by Caio Amorim
Free-range chickens are the poultry product of the future. The free-range chicken system gives a new perspective to both the producer and the chickens. This production system opens the market for small producers because these eggs have more value and are quite desirable. Farm fresh is good. The business of raising chickens and their products can be quite profitable.
In a perfect world, every animal would live freely, having contact with nature and an ability to exercise its natural behaviors. The chicken’s natural habit of scavenging, walking through the outdoors, and eating insects and grass is essential to maintaining their and your health and well-being.
- Free-Range Chickens
- Egg Production
- Market Trend is Favorable to Cage-Free
- Cage-Free vs Free-Range
- Chicken Feed
- Access to the Outdoors
- Start a Free-Range Chicken Farm
- Organic Eggs
- Other Sources of Income
- Raising Chickens
- Want more information about chickens?
Who has never eaten an egg? After a mother’s milk, eggs are the food with the highest nutritional value. Egg production is a very important sector of food production, and when consumers buy eggs, it is critical to be aware of the difference between cage-free, free-range, and conventional chicken eggs.
Do you know where most of your eggs come from? Most eggs today are produced from chickens held in small cages, where they are left with very limited freedom of mobility.
This industrial production system has created many problems for hens such as stress, sanitary, and environmental problems. However, all this is changing with the new trend of raising free hens.
Free-range eggs from pasture-raised chickens or even just cage-free chickens are much better than the alternative. In raising chickens like this, it is essential to provide adequate indoor and outdoor space for their freedom of mobility. Cage-free is here to stay.
Market Trend is Favorable to Cage-Free
Recent market trends indicate cage-free chickens and eggs are becoming more popular. A 2020 article in US News stated, “In a decade the percentage of hens in cage-free housing has soared from 4% in 2010 to 28% in 2020, and that figure is expected to more than double to about 70% in the next four years.”
Cage-free chickens are happier and thereby willing to produce healthy and nutritious eggs at a more frequent rate. Cage-free equals stress-free and is animal welfare approved.
Cage-Free vs Free-Range
Do you know the difference between cage-free and free-range chickens? Both are happy chickens, but cage-free means free chickens inside the coop and a small yard, and free-range is when the chickens have outdoor access to a large area such as a pasture.
These two types of production systems allow for a high quality of life for chickens, which in turn pays off by producing quality meat and eggs.
Chickens delight in eating bugs and drinking fresh water in the afternoon, running around and freely flapping their wings under the trees. The free-range system allows the chicken to eat things beyond the commercially produced feed. Hens don’t need much to be free and happy. Give them an outdoor area, and the result will be free-range eggs.
The basis of their feed is corn, soy, and limestone, but eating insects, grass, and vegetables allow the chickens a natural diet and higher nutritional value. In turn, they become stronger and more resistant to diseases. All of this benefits the quality of eggs. A well-fed chicken means a quality chicken egg.
Access to the Outdoors
The outdoor access that free-range chickens have is essential for egg quality. The freedom of having outdoor space is very good for birds, and with that space, the producer can also raise more than one breed of chickens together. Monitoring the chickens when they are outdoors could be difficult, depending upon the area you have them in. A drone with a camera would be a good way to keep watch without having to physically locate them.
What makes the difference is to be cage-free and that they have access to the outdoors every day except on rainy days.
Less Commercial Food Needed
Egg producers who are working toward sustainable living can look into producing cage-free eggs, for the producer can grow much of what the chickens need. Chicken feed is consumed less because the hen also feeds on insects and grass, so food costs are less than for hens raised in an enclosed area.
Certified Humane Label
The egg producers can seek the label “certified humane,” certifying that their eggs are cage-free and all their flock meets the standards and earning an animal welfare-approved seal. Certified humane is a very important label, allowing the consumer to see how the eggs were raised.
Those who believe in humane farm animal care have a different attitude toward his flock. This producer will always be looking for access to outdoor space, so that his free-range hens can roam freely. He makes sure the hen will have as how much space as it wants with outdoor access. Being pasture-raised, in the sun and fresh air is what free range means. In addition, a hen that eats pasture and insects is a well-fed hen.
Start a Free-Range Chicken Farm
As with any small business, you need to determine if there is a market for your eggs and who your competitors are. Once you have determined this, write out a simple business plan and then develop a marketing action plan. Still not sure how to proceed, consider following the steps of a business start-up. Following those plans carefully will ensure that you have a greater possibility of success.
Free-Range Chicken Coop Requirements
To begin your chicken operation, you will need a chicken coop which allows enough square feet for each chicken. The smaller breeds, such as Batams only require about 2 square feet. Leghorns and other medium-sized breeds will need about 3 square feet, while Plymouth Rocks and other larger breeds require at least 4 square feet.
If you are careful when planning your coop, you will create an environment that will be fresher, airier, and the chickens will have fewer health problems. A large outdoor area is also needed for them to be outdoors.
This type of operation allows the chickens to roam and eat naturally, which also means you don’t need to buy as much commercial feed.
Cage-free facilities are simple. You need a tall, well-ventilated shed for air circulation. Use the same square feet space requirements that we noted above.
It is also important to have safe and dark nesting boxes for them to lay their eggs quietly. Access to the backyard is via small doors that are opened after they have produced their eggs.
Where can you sell eggs? You can sell at a farmer’s market. You can set up an egg route where you deliver eggs to customers on a regular basis. If your chickens produce enough eggs, you might be able to sell to local groceries and other such outlets.
Do you know what an organic egg is? Organic eggs are produced from organic grains such as corn and soybeans. If the producer has access to these ingredients, he can produce organic eggs. The feed and/or land materials (grass, etc.) must be organic in order to claim the organic label. This is one more benefit you can give to your customers.
If you are producing eggs for the public rather than just for personal consumption, you must determine how your distribution will be done. In keeping with the cage-free/free-range/ organic trend, you should be using paper egg cartons that can be recycled or are from recycled materials. Your customers will appreciate the presentation of your product as it does not degrade the environment.
The modern consumer, with access to information, is more savvy about his food. Knowing about natural food produced from hens pasture-raised is quite popular. Because this trend is upward, it is a market that you can take advantage of.
Other Sources of Income
If you raise free-range or cage-free chickens, you might also be able to sell the meat if you can find a butcher to do USDA certified.
If you have an abundance of chicks (peeps), you can sell them to people wanting chickens in their backyards.
Chicken manure is another source of income. When cleaning up after your chickens, you can compost this very hot manure and sell the compost. It is great in gardens if used sparingly, especially on tomatoes.
You can also teach others how to raise chickens, both free-range and cage-free. With the current popularity of the backyard chicken, few people really know how to take care of chickens safely and in a healthy manner, and how to get free-range eggs.
As you have seen, there are tremendous benefits in pasture-raised eggs and chickens. Keeping the poultry happy and healthy benefits both them, the consumer, and your pocketbook. There is a huge market for pasture-raised products–people want to return to traditional sources of food. You and your pocketbook can benefit.
Want more information about chickens?
About the Author
Caio Amorim is the Director of Serra do Mar Farm of Brazil. He is a producer of free-range eggs. His mission: He is in the search for healthy agriculture, combining food production with animal welfare and nature preservation.