People often ask us if our hens are free-range hens. To them, it means the hens are allowed to come and go as they please. But, when we look at the government and Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) standards, free range is not as free as you think.
No need to expand on this – most eggs that are produced for the grocery store are from caged hens. They have a minimum amount of room and are primarily fed a corn or soy diet.
Don’t let the word “free” sidetrack you. These hens are not confined to a minimum area, but, they are still in a cramped facility and do not have access to the great outdoors. So they are not as “free” as the term suggests. They, too, are primarily fed a corn or soy diet.
This is where it can get confusing. USDA requirements standards state that the hens must be given access to the outdoors. They do not determine how much or how often. HFAC standards state the hens must be outdoors, weather permitting, for at least 6 hours a day. These hens may still be fed a corn or soy diet.
This classification has been added by HFAC and it means that the hens are outdoors year-round. They are allowed to go inside at night for protection from predators BUT they should not be housed for more than two weeks a year due to inclement weather.
Hens that are Free-Range or Pasture-Raised are usually healthier and produce better eggs. One reason behind this is the hens have a better choice of food. A hen’s diet should consist of insects and other seeds, grains, grit that are found in nature.
Although we always keep pelleted food available for our hens, they do not eat as much of it when they are allowed to roam as when we keep them in the coop.
So, are our hens Free-Range hens? For the most part, yes. They are allowed outside or at least in the barn during the day and return to their coop at night. However, we do not let them out mid-June to mid-July as this is when our resident fox is teaching the kits how to hunt. And although hens make a tasty meal, we would rather not supply the fox with ours. During the summer they do have a fan to keep the heat down in the coop. We also keep them housed in the dead of winter because they can get frost-bite. Again, a heat lamp in the coop keeps the temps within range for their health.
Will we ever get “certified” for our eggs? Probably not. But rest assured, our hens are happy and enjoy roaming the pastures with the goats, cows, and horses.