What does "Pasture Raised" really mean?
Natural. Organic. Non-GMO. Grass-fed. Air-chilled. Fresh. Pasture-raised. Confusing? We sure think so. It took us months of research and talking to the best in the field to figure out which of these terms were certifiable, which were marketing jargon and which ones were truly important.
We begin our Ag School series with a term that most often gets thrown with little context: pasture-raised.
What does "pasture-raised" mean?
The term pasture-raised is not certifiable by the USDA. You can see the full list of terms that are certifiable here. If the producers make the claim “pasture-raised,” then they must define it for themselves.
Raising animals on pasture is not the industry standard. In fact, most chickens and pigs spend their entire lives confined indoors. The same is true for beef cattle, who are normally confined indoors or in outdoor feedlots for a portion of their lives and fed a high-grain feed ration, rather than being allowed to graze.
The definition we use is that animals are raised according to their biology and the seasons. We live in Texas and support ranchers from Central Texas, so the seasons are different than a rancher in Wyoming or Minnesota. Pasture-raised, for us, means that animals have access to fresh grass always and are able to roam instead of being confined in cells or cages.
For example, our chickens live in mobile coops that move to fresh grass every single day. The chickens are provided a shaded tent so they are protected from the elements and other animals but spend their lives on grass with plenty of room to move.
Our pigs and cattle roam and move just like animals should. That is what we mean when we say our animals are raised according to their biology and the season. Cold snap? Let the animals come indoors into a shelter. Summertime drought? Supplement the animals grass with grain.
Ultimately, our ranchers care about their animals and treat their animals accordingly. That is what makes the difference.
Why You Should Care
Rotational grazing is an important tenet of regenerative agriculture. It is so good that it can actually bring back vanishing grasslands. Our chicken ranchers have pictures showing what rotational grazing has done to the grass. Certification programs like the Savory Institute are teaching ranchers the importance of holistic management, that is rooted in pastured animals.
Health & Humane Treatment
Animals that are raised with access to grass, sunlight, and movement do not get as sick as animals that are confined. Not to mention, letting animals roam in the way they are biologically meant to is good for their health and wellbeing. Animals are healthier and require less antibiotics to fight sickness and disease.
Don't forget about taste. Like a wine and terroir, you can taste the difference when animals have been grazing in their natural habitat. Give quality meat a try; you will taste the difference!