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What does pastured mean?
Pastured Eggs are laid by hens that have been raised outdoors on open fields. The birds live in smaller flocks and usually in mobile sheds that are rotated around pastured paddocks. Pastured eggs are not 'grass fed', not in the truest sense of that term because layer hens cannot survive on grass alone. Chickens are omnivores and that means that like you and me, they need a varied diet that consists of a nutritionally balanced feed that includes fibre, energy (carbs) and protein along with essential vitamins and minerals.
The definition of pastured eggs is:
'All livestock are raised outdoors with continuous and unrestricted daytime access to paddocks that are suitable for grazing and are provided with shade and shelter. All animals must use the paddocks each day unless; they choose to shelter because of inclement weather, short term confinement for veterinary treatment or when giving birth. Feed supplements are available to ensure all their nutritional needs are met. Animals are kept at a stocking intensity that will ensure forage is always available in a sustainably managed rotational grazing system.'
Poultry are omnivores and their ancestors were originally forest dwellers. We need to remember that when thinking about how a chicken should be raised.
Chooks raised on pasture do eat a lot of grass and also get a lot of their nutritional needs from the soil but the main reason for calling them pastured is to best describe how they live their lives while on farm. Pastured farming means always having access to grazing, living in open paddocks with plenty of room, no overcrowding and definitely no indoor confinement.
The new definition for free range eggs agreed upon by the Australian government allows for stocking densities of 10,000 hens per hectare with only access needed to the range, there is no requirement for the birds to actually go outside. The following information on compliance with the 'meaningful and regular access' to the outdoors was provided by Treasury on this section of the Information Standards:
“The definition is access based so that producers are not required to ensure that hens go outside during daylight hours every day across the laying cycle but are required to provide conditions which encourage access to and use of the range.”
When you stock 20,000 to 30,000 in a chicken shed that means that there is an awful lot of hens that will never see daylight.
*Of course it is not possible on a commercial farm for chickens to be born outdoors. The majority of layer hens are sourced from hatcheries that supply a limited number of laying poultry breeds. We can however ensure that the young birds have access to the outdoors as soon as they are sufficiently feathered.