Free Range

The term free range is generally understood by consumers to mean that hens have access to pasture. This is mandatory in the EU (Table 1), but not elsewhere. Problems associated with such access are damage to the ground and buildup of disease. In early forms of free range, these problems were avoided by using small, movable houses. Highly labor-intensive, that approach was adapted by incorporating fixed housing big enough for birds to be fed inside. They also obtain some nutrition from the outdoor area, particularly on pasture. However, a similar arrangement without vegetation is adopted in some conditions that cannot provide it, for example in organic egg production in some parts of the United States. In any case, consumption of provided feed is actually higher on range than in housing, at least in temperate countries, because of increased activity and lower temperature.

One possible arrangement is to have a house surrounded by several areas of land, with pop-holes for the birds to reach each area in rotation. If one area is used permanently, stocking density must be kept low, but in large commercial flocks only a minority of birds

Table 1 Criteria defined by the European Union for labeling of eggs

Label

Criteria

Free range Continuous daytime access to ground mainly covered with vegetation Maximum 400 hens/acre (1000 hens/hectare) Semi intensive Continuous daytime access to ground mainly covered with vegetation Maximum 1600 hens/acre (4000 hens/hectare) Deep litter Maximum 6 hens/yd2 (7 hens/m2)

A third of floor covered with litter; part of floor for droppings collection Perchery or barn Maximum 21 birds per yd2 (25 hens/m2) Perches, 6 in (15 cm) for each hen

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