Why pasture raised is better
Pastured poultry means chickens and other poultry is raised right on top of living grasses. This is accomplished by keeping the birds in low, wide, bottomless shelters called "chicken tractors" that are moved to a new spot of fresh pasture once or more often each day. In the chicken tractors are grain feeders and watering devices.
This enables the birds to forage on various grasses, plants, and insects. The birds will eat up to 30% of their daily calories in grass and insects.
So why is pasture raised poultry better? First the obvious, it is better for the birds. Because they are raised in smaller flocks, this results in a less stressful environment for the pastured flock, allowing for natural flock behaviors and preventing the stress of overcrowding. Additionally, they do not have to undergo invasive procedures such as debeaking or dubbing, as the stimulation of the natural environment prevents poultry from attacking each other.
In addition to a happier flock, there are several studies that show increased health benefits in eating pasture raised poultry over conventionally raised poultry.
In 1999 chicken farmer Barb Gorski received a grant from the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program to compare the nutrition of her chickens to the USDA data from conventionally raised chickens. The results showed that her pasture raised poultry contained 21 percent less fat than conventional poultry, and 30 percent less saturated fat.
Gorski's 1999 study also revealed 50 percent more vitamin A in her pasture raised chicken meat when compared to conventionally raised chicken. Removing the skin from the meat equalized vitamin A content between pasture and conventionally raised birds, however.
In 2008 two studies published in "Poultry Science" found that pasture raised chicken contained higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally raised chickens. One study found significantly higher levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (one of the omega-3 fatty acids), the second study found higher levels of four different omega-3 fatty acids in pasture raised chickens.
Lastly pasture raised poultry has taste! One of the biggest adjustments to switching to pastured poultry is learning that a little spice goes a long ways.