blogspot.com/2008/08/over-100-years-food-prices-have-fallen.html

      1. Good points, but the fact is that the per capita income in Mexico is about a third that of the US, but they still have to eat the same amount of food (roughly speaking). Even if you adjust for regional price differences between the US and Mexico, it’s just plain math that they will be spending a higher percentage of income on food. Just like Bill Gates food expenditure as a percentage of his income is far, far lower than mine. Does that mean he’s buying nothing but cheap, subsidized, adjunct-laden processed food?

        1. Your math is spot-on, but that still means we are spending much more money on things *other* than food, & if we chose to, we could divert some of those funds to improve our diet.

  28. Most of the claims are based on a lie. If they do not use antibiotics, then the process of birds’ growth will be slow, and surely they cannot afford it. Any how thanks for the detailed article.

  29. What is missing from this conversation is a discussion about chicken types and breeds. Cornish Rock Cross chickens which are typically used for meat are bred to have a quick feed to table conversion. They don’t live more than eight weeks. They are lazy because they have been bred to eat a lot. These chickens need access to grain because they won’t move much. They are prone to leg issues because they get too fat for their bones to hold them. They do eat grass on pasture but need to be moved frequently because they mash the grass down rather than eating it. Mostly because all they do is eat and sit.

    Laying hens, like Rhode Island Reds for example are very active and will eat all of your favorite plants if left unattended. These birds will scratch and hunt all day long for food. But they are difficult to process and there is much less meat on them. Less than us greedy Americans want to see.

    What concerns me the most on the Purdue label is the seasoning. That is another way of big food to change the way it tastes, along with our expectations of what food is. Drawing us away from Mother Nature.

  30. I think poultry is one of the most transparent items to purchase. i mean there are so many buzzwords to trick the consumer. i just want to buy from the farm direct. When I was a kid we went to the chicken market picked out our birds and watched them get slaughtered. I know this was probably not a pastured chicken, but at least I saw it and I was not tricked with fancy labeling. Truth in labeling is what I want. I don’t mind paying more as long as i believe it in the items I am buying.

  31. All our chickens and ducks “parade” around the house, yard, barn, pastures eating grasses, bugs (ticks! yes!), and they are “fed” twice each day so we can count heads. But we raise our chickens/ducks for ourselves (along with our pigs, cattle and sheep); we don’t raise critters in any kind of production style to feed a lot of folks. Turkey here is wild and we have acreage to hunt during season.

    While I agree labeling should honestly reflect what is in the product, knowing where your food comes from (locally if possible…and it isn’t always possible with all items) is on the consumer. Companies, to include farms, will marketing their product(s) in the best light to enhance profit.

    We investigate to the nth degree on where to invest our money (stocks, real estate, business opportunities); quality food is an investment too. Leaving any investment decisions in the hands of others doesn’t give us a lot of room to complain that we’re being duped/victimized. A good thing is that the internet has made it easier to research, ask questions, and get opinions (without the internet, I’d have not found Mark’s site!).

  32. All the more reasons not to consume animal based products! Trying to find a truly healthy properly raised animal this day in age is like trying to find a needle in a haystack!

    1. Really? Have you looked at what they’re doing to vegetables these days? You’d go broke before you could purchase enough clean, quality vegetable protein sources.

      1. No argument there fortunately I have a garden with quite a lot of veggies & berries 🙂 Unfortunately It is only a seasonal garden so in the cooler months I have to rely on the grocery store or farmers market 🙁

  33. I ordered from Tendergrass during another MDA promo – it is awesome! Quick shipping, etc. Hoping to do another order soon.

  34. Interesting info; thanks.

    Would have been really helpful to have a bullet-point summary for handier reference.

    I’ve never ordered meat online, much less such a large amount. Your offer isn’t bad, but it also isn’t remotely tempting. And after the useful article, I wanted to be tempted.

  35. Outstanding article. Thank you, Mark and thank you Farmer David. You’ve spread some light and some hope in the midst of our culture of systematic deceit. Well done! And that’s a very generous coupon offer to boot.

  36. Very interesting information. So I actually did visit their website hoping to get a glimpse of what an ideal farming environment looks like, even spent 4 minutes watching their promo video… Nowhere on the website you will find an actual *visual* depiction of how the chickens/cows/pigs are raised. I’m guessing the environment still looks pretty horrific. Thank you, but I’m staying vegan.

  37. Very interesting post and quite enlightening. This reinforces my desire to go check out some local farms in person before settling on a source for my meat.

  38. I’ve often wondered this about the bacon I buy. I have no delusions that when I buy beef and chicken I’m supporting the horrid CAFOs… I have no way to get a hold of affordable grassfed right now. In fact the “local” stuff @ market is pricier and still not grassfed.

    But I’ve been buying a brand of bacon called “Country Naturals” by Schneiders. I’ve been quite skeptical.

