In Britain, around half of all eggs sold are labelled as free range compared to only 3 % that are sold as Organic. But what is the difference between the two?
The Soil Association (the largest Organic certification body in the UK) allows for up to 2000 birds in a flock whereas Free Range rules set no upper limit.
Organic regulations state that hens must have constant and easily available access to an outdoor range covered in suitable vegetation. They also require more ‘pop holes’ (exit doors) than free range rules so outdoor roaming is more accessible for birds in larger flocks. Birds in free range flocks have access to outdoor range for only part of the day and generally have less pop holes to come and go making it less likely that they will actually go outside if they are in a large flock.
Hens raised organically are given 10 square metres of outside space per bird compared to 4 square metres for hens raised as free range. Organic hens are also allowed outside from a younger age which helps them get used to a more outdoor lifestyle.
Beak trimming, a painful and stress inducing practice used to stop the hens pecking each other, is not allowed under Soil Association standards, but is common in free range and EU organic practices. If hens are given enough space, there’s no reason why they would peck each other enough to require beak trimming.
Routine use of antibiotics and the use of GM feed are both prohibited by the Soil Association but not under free range rules. It is well established that the overuse of antibiotics creates antibiotic resistance in both humans and animals while the use of GM encourages more and more of our food production to become established in the hands of a few large corporations.
Animal welfare is ultimately about allowing an animal to express its self. How does an animal express itself? Chickens don’t write poetry but they do like to roam outside, have dust baths, scratch around in the grass and have a safe perch to sleep on at night. These are all things that a chicken would choose to do if given the opportunity and are an expression of its inner chickeny-ness! We strive here at The Fold to keep our hens to the highest welfare standards and believe that we have given them the chance to do all the things that chickens like to do and have a small enough flock that problems or health issues can be dealt with quickly.