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Pasture-raised is not free-range. But what about cage-free?

So what we are really talking about here is USDA labeling and how large growers have gotten very generic terms added to the regulations to basically fool consumers into buying a product by using misleading terms to indicate that has been raised in one manner when it has not. This is a growing trend and is referred to as “Greenwashing”.

So let’s dive into the world of egg labels

No Labeling on Carton

If you don’t see any mention at all of the animal’s lifestyle on the package, you can be sure the animal was caged throughout its life. Terms like “fresh” and “real” may be on the carton but these terms are not regulated and have no official meaning.

“Caged” chickens only have 67 square inches of cage space, which is less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper! In general, caged animals spend their entire lives with no room to turn around or spread their wings, let alone engage in vital natural behaviors like nesting or dust bathing.


According to the USDA, cage-free eggs come from hens that are “housed in a building, room, or enclosed area that allows for unlimited access to food, water, and provides the freedom to roam within the area during the laying cycle.” Even though this sounds a lot better than confining a chicken to a cage, note that this regulation makes no mention of a space requirement. This means that lots of chickens can be stuffed into a barn and still be considered cage-free. The term also does not mean they were given access to the outdoors. This is not the sunshine and pasture image the term “cage-free” conjures up!


The USDA defines free range eggs as basically the same as cage-free eggs, with the exception that free range hens have access to the outdoors. Note that this doesn’t mean they’re able to roam completely free and there are no requirements regarding the size of the outdoor area, the condition, or even how long or often the animal is outside. It could just be a screened-in porch that they have access to for a few minutes. Once again the reality of the chickens’ lives is not what you think of when the term “Free-Range” is used.


There is not a legal definition of the term “Pasture-Raised.” Pretty much anyone can claim to produce “pasture-raised” and suffer no consequences for misinformation. Knowing exactly what that means for the poultry products that you purchase is where it benefits a consumer to know their farmer and what their farmer’s practices are.

Sweet Gum Farm (Pasture Raised)

Sweet Gum Farm Layers on Pasture

To Sweet Gum Farm Pastured Poultry means that the birds live out on pasture starting around 3 to 4 weeks of age in mobile coops or, as the coops are also known, chicken tractors. These chicken tractors are set out on pasture and moved on a regular schedule to give them fresh grass. To help protect them against predators we “day range” them, which means we secure them in the tractor at dusk, letting them out again in the morning. This protects them from nocturnal predators such as owls, raccoons, possums, skunks, and coyotes.   With the chickens being on pasture all of the time this allows them to consume grasses, bugs, worms and anything else they can find that strikes their fancy, meaning they are consuming what their instincts are telling them is good for them.  However, proper nutrition for chickens can’t be met with just grass and bugs; to make sure all of their nutritional requirements are met we also provide them with a non-GMO feed, along with grit to ensure proper digestion. 

In order to protect the chickens while they are day ranging in the pasture, we surround their area with a movable electrified poultry netting. This keeps dogs and other daytime predators from getting to the chickens. Every time we move the chicken tractor, we also move the electrified netting. The chickens realize that moving their tractor means they are getting fresh grass–which also means more bugs and new spots to dig for dirt baths, much to their excitement–so they enjoy being moved. Usually we have mowed the pasture area they are being moved to and they love scratching in the fallen hay for any goodies hidden underneath so they come running out of their chicken tractor to start investigating the fresh ground.

Each length of poultry netting is 164 feet long. Our flock of layers has three lengths of netting connected into one long fence line so their fencing is 492 feet long. This translates into a lot of area for them to explore.

Not only are pasture-raised animals happier with more space to roam, but they are also healthier, which translates into important health benefits. By having more area they are not forced to live in their waste. They excrete waste while they are out foraging. This and rotating them among the pasture areas combine to keep them healthier.

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Studies have found that pasture-raised eggs contain twice the amount of omega-3 fatty acids than regular eggs (1). As for meat, research has shown pastured chickens have greater nutritional quality (2).

This is important because non-pastured chickens fed a diet of corn and soy have a high omega-6 fatty acid ratio which is pro-inflammatory for them (and for us when consumed). Omega-3, on the other hand, is anti-inflammatory and reduces the risk of heart attacks (3).

More Essential Vitamins

Specifically, pasture-raised eggs contain twice as much vitamin E and 38 percent more vitamin A than their caged counterparts (4).

Where To Find Pasture-Raised Eggs

At a local farmers market, where you are supporting local farmers as well as also lowering your carbon footprint by choosing locally-sourced products. Make sure to talk to the farmer and ask any questions you might have. Now it’s time for some self-advertising: you can order them from us on our website or come get some from us at the farmers market we attend.

