Knowing The Difference Between Pasture-Raised and Free-Range is Crucial

As previously discussed in earlier posts, marketers for the food and farm industries will go to great lengths to grab your attention and convince you to buy their products. However, they often cut corners and bend the rules to be “petty honest” while still operating in their best interest. Being “petty honest” is not the same as being completely honest.

Interestingly, head marketers can legally deceive consumers into thinking that they are purchasing the best type of meat for their health. They may display images of robust, healthy-looking cattle grazing on green hills on their packaging or use labels and information that sound nutritious. It can be challenging to understand what it all actually means.

Below are some terms that we may encounter on meat packaging labels:

  • Free Range
  • Organic
  • 100% Natural
  • Cage-Free
  • Grass-Fed
  • Pasture-Raised

But, the only labels that matter to us should have the labels, “Pasture-raised” and “100% Grass-fed.” For all poultry products, purchase labels that read Pasture-Raised. When buying other kinds of meat, we need to make sure the products have both labels.

Why Pasture-Raised and Grass-Fed?

The saying “you are what you eat” holds true, and this applies to the food that animals consume as well. When we consume animal products, the nutrients from the animal’s diet are passed down to our bodies and become integrated into our cells.

Therefore, it is crucial to understand how the animal was raised and farmed, not only for ethical reasons but also because it directly impacts our health.

The Difference Between Pasture-Raised and Free-Range

Let’s first take a look at poultry.

Chickens are Not so free-ranged.

It is important to know that there are many different industry standards for different animals, but in the case of hens, for example; according to the USDA, the definition for “free-range” is that birds are required to have “access to the outdoors.” That’s it.  

The problem here is that there can be several interpretations of the word, “access.”

For instance, the birds can have “access” to the outdoors by just sticking their heads out through a “pop-hole.” This can mean that the birds might be able to view the outdoors, but they can’t freely roam around outside and, in some cases, not at all. Though their label says “free-range,” these birds are still caged.

Also, there’s no minimum space requirement. This might mean they are stacked on top of one another. Additionally, it doesn’t guarantee that these hens are consuming their natural diet of grasses and proteins. Instead, they’re most likely being fed grains of soy and corn to fatten them up more quickly.


On the other hand, if hens are “pasture-raised,” the farmer is required to have 1,000 or fewer birds for every 2.5 acres, providing 108 square feet per bird, which is a much larger space than the “free-range” birds have. Pasture-raised hens are also required to have field rotations and outdoor access to eat fresh, living grass each day. These hens must be kept outdoors throughout the year with safe, accessible housing to protect them from predators or harsh weather conditions. This is the highest standard for chicken farming as they are omnivorous and require more than just grass to meet their nutritional needs. It is worth noting that “grass-fed” does not apply in this case.

However, it is important to note that “pasture-raised” does not necessarily apply to other animal products.

Beef and Other Meats

When looking at other meats, “pasture-raised” beef can also be fed grains. Often times we’ll see “grass-fed,” but that just means at some point in the animal’s life, it was given grass. So, it is very important to look for the “100% grass-fed” label before purchasing any beef products, including collagen and bone broth.

Sometimes, we’ll read “grass-fed and grained finished.” This doesn’t work either. Especially when the finishing period for cattle is weeks or months.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “In the industrial system of meat production, meat animals are “finished” meaning, (prepared for slaughter), at large-scale facilities called CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). Here, the cow’s mobility is restricted, and are fed a high-calorie, grain-based diet, often supplemented with antibiotics and hormones, to maximize their weight gain.”

Understand that these animals are raised on what’s known as factory farms, where the living conditions are inexcusable. On these factory farms, cattle are tricked away from their natural diets of only grass, into eating grains, soy, corn, and processed feeds.

Even if the feed is organic or so-called “grass-fed” or “free-range”, the feed that the cattle are receiving has a direct effect on us when we consume that beef.

So, when it comes to beef, there’s a huge difference between a steak that came from a cow that grazed on grass and a steak made from an animal raised in a stockyard.

It starts with the difference in the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6.

If you’ve read the fish oil blog, you would know that omega-6 fats are usually inflammatory, and omega-3 fats are usually anti-inflammatory. Now, in the stockyard farm, cows are fed corn and soy which contain primarily omega-6 fats, while grass on the other hand is rich in omega-3 fats.

But, of course, there’s more to it. The feed rich in soy and grains converts cows to become much fatter than the equivalent number of calories from a grass diet which has the same effect on us when we eat that beef.

There’s also a larger health concern…

When it comes to viewing how human health is directly affected by eating non-pastured meats, a big concern is the animal’s hygiene and safety record of industrial farming. In many industrial farms, runoff from contaminated manure downpours into our rivers and streams, thereby producing outbreaks of E.coli and other diseases.

 It’s just not good for us.

The Take-Away Message

The unforgiving reality is that most American farmland has become dominated by this dangerous movement of industrial agriculture. The often inhumane, chemically-intensive procedures of raising food in gigantic animal production facilities impact our public health in huge ways.

We have to do our very best to buy labeled “pasture-raised” and “100% grass-fed.”. Then, and only then, will we be able to give our bodies the proper nutrients that we need to live a healthy lifestyle. And we can rest assured we’re supporting the ethical and cruelty-free treatment of animals.

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