Free range

Free range

Free range is a method of farming husbandry where the animals are allowed to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner. The term is used in two senses that do not overlap completely: as a farmer-centric description of husbandry methods, and as a consumer-centric description of them. Farmers practice free range to achieve free-range or humane certification (and thus capture high prices), to reduce feed costs, to produce a higher-quality product, as a method of raising multiple crops on the same land, or for other reasons.

In practice, there are few regulations imposed on what can be called "free range," and the term may be used misleadingly to imply that the animal product has been produced more humanely than it actually has been. [ [ PETA Media Center > Factsheets > Free-Range and Organic Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products: Conning Consumers? ] ]

"Free range" may apply to meat, eggs or dairy farming.

In ranching, free-range livestock are permitted to roam without being fenced in, as opposed to fenced-in pastures. In many of the agriculture based economies, free-range livestock are quite common.

Salmonella infection rates in free-range and organic chickens have been found to be comparable to those produced in typical poultry production houses. [ [ Salmonella prevalence in free-range and certified organic chickens.] ]


If one allows "free range" to include "herding," free range was a typical husbandry method at least until the development of barbed wire and chicken wire. The generally poor understanding of nutrition and diseases before the Twentieth Century made it difficult to raise many livestock species without giving them access to a varied diet, and the labor of keeping livestock in confinement and carrying all their feed to them was prohibitive except for high-profit animals such as dairy cattle.

In the case of poultry, free range was the dominant system until the discovery of vitamins A and D in the 1920s allowed confinement to be practiced successfully on a commercial scale. Before that, green feed and sunshine (for the vitamin D) were necessary to provide the necessary vitamin content. [Heuser, G. F: "Feeding Poultry", page 11. [ Norton Creek Press] , 2003.] Some large commercial breeding flocks were reared on pasture into the 1950s. Nutritional science resulted in the increased use of confinement for other livestock species in much the same way.

United States

Traditional American usage equates "free-range" with "unfenced," and with the implication that there was no herdsman keeping them together or managing them in any way. Legally, a free-range jurisdiction allowed livestock (perhaps only of a few named species) to run free, and the owner was not liable for any damage they caused. In such jurisdictions, people who wished to avoid damage by livestock had to fence them out; in others, the owners had to fence them in. [ [ Livestock Laws page at the University of Texas at Austin] ]

In recent years, with the days of free-range cattle mostly in the past, neither the presence of a "legal fence" surrounding the farm nor the pros and cons of old-time free-range ranching are the main points of interest. Instead, the term "free range" is mainly used as a marketing term rather than a husbandry term, meaning something on the order of, "low stocking density," "pasture-raised," "grass-fed," "old-fashioned," "humanely raised," etc. In poultrykeeping, "Free range" is widely confused with yarding, which means keeping poultry in fenced yards. In reality, the two methods have little in common.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that chickens raised for their meat have access to the outdoors in order to receive the free-range certification. Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means. Many egg farmers sell their eggs as free range merely because their cages are two or three inches above average size, or because there is a window in the shed.Fact|date=March 2007

The USDA has no specific definition for "free-range" beef, pork, and other non-poultry products. All USDA definitions of "free-range" refer specifically to poultry. [USDA Fact Sheet, [ "Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms"] , accessed 19 Feb 2008.] No other criteria-such as the size of the range or the amount of space given to each animal-are required before beef, lamb, and pork can be called "free-range". Claims and labeling using "free range" are therefore unregulated. The USDA relies "upon producer testimonials to support the accuracy of these claims."

In a December 30, 2002 Federal Register notice and request for comments (67 Fed. Reg. 79552), USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service proposed "minimum requirements for livestock and meat industry production/marketing claims" [] . Many industry claim categories are included in the notice, including breed claims, antibiotic claims, and grain fed claims. "Free Range, Free Roaming, or Pasture Raised" would be defined as "livestock that have had continuous and unconfined access to pasture throughout their life cycle" with an exception for swine ("continuous access to pasture for at least 80% of their production cycle"). This proposed rulemaking is still in play. In a May 12, 2006 Federal Register notice (71 Fed. Reg. 27662), the agency presented a summary and its responses to comments received in the 2002 notice, but only for the category "grass (forage) fed" which the agency stated was to be a category separate from "free range" [] . Comments received for other categories, including "free range," are to be published in future Federal Register editions.

