Forrest Pritchard is a full-time sustainable farmer and New York Times bestselling author, holding a BA in English and a BS in Geology from William & Mary. Smith Meadows, his farm, was one of the first “grass finished” operations in the country, and has sold at leading farmers’ markets in Washington DC for nearly two decades. Pritchard's first two books received starred reviews from The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and NPR, and his latest book is set to debut in 2018.

44 responses to “What is ‘Free-Range Chicken’?”

  1. Adam Burnside

    Loving the blog Forrest

  2. Molly Moses

    Can’t wait to read the book!

  3. Rose from WI

    Very informative even to someone who has been buying her eggs from her farmer for years. Hits all the right points.
    Thanks for working hard to preserve local, sustainable, and nutritious foods and getting up with the chickens to do so!
    Your blogs are well-written, and I, too, look forward to your book. Press on!

  4. Alice Boatwright

    Thanks! I enjoyed this article very much. I used to live in California, where my husband and I enjoyed Rocky Jr free-range chickens. (I think they really are. . . ). Now we live in France where we are almost invariably disappointed with the chicken — even when you pay a very high price for it. Just can’t figure that out. The French are so good about supporting small business. I guess more research would be a good thing.

  5. Sylvie in Rappahannock

    The “label rouge” chicken aren’t a breed, but label of quality defining how the bird is raised – on pasture, humanely, respecting the environement, limited number of chciken houses and sizes etc etc it is also tied to regional heritage breed and traditional regional method of production – so you have “label rouge” with defined geographical areas too .
    And yes, breeds raised in France (if they aren’t the factory-farm things…. which exists) are older breed, smaller, leaner animals with smaller breasts – much smaller than in the US – and they grow slower too…. They lend themselves better to stew and stove-top cooking than roasts. Sort of like a heritage turkey vs. Broad Breasted White….
    Anyway, here is an English-language doc on the label rouge program (from ATTRA)

  6. Sylvie in Rappahannock

    Forrest, yes I have seen both terms (although Freedom Rangers is too close to my taste to “freedom fries”, something that still makes me tick almost 10 years later – I guess French Rangers would not do… :)….
    Poulet Rouge seems to be the name American farms use for the Naked Neck breed when they follow the Label Rouge program guidelines. But yes, older breed that grows slowly, forage etc and are deeply flavorful

  7. James

    I laughed at your opening comment. The first house I lived in as a child was a renovated chicken house near Martinsburg. I guess I really did grow up in a chicken coop.

  8. judy

    Wonderfully interesting, and indeed a way of life that I respect. And covet! Living in cluster deed restricted housing isn’t good for me, how could coop-life be good for chickens? Thank you for the efforts you put into your 4,000 birds, and best wishes to your family and staff.

  9. Trying New Things | Herbs, Food & Health

    […] is a free range chicken, really, or should be at least. Read more about it. That is how I want my chicken. Share this: […]

  10. Beverly Walker

    My biggest predator threat here in the mountains of New Hampshire is starving black bears out of hibernation before there are any green things to eat, and in the fall before hibernation. This April, I lost 8 out of 11 laying chickens during a 6 day siege on my coop built into the corner of a long shed. The three remaining have PTSD and one doesn’t talk at all these days.

    I have since purchased electric poultry netting and hung several aluminum pie plates along the sides of the netting with honey on them. I’m told that a jolt on the bear’s tongue will really discourage it. I am also relieved of the worry from foxes and weasels as well. I will replace the flock with pullets and slowly merge the two groups together. The pullets can live in the old A-frame chicken tractor in a fenced area of their own until then.

    It gets very cold here (-30 some nights) in the winter so my coop must be as free of drafts as possible. I bring fresh water twice or three time a day. They don’t like to go out if there is snow on the ground but occasionally will if I put some shavings down on top of the pounded down snow. They stay warm at night hunkered together on the roost. I saw no signs of trouble with their feet or combs. Egg production was down, of course.

    I came to raising chicken very late in life (age 70) but felt compelled to do so nevertheless. I been studying permaculture and use the chickens in the fall to clean up and fertilize my garden.

    Thank you for sharing your life adventures through your book. It was a wonderful, informative read.


  11. Janelle

    Its just so heartwarming to know that you raise your chickens so humanely while sustaining the land. It pains me to see the conditions that farm animals are raised in our country. I will definely be out to buy your book and read very soon. Thank you for your hard work and giving us hope there are still humane practices in our world.

  12. Mob Grazing with Chickens | Smith Meadows

    […] 365 days a year, even in the snow. (I’ve written a comprehensive blog about how all this works HERE, along with an accompanying videos HERE and HERE.) From the stationary coop, there are access doors […]

  13. Brett

    So nice to see people doing the only type of farming that should exist. I grew up on the farm just as you did and really love the lifestyle. Have had to move to city to make money but plan in the next few months to build up my own free range chicken farm.. can’t wait to get back into nature!!

  14. zohaa

    Im doing a project about comparing the free-range and factory farmed chickens thanks for the useful info!

