As we know, labels can be confusing! When buying chicken it's hard to decipher between the terms: "pasture raised" "cage free" and "free range." To the ordinary person it sounds like these terms all mean the same thing.... but of course, they don't!
Free Range- The USDA defines free range to mean that the chickens had spent some time in an outside area. "Some" is the key word because the USDA does not specify as to how long the chickens should be outside or in what condition. It could be that the farmer took the chickens outside to a concrete patio for five minutes and then brought them back inside his warehouse. This term is vague and does not offer the customer much knowledge about the meat.
Cage Free- Cage free means that the chickens were not kept in a cage. It does not indicate if the chickens were allowed access outside. It could mean that the chickens were running around in a warehouse (notice it does not specify where the chickens were living). Another question this brings is how many chickens we crammed into a space? How big was the space? Once again, this term is loose and does not clearly define how the chicken was raised.
Pasture Raised- This term is the best possible when searching for the healthiest chicken. This terms means that the chickens were on grass with access to forage and bugs at all times. Most chickens who are pasture raised are free to roam in a huge moveable pen. The pen is important so that the chickens are safe from wild predators (foxes, coyotes, hawks etc.). The pens are moved around to fresh grass each day to allow the chickens to move freely and eat fresh bugs and other forage (a natural diet for a chicken).
The labeling terms can be misleading because they are vague. Don't get too caught up on the terms when shopping for chicken. Ask the butcher or better yet, know your farmer!