The broadness of "free range" in the U.S. has caused some people to look for alternative terms. "Pastured poultry" is a term promoted by farmer/author Joel Salatin for broiler chickens raised on grass pasture for all of their lives except for the initial brooding period. The Pastured Poultry concept is promoted by the American Pastured Poultry Producers' Association (APPPA) [ [ American Pastured Poultry Producers' Association] ] ,an organization of farmers raising their poultry using Salatin's principles.

Alternative terminology can also be used to make high-density confinement sound more palatable. For example: "cage-free, " "free-running," "free-roaming," "naturally nested," etc. are used as an alternative to the technical term, "high-density floor confinement." Whether high-density floor confinement is more humane than high-density cage confinement is arguable, but in any event high-density confinement (of whatever type) is the antithesis of free range.

European Union

The European Union regulates marketing standards for egg farming which specifies the following (cumulative) minimum conditions for Free range method:
* hens have continuous daytime access to open-air runs, except in the case of temporary restrictions imposed by veterinary authorities,
* the open-air runs to which hens have access is mainly covered with vegetation and not used for other purposes except for orchards, woodland and livestock grazing if the latter is authorised by the competent authorities,
* the open-air runs must at least satisfy the conditions specified in Article 4(1)(3)(b)(ii) of Directive 1999/74/EC whereby the maximum stocking density is not greater than 2 500 hens per hectare of ground available to the hens or one hen per 4m2 at all times and the runs are not extending beyond a radius of 150 m from the nearest pophole of the building; an extension of up to 350 m from the nearest pophole of the building is permissible provided that a sufficient number of shelters and drinking troughs within the meaning of that provision are evenly distributed throughout the whole open-air run with at least four shelters per hectare. [ [ Commission Regulation for marketing standards for eggs - page 25] ]

Otherwise, egg farming in EU is classified into 4 categories: Organic (ecological), Free range, Barn, and Cages, each category being more progressive (in sense of animals' well-being and consequent egg quality [ [ Research summary] ] ) than the next. The mandatory labelling on the egg shells attributes a number (which is the first digit on the label) to each of these categories: 0 for Organic, 1 for Free range, 2 for Barn and 3 for Cages. [ [ Commission directive on the registration of establishments keeping laying hens - page 4] ]

United Kingdom

In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says that a free-range chicken must have daytime access to open-air runs during at least half of their life. Unlike in the United States, this definition also applies to egg-laying hens.Fact|date=January 2008

See also

* Free range eggs
* Ethical consumerism
* Grass fed beef


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • free-range — adjective free range chickens, pigs, and other farm animals are allowed to move around and feed naturally. This is considered to be a kinder method of farming than INTENSIVE methods. a. free range eggs come from free range chickens ─ compare… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • free-range — free′ range adj. 1) agr. ahb. permitted to graze or forage rather than being confined to a feedlot or enclosure: free range chickens[/ex] 2) agr. ahb. of, pertaining to, or produced by free range animals: free range eggs[/ex] • Etymology: 1910–15 …   From formal English to slang

  • free-range — /free raynj /, adj. 1. (of livestock and domestic poultry) permitted to graze or forage for grain, etc., rather than being confined to a feedlot or a small enclosure: a free range pig. 2. of, pertaining to, or produced by free range animals: free …   Universalium

  • free-range — adj. permitted to graze or forage rather than being confined to a feedlot; of livestock and domestic poultry. Syn: unenclosed. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • free-range — adj relating to a type of farming which allows animals such as chickens and pigs to move around and eat naturally, rather than being kept in a restricted space →↑battery ▪ free range eggs …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • free-range — [frē′rānj΄] adj. designating or produced by chickens that are allowed to range for food, as in a field, rather than being enclosed …   English World dictionary

  • free-range — ► ADJECTIVE ▪ (of livestock or their produce) kept or produced in natural conditions, where the animals have freedom of movement …   English terms dictionary

  • free-range — adjective of livestock and domestic poultry; permitted to graze or forage rather than being confined to a feedlot • Similar to: ↑unconfined * * * free range «free raynj», adjective. 1. allowed to move about or roam, rather than being confined:… …   Useful english dictionary

  • free-range — adjective 1 farm animals that are free range are not kept in small cages but are allowed to move around in a large enclosed area: free range hens 2 food that is free range comes from these farm animals: free range eggs compare battery (2) …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • free-range — adjective Date: 1960 allowed to range and forage with relative freedom < free range chickens >; also of, relating to, or produced by free range animals < free range eggs > …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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