Where to Find Pastured Chicken
It’s the hardest, most grueling quest of all the ancestral and anti-inflammatory diets combined: the quest to find pastured chickens that aren’t fed any gluten grains, beans, or corn. We’ve heard legend of their existence, but they remain illusive, especially to northerners with our pesky winters.
Ahoy mateys, let this article be your treasure map on your quest to find your golden chest of pastured chicken meat (plus cost of shipping). I’ll start by defining what a pastured chicken even is, and then provide you with a hierarchical list of best to worst options for getting your lectin-free chicken enchilada fix.
What is pastured chicken?
Unlike “organic” or “cage-free,” there is no USDA-legal definition for “pasture-raised.” We run the risk of seeing very loose interpretations of pastured animals as the demand for their products increases. However, the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) has a set of requirements to meet their definition of pasture-raised. These include:
- each bird must have at least 108 square feet of pasture (about 1000 birds per 2.5 acres of land)
- rotation to new pasture continually
- outdoors year-round with housing used only for nighttime protection or for very inclement weather (up to two weeks out of the year)
Additionally, pasture-raised, certified humane chickens must meet all other HFAC standards. (6)
100% Pastured Chicken
I’m guessing the majority of unsupplemented pastured chickens live in Hawaii or the tropics–I don’t blame them. I’d sooner hitch a ride on the slaughterhouse express than scratch through 2 feet of snow to peck at dead blades of grass for six months out of the year.
That being said, you may be raising your own backyard chickens on garden scraps and lectin-free goodies–yay you! Reader take note: find someone like that and bake them lots of healthy cookies. The art of bartering is not dead. There is one large-scale farm, however, that appears to meet every possible requirement for the healthiest and most pastured of pastured chickens.
Rainbow Ranch Farms
Truly the only farm I have found that fits the high standards of diets like the Plant Paradox. This place is above and beyond anything I have seen from typical poultry farmers. Chickens are 100% free of animal by-products, corn, GMO’s, soy, antibiotics, wheat, spelt, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, fishmeal, flax, synthetic amino acids, artificial digestive enzymes, and preservatives (that’s the short list). They are slowly grown and raised exclusively on pasture, which results in a diet that is approximately:
- 80% Bugs, Grubs, Worms, Native Forage, compost, farm proteins and Insects
- 20% Seasonal vegetables, greens, grasses, native vegetation & seasonal pasture
You can place orders for their poultry online. The prices will make you see why most people have to settle for less than 100% pastured. But I’m not one to eschew perfection–this is the best commercially available chicken on the market.
Craving chicken dinner?
Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Corn-Free Pastured Chicken
Remember, when we eat animal meat, we are essentially eating what they ate. This doesn’t necessarily mean lectins are present in chicken meat. Chickens are capable of digesting proteins that we don’t (more on this later).
More importantly, the nutritional composition of a chicken’s diet directly contributes to the fatty acid profile of the meat. An improper balance of fatty acids in the meat can promote inflammation and prevent healing (read more HERE). For example, in this study, broiler hens fed a corn oil-based diet had a significantly higher ratio of omega-6 fatty acids (not good) than, say, a flaxseed-based diet. (1).
A chicken that is allowed to forage as much as possible, with very little supplemental feed, will naturally have the most optimal balance of fatty acids for human consumption.
Buy Ranch Direct
These Sierra Nevada mountain-raised chickens are organically pastured on nutrient-dense grass and only receive a supplement of rice if the weather turns nasty. The farm appears at a number of farmer’s markets, but you can also purchase meat boxes from their website.
Circle C Farm
This farm pasture raises their birds in warm and sunny Florida and supplements with a feed consisting of rice and diatomaceous earth. They ship all over the US (continental) and have a Pasture Rewards program where you can earn discounts from online orders. Learn more at their website here (you’ll get a 5% discount on your first order).
Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative
This website is a co-op of over two dozen family farms that ship boxes of meat, frozen at the peak of freshness. There are two options for chicken, however; so be sure to order the chicken that was fed the corn/gluten/soy-free supplemental ration of milo, alfalfa meal, kelp, probiotics, and a variety of minerals. Learn more at their website here (heads up, you will need to enter your email address to access the store).
Corn-Free & Soy-Free Pastured Chicken
Corn and soy are two of the biggest GMO crops in America. You can look for farms that supplement with non-GMO grain, corn, and soy feed (that’s further down the hierarchy), but that’s not the only reason to avoid meat and eggs from these chickens. Corn is basically non-nutritive, great for fattening up chickens (and people), but not with the good omega-3 fatty acids we want (again, see this study).
Soy, while fine in moderation (fermented or pressure cooked), is an endocrine disruptor that contains compounds that interfere with the thyroid and other hormonal systems in the body. These compounds, called isoflavones, are transferred into the yolks of hens that eat a diet high in soy. (2)
Is chicken meat gluten-free?