Conventional Chicken = grow houses, antibiotics & vaccines, gmo/soy feed
Organic Chicken = grow houses, antibiotics & vaccines, organic feed
Free Range Chicken = grow houses with a door, antibiotics & vaccines, any feed
Pasture Raised = no legal definition (unregulated living conditions, may include antibiotics, vaccines, gmo/soy feed)
Sweet Gum Farm Chicken = 24/7 outside, NO antibiotics, NO vaccines, foraging for bugs, grubs, seeds & worms + supplemental non-gmo feed

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Health issues not found in Freedom Rangers

In a previous post we talked about the reason why we like the slow-growing Freedom Ranger (TM) over the predominant broiler chicken in production, the Cornish cross. One of those reasons was it does not have the same health issues so let’s cover one of them in more detail that the slow growing Freedom Ranger (TM) does not have.

Woody Breast

Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? I guess if we were all beavers we might enjoy it. Woody Breast is a fairly new issue that has only really been around for a little over a decade now. Even with all of the large commercial poultry players spending large amounts of money to find a solution. As much as 50 percent of a commercial flock can be affected by it. You can see and taste the difference of the meat that has woody breast compared to an unaffected piece. When looking at a raw chicken breast filet it will be yellowish. But it is also affected in ways that are not detectable by the eye–such as lower protein levels in the meat.

If a breast filet is affected by Woody Breast it still can be eaten. (Yuck, right?) It will be tough with a coarse texture that is unappealing to consumers so it is hidden in ground chicken such as chicken nuggets or other processed chicken products. Fewer people are noticing Woody Breast at the grocery store but that is most likely due to the industry getting better at identifying, and redirecting it into processed chicken product where the texture is not so noticeable, not due the decline of it in the commercial industry’s flocks.

So where has Woody Breast come from? It is a genetic trait in chicken that has only become an issue since the poultry industry has selectively bred for larger and larger chicken breasts over time thus breeding a chicken that is more susceptible to Woody Breast. The breast meat on a Cornish cross weighs more then an entire chicken did a couple of decades ago! All indications are that it is from the chicken putting on weight so fast that the rest of the chickens organs and functions are unable to keep up and maintain the chicken in a healthy natural state.

With the slower growing nature of the Freedom Ranger (TM) you do not have this issue as it grows at a rate that its organs can support it weight gain.

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The information above is from the following sources so if interested in learning more read.

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Are colored Easter eggs safe?

With Easter this weekend this is a excellent time to ask this question if you plan to color real eggs for Easter and then eat them afterwords. Sometimes eggs are decorated, used as decorations, and hunted at Easter. Here are some safety tips for Easter eggs from the USDA.

  • Dyeing eggs: After hard cooking eggs, dye them and return them to the refrigerator within 2 hours. If eggs are to be eaten, use a food-safe coloring. You can use plant based food dyes also if you do not want to use commercial dyes. As with all foods, persons dyeing the eggs should wash their hands before handling the eggs.
  • Decorations: One Easter bread recipe is decorated with dyed, cooked eggs in the braided bread. After baking, serve within 2 hours or refrigerate and use within 3 to 4 days.
  • Blowing out eggshells: Because some raw eggs may contain Salmonella, you must use caution when blowing out the contents to hollow out the shell for decorating, such as for Ukrainian Easter eggs. Use only eggs that have been kept refrigerated and are uncracked. To destroy bacteria that may be present on the surface of the egg, wash the egg in hot water and then rinse in a solution of 1 teaspoon liquid chlorine bleach per half cup of water. After blowing out the egg, refrigerate the contents and use within 2 to 4 days.
  • Hunting Eggs: We do not recommend using hard cooked eggs that have been lying on the ground, because they can pick up bacteria, especially if the shells are cracked. If the shells crack, bacteria could contaminate the inside. Eggs should be hidden in places that are protected from dirt, moisture, pets, and other sources of bacteria. The total time for hiding and hunting eggs should not exceed 2 hours. The “found” eggs must be washed, re-refrigerated and eaten within 7 days of cooking.
  • Washing Eggs: The reason for using hot water is to keep a vacuum from forming in the egg and pulling bacteria in through the pores of the egg shell.
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Amberlink is our breed of choice for layers

Why we like the Amberlink

  • Does well in the heat of Summer
  • They are very active and are top-notch foragers
  • Have good egg production, in that a hen will lay around 270 eggs a year
  • Not as aggressive as other breeds

Brief history of the Amberlink

If you farmed in the 1970’s you might remember the Amberlink, as it originated in the USA. But as egg production moved away from small family farms to large corporation-run confinement operations in the 1980’s the Amberlink breed fell out of favor as they do not do well in confinement.  They must be given room to forage and move around. 

Continue reading Amberlink is our breed of choice for layers
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Post a review on Google about Sweet Gum Farm

Over the winter months we have been working to increase our presence on the internet as well as upgrade our website to allow online ordering. As part of that we would like to ask everyone who has brought something from us go out to our business page on Google and post a review of the product and experience you had dealing with us. You can post the review by using this link to our Google business page. We thank you for taking the time to do this as we realize your time is valuable.  Thank you for supporting your local farmer.