  15. Some More Egg-onomics « On Pasture

    […] (For more on how we do this, check out this article “Mob Grazing With Chickens” and this post on my blog.)  On our farm, true sustainability is found in our herbivores, the sheep and cattle. Our pigs, […]

  16. Jaclyn Snyder

    Loved the information you provided. I have been wanted to pasture raise chicken for awhile but everyone seems to think it impossible. I am so happy I found this sight. I am curious we only have about 3 acres of pasture to raise them on how many chickens are a healthy number to raise for both them and the ground? I so appreciate you sharing the way you farm it’s so encouraging!!

  17. Pitsi Senosha

    Thank you for the information. I want to try this, South African winter is not extreme, I am sure they will survive. i will start with a few hens for eggs.

  18. jane

    We have free range chickens (by their own doing!). They lay eggs here and there. Sometimes I find a clutch with 5 or 6 eggs. They are cold so I know the chicken is not setting them. My question is Are the eggs okay to eat even though I don’t know how long they have been sitting there?

  19. What to Feed Chickens

    Free range chickens eggs are way better than regular. Recently I have convinced myself to try them and from that point I only purchase eggs from a free range!

  20. Betty

    “…Feed them a little chicken feed…” how much, how often & what is in this feed?

  21. Dwight Eichorn

    From southern Michigan, and wondering if and how I could cost effectively keep my 250+ flock of laying hens warmer especially during the night in the winter. Was wondering about using a propane water heater and building their roosts with PVC pipe and running the warm/hot water through the pipes. I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this idea. Dwight Eichorn

  22. felicitas njoroge

    from kaimbu kenya, planning on rearing freerange chicken. thank you for sharing your thoughts on the same

  23. V.R.H

    Very Insightful! Thank You!

  24. Myo Aung,Mr

    Thanks a lot.

  25. Aden

    I am also planning to start a free range chicken farm.
    And would like to get more knowledge (like your book)
    Thank you

  26. Ann Nicholson

    I live just outside of Boston. I never knew how badly the large corporations treated their chicken farmers, and worse off, the chickens themselves. I REFUSE TO BUY any of the big 5 corporate chickens any longer. Where can I buy Smith Meadows free-range chickens?

  27. Kevin

    You can have true free range chicken if your farm supports a more natural setting. Something like an acre of wooded area along with an acre of grass area. Chicken by nature will only forage for grass early in the morning and late in the evening to avoid the predators from above. They will stay and forage in the wooded area mostly during the sunlight hours to avoid hawks and eagles. To protect them from ground predator, leave a guard dog to chase away coyotes, foxes or raccoons at night. Leave plenty of bushes in between your wooded area and grass covers so your chickens can forage for bugs and run for cover against birds of prey. You would never have to worry about your chickens destroying your grass cover areas if you plant the type of grass along with clovers that your chickens like to eat. Again, chicken prefer foraging in wooded area because there are more bugs there vs the grass cover area so they would never be out there making themselves vulnerable for the birds of prey. Feed them only in the evening and they will be train to come back to the coop at night so you can protect them by locking them up for the night.
    You can always cross breed egg laying birds with meat birds for your own taste and to become self sufficient. Egg layers don’t sit on their eggs and most game types of birds will sit on their eggs but are poor egg producers. For example: crossing RI Reds with Thai will give you a more meatier bird that still sits on the eggs. Crossing a RI Red with a game cock will give you a lighter leaner bird that will also lay good amount of eggs and will still sit on the eggs if you let it.

  28. Elizabeth Drew

    Forrest, wondering what breed of chickens you use for the layers and boilers? My husband and I left DC in 2010, but we continue to follow your work. We currently have 15 layers and use net fencing to rotate their pasture! Thank you!

  29. Anna Beall

    Hi Forrest

    I am in the process of beginning an egg share program in northern Virginia. My question for you is about space for the amount of birds I would like to have. My goal is between 150 and 200 laying hens. They will be kept in converted 19 ft travel trailers. How many trailers do you think I will need? I was thinking two. And how many acres total do you think they will need access to? I will move my electric fencing for mob grazing when the ground seems complete of availability to the chickens but if I rotate closer to once a week how many acre total will they need?
    Also here in Virginia we are having nasty coyote problems. Will the 4ft electric fencing really keep them out? I have never used electric fencing and wonder if there is any good articles you could point out that give a good overview to all the specifics?

    Thank you and follow you regularly!!

  30. Fateema Fakih

    I have a question,hope i get an answer for this

    In my farmers market,i find free range chicken and country chicken
    When i interacted with the farmers,they said country chicken takes about a year to be fully grown well as on the other hand free range chicken is cut aftr 40-45 days
    I ddnt really understand the answer to be honest as they claimed the chicken was free from any antibiotics n stuffs of that kind

    1. Fateema Fakih

      Thank you for your prompt reply!
      I tried both the chicken,the free range is better in taste n texture than the ones that r found in supermarkets which i totally avoid now and the meat of country chicken is more like red meat in colour and it takes way more time to cook than a free range chicken would and yes its bones are very hard unlike other chickens and its meat has more flavour

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