If you look in a dictionary, there are alternate meanings for words. Orange – is it a fruit or a color, you know that the answer is both. So what exactly does “free range” mean? First, the word is not a federally regulated word, therefore free range means whatever the seller wants the definition to be. This is why it is so critical for the purchaser to ask questions. And one of the first questions, in my opinion, should be, “Can I visit or tour your farm?’ If the answer is no, I would be suspicious.
Ask specific questions, if you ask if my eggs are free range I will answer “yes.” But a confinement farmer can honestly answer the question in the affirmative as well, because he may not use battery cages. These laying hens may never see the light of day, but he meets his definition of “free range”.
Even though at Walnut Hill Farm our laying hens are free to roam the pastures, are they “free range?” I often explain that by law the laying hens have to be confined to our property and not the neighbors, so can the chicken really go anywhere they want? I hope you see the difficulty with some of the terms. Let me repeat, ask the farmer what their definition of “free range” or any other terms means to them.
I will make the same claim about hormones. Are our animals given added hormones? No, of course not! However without natural hormones there are no baby calves. Think about this; a bull without natural testosterone will not breed. Females are not immune either; estrogen and progesterone are two such examples. SO, is your beef free of all hormones, NO! But there is a world of difference between what the Good Lord intended and those added by man for growth enhancements.
This is why it is so critical for the consumer to do their homework. Fancy labels on national known products are no exception. For some of the ins and outs of these definitions I would like to refer you to a book written by Nicolette Hahn Niman “Righteous Pork Chop – Finding a life and good food beyond factory farms”. If nothing else just read chapters 10 and 11. These chapters are titled Finding the Right Foods and Answering Obstacles to Reform.
Then there is reading the label, and understanding exactly what the label means. It is well known, if not common knowledge, that arsenic is added to chicken feed to stimulate eating. (Yes, I said arsenic, a known poison.) You will never see arsenic on a feed label, but you might see the word Roxarsone. Roaxarsone is a trade name for organic arsenic (organic arsenic?) compounds added to broiler feeds. So if you ask someone selling chicken, does your feed contain arsenic, they might say no and here is the label for you to read yourself. This is why I think it is critical to know your farmer, so you truly know your food.
Keep in mind that the definitions also vary from farm animal to farm animal. Free range is a catch phrase in poultry, but it really has no meaning when discussing beef cattle. In fact agriculture like any occupation has a language all its own. To teach you some farm lingo I will throw out a term each week and it will be called the password. This password will entitle you to $1.00 off on your purchase (does not include egg only or dairy only purchases). Generally this password will be inserted randomly into the text. To redeem your discount, you will have to use the word and definition. This week the password will not be hidden in the text, the reason for the discount is to encourage you to read the blog posting. Additionally it will help to increase your barnyard vocabulary.
Password: keet – the young of guinea fowl.