    It says it’s “pigs raised without the use of antibiotics”. It had occurred to me that I’m actually putting myself more at risk by buying that particular brand than mainstream CAFO. Just because they don’t put antibiotics in, doesn’t mean it’s a free-range happy piggy before it’s slaughtered.

    Bleh. I never looked into it very far, but I would not be surprised at all if I’m not far off the truth.

    I live in Canada though, the industry is almost the same as the states but. Not quite (some claim worse).

  39. As someone who raises cattle the old-fashioned and lazy way (they wander around my pasture eating grass until I sell them), I would truly LOVE to sell them to average people for processing for about what I could sell them at the sale barn for conversion to industrial beef. It’s really hard to get a cowpool together though.

  40. I would like to comment on the price issue of healthier meats. (I know I’m a little late to the game.) I strongly suggest that people shop around and buy in bulk where possible. Check out Eat Wild or other sites of that type to find what kind of meat you’re looking for and then call around or check websites for pricing. I ordered meat from Oaklyn Plantation here in SC recently and we’ve been very pleased with the quality. When you figure out the price per lb, including shipping, it’s still very reasonable, IMO, especially compared to the products labeled with healthy-sounding things in the grocery store. If you would like to check it out yourself, I’ve included a link. I hope that’s not a no-no on here. There are a lot of options out there, but sometimes, it does take a little bit of work to find them.

    Good luck to you in your quest to find healthier food!


    *I am not in any way, shape, or form affiliated with Oaklyn. We just buy their chicken and beef and really like it and the price and I wanted to help others who are still searching.

  41. Just got my order from a company called Roaming Roosters here in the U.K.

    Beef, lamb, pork and chicken, all totally (and truly!) free range, grass fed where applicable, and gluten free sausages and burgers and hand cured bacon. Beef is all 28 day aged too. They farm their own chickens and pigs, all traditional british varieties that can take being outdoors in all weathers! Their beef comes from a nearby farm, have checked them out and all their beef is 100% grass fed. They get their lambs from another nearby farm where the lambs are left with their mums for at least 6 months and are grass fed.

    They have a bones and offal section on their site and got some lambs liver, oxtail and marrow bones, they didn’t have anything else on there in the way of bones so when I placed my order I added a note asking if they had any bones they could throw in for making stock and they’ve sent me over a kilo of chicken carcasses for free woo hoo!

    Their prices were pretty good too, they do a few combination boxes at a good price and are cheaper than the supermarket for a properly free range chicken. A lot of the supermarkets here stock free range and then boast about how it’s fully corn fed, sigh!

    Anyway for anyone in the UK they’re a good resource, delivery very fast too and were helpful when I called to ask if I could change the burgers and sausages in one of the combination boxes for their gluten free ones. Just wanted to put this comment here so any british people looking for resources can find it.

  42. I have six chickens. They eat just about anything! Chickens are lively animals with great personalities. Mine follow me around outside. We named them all after the Bronte family. I highly recommend that anyone considering getting chickens do so! They lay wonderful eggs and you can taste the difference. My one chicken is an Americana. She lays bluish green eggs. Anyway, get chickens; having a backyard flock is fun and a great experience!

  43. Well, since I knew about Free Bird antibiotic-free chicken that’s when I learned to appreciate the words ‘organic chicken’. They indeed taste really good and meat is tender. Try it and let me know if you agree me. 😀

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  46. Admittedly, I’m not too smart. I find research very difficult. I really am concerned about how animals are treated, and would very much so like to know, just simply put, where I can find a list of Canadian egg producers that aren’t harming chickens at ANY stage of their raising. Is there such a list somewhere? Can, will anyone help me please?

  47. This was very informative. Doesn’t contain everything I want to know but is a very good start and allows me to have more questions and a better understanding of what the terms mean. I work in a health food store (will go unnamed) and before I worked there all I knew was I wanted nothing to do with Tyson or Walmart. I knew very little about the types of meat available. Since working where I do… I have, actually, wondered if the statements were as true as I had made them sound. I just said what was told to me and didn’t really know I needed to know what I was saying was genuine. I prided myself on our, “pasture raised meat”, “cage free chickens” and “non gmo turkeys” but it is upsetting to know those chickens are just like any other chicken on a CAFO farm. 🙁 I am not a vegan but thought about it and realized, “maybe I should buy my meat from a place that raises and kills them as I would”. *sigh*

    Thank you for the information and let’s hope I can get enough research done so I can be confident in my choices of animal products.

  48. Where can I locate virgin chickens, eggs, beef, and poultry ? There must be someone in the US I can purchase from with these stipulations.
    Anyone know of this option? I live in Raleigh, NC and have been “hoodwinked”

    Your responses are so humbly appreciated!

    1. I wonder why no one mentioned that all chicken in USA is treated with 1-2% solution of chlorine to kill salmonella. The only way to avoid this chemical in chicken is to buy Air chilled. Organic or non organic except Air Chilled is treated with this chemical.