The American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) wants everyone to know that real pastured poultry doesn’t hide behind labeling claims. While supermarket chicken now boasts labels including: free-range; anti-biotic free; cage free; or humanely raised; often these claims simply allow conventional chicken to masquerade as a pastured poultry product.
“Pastured poultry goes beyond labels: it’s a community and a movement of farmers and eaters who intentionally choose to support a better way of raising chickens, eggs, and turkey,” states a recent APPPA press release, which announces the availability of a new video which promotes pastured poultry production, and targets consumers.
APPPA is a non-profit trade association whose goal is to promote the raising of chicken on pasture. They provide resources both to farmers and to consumers interested in nutritious poultry raised with a small environmental impact, in a manner which supports independent family farms, promotes animal well-being, and results in a flavorful product.
Pastured poultry, done correctly, is a benefit to farmer, environment, community, consumer and chicken alike.
“There are large groups of people who already know the evils of the commodity poultry farm, and they’re looking for different. The problem is that they’re getting sucked up into alternative label claims that do not meet their expectations,” Mike Badger, APPPA Director, said. “In other words, they’re buying on label claims at premium prices and getting commodity products.”
With conventionally produced poultry imitating small farming, consumers may think they are purchasing a product that, in reality, is not what is being sold.
So why are consumers being misled? Part of the answer lies in the lack of marketing and visibility by true pastured poultry producers.
“Pastured poultry is a direct marketed product,” Badger said. “Being able to market moves the product and keeps the cash coming in and the doors open. Sometimes, the impediment to marketing is one of workload. Farmers are too busy and have other tasks that need to be done.”
The small guy isn’t as focused on promoting their product as they need to be. But the importance of marketing, particularly when most consumers aren’t informed about the manner in which food is raised — and conventional producers are permitted to use label claims which aren’t intuitive or transparent — can’t be understated.
“One of the consumer calls I took was from a customer in Minnesota who said she had never heard of pastured poultry until she saw the video come across her feed,” Badger said. “I’d like to think she was an exception, but I know that she is not. Often, people don’t recognize there are alternatives.”
The challenge is for the family farmers raising poultry on pasture to tell their stories and market their birds in a manner that makes clear the discrepancies between misleading label claims and the true practices of pasturing birds. Finding the time and the motivation to do so can be a daunting task.
“Marketing requires intentional effort and it’s just as important as fixing the fence. Farmers either need to devote the time, or find someone who will,” Badger said. “Other times, farmers just don’t want to market. But that’s a tough proposition for an industry that builds on the benefit of reducing middlemen and capturing more money of the profit for the farm.”
The narrator in the video states that “pastured poultry isn’t new to the planet, but it’s new to the modern market. We think the world should know about it.”
“APPPA is laying a foundation for discussion and education across the farmer to consumer spectrum. We’re calling on members and non-members in the community to step up and promote our community at-large, starting with this video,” the press release states.
And APPPA has opted to spread that message in a positive manner, showcasing the manner in which real pastured poultry is raised, spotlighting several prominent pastured poultry producers, and discussing the final product’s flavor, nutritional content and community connection. It’s talking about how true pastured poultry is actually raised, rather than pontificating on the conventional commodity poultry system.
“We believe our message is positive,” Badger said. “We believe our community needs to hear how pastured poultry farmers can be a uniting force through food that is inherently valuable through its nutrition, environmental impact, animal welfare, and rural economics.”
Feed the world?
Pastured poultry models are able to be scaled up in size — just add more “chicken tractors” on enough land to support the endeavor in an environmentally sound manner, and enough labor to care for the birds properly. There are pastured poultry farmers who have built a regional market, selling via retail grocery stores in their area. The number of birds being raised in a pasture system depends upon the availability of land, and of the labor.
David Hale, of Windy Meadows Family Farm in Texas, and Terrell Spencer, of Across the Creek Farm, in Arkansas, both featured in the APPPA video, show how it is done on a larger scale. Spencer raises 10,000 broilers along with laying hens. Hale raises about seven times more birds. But these large-scale poultry farmers are prime examples of real pasture poultry farming. Both state that pastured poultry requires daily rotations to fresh pasture forages, managing the grass responsibly, and letting chickens be chickens. They are producing more chicken in the same manner they did when they were producing hundreds, not thousands, of birds.
“The feed the world question assumes that the current alternative to pastured poultry is sustainable. We have 25,000 contract farms producing eight billion chickens per year for consumption in the United States,” Badger said. “What would it take to shift 100 percent of that production to pasture? Two-hundred-thousand farms could each raise 40,000 birds, or 100,000 farms could raise 80,000 chickens each. The secret is we have farms producing these levels and much more in a pasture-based system.”
With pastured poultry production, the model does not change as the number of birds per farm grows. The basics are always the same. Raising more birds doesn’t mean sacrificing the integrity of the method.
“People need to catch up to our capabilities,” Badger said. “We can raise the birds. The impediment is a regulatory system that favors consolidated and international interests over small-scale United States interests. As a local farmer, providing for the community, exports are unnecessary.”
Raising awareness that conventional poultry rearing is not the way it’s always been done, and that farmers today are capable of producing a true pastured poultry product in an economically feasible manner, on a scale that feeds communities a nutritious product that is healthy to eat and healthy for the environment, too, is the goal. No longer is pastured poultry a backyard endeavor. Instead, it can replace the confined, contract poultry-raising conventional system.
As for the APPPA video, it’s doing its job if it can make consumers aware of the realities of pastured poultry, and make the product visible to them, so they can seek it out, and avoid purchasing poultry with misleading label claims, Badger said.
“So, we’re simply saying, if you want a difference you can see and taste, this is what it looks like. It’s called pastured poultry, and we’ll help you find it.”