In short, yes. There’s a popular myth that the gluten protein from animal feed gets into the meat of chickens that eat it. But celiac societies around the world maintain, through vigorous testing, that meat, eggs, and milk from animals that eat wheat are gluten free. Not a single plant protein has ever been found in the meat, skin, or fat, of a chicken. Why is that? (3) (7)
Grains and seeds are naturally part of a foraging chicken’s diet–they have evolved to digest them (unlike us). They use stone and grit in their diet to “chew” and digest grain proteins (lectins) in an organ called the gizzard. The ones that aren’t digested there are given another chance in an organ called the ceca, which uses bacteria to break down undigested proteins passing through the small intestine This whole process means lectins and proteins are digested and converted into animal proteins. In other words: chicken meat (and fat) is lectin-free. (9)
Then why is gluten grain-supplemented chicken bad?
Despite there not being any plant lectins in chicken protein, some people still react to gluten grain-supplemented chicken. There are a couple possibilities for why this is. Again, the fatty acid profile–the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids–will be “artificially” skewed in heavily grain-fed chickens. Not to mention, the same lectins that damage our gut linings are probably capable of damaging a chicken’s that eats more than its fair share.
With wheat and gluten grains, especially, there are smaller things to worry about that do get absorbed into muscle meat, like herbicides used to dessicate wheat crops before harvest. Sourcing organic is extremely important and so is finding a farmer that supplements with grain very sparingly or as part of a feed mix that will balance the fatty acid profile (think, flaxseed). (10)
Despite what the name suggests, this Wisconsin farm sells more than bison. Their pasture-raised chickens are supplemented with a non-GMO, soy-free and corn-free feed that specifically tests negative for glyphosate. You can order from their website here.
Soy-Free Pastured Chicken
It’s pretty well a consensus within the ancestral diet community that chickens (or any other animal) should not be eating soy. Especially the “soybeans” we’re growing today. Fortunately, that means there are many more commercial and family farms with soy-free pastured chicken available to purchase.
Eat Wild & Real Milk
If your budget doesn’t allow you to purchase meat from these big farms that ship, I recommend sourcing locally. There are many small-scale family farmers who supplement their pastured chickens with locally milled grain or organic, soy-free feeds.
Two websites–eatwild.com and realmilk.com–will allow you to search for farms in your area. Eat Wild even has a dedicated page of farms that will ship to you. Although the Real Milk website is for finding raw milk, the site is associated with the Weston T. Price foundation, which vehemently opposes soy in chicken feed. You’ll find many farms through that site that offer both raw A-2 milk products and soy-free pastured chickens. (5)
Here are a few sites where you can purchase soy-free pastured chicken online. Be aware that some sites have options for organically (soy) fed chicken, too–look specifically for soy-free when ordering:
- Primal Pastures
- US Wellness Meats
- Healthy Traditions
- Good Earth Farms
- Crowd Cow – only chicken from Storey Farms is soy-free
- Bostock Brothers (New Zealand)
Organically Pastured Chicken
Organically pastured, without any specification of gluten/corn/or soy-free usually means the chickens receive a ration of organic, non-GMO grains, corn, and beans (including soy). Don’t discount these chickens completely. It’s still much better than what you’ll find at most grocery stores. Plus, there’s a workaround to getting a chicken that prefers the coop over the pasture. Invest in a deep freezer and stock up on chicken in the late summer or early fall, when the forage is abundant and the chickens are most nutrient dense. You can find organically pastured chickens locally or at most Whole Foods markets.
High Omega-3 Chicken
Recent studies show that the high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids may be partially to blame for the rise of obesity and inflammatory conditions over the past few decades. As our saturated fat intake decreased, our omega-6 fatty acid intake increased, which turned out not to be better for us (go figure).
The solution is to find more ways of getting omega-3 fatty acids into our diet–algae, perilla oil, seafood (particularly sardines), cod liver oil, certain egg yolks, and yes, even chicken meat–but not all chicken meat. The amount of omega-3 acids in the meat depends on the diet of the chicken. An average pastured chicken has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 5:1. Some farmers have intentionally turned to feeding their chickens a carefully curated ration, designed to produce a near 1:1 ratio. (8)
Slanker Grass-Fed Meat
This farm used to pasture-raise all of its animals, but felt that the meat still did not provide the health benefits that high omega-3 meat could. Their Beyond Organic chickens still meet the requirements for free-range, certified humane; however, the supplemental feed ensures the chicken meat is zero-glycemic, nutrient dense meat that has an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid balance of less than 2:1. Order and learn more about their omega-3 chicken here.
Murray’s Omega-3 IQ Chicken
These birds are raised on family farms in Southeastern Pennsylvania. They are fed an all-vegetarian patented flaxseed diet that ensures the meat is high in omega-3 and lower in cholesterol. When placing an order, make sure you’re getting the omega-3 chicken, as they offer conventional chicken as well.
Trendy Subscription Boxes
Wine, hot sauce, tampons, and now boxes full of premium grass-fed meat cuts and free bacon for life can be delivered right to your doorstep every month. If it sounds like there’s a catch, it’s because there is. Most subscription boxes that pull from multiple sources cannot guarantee that the feed is non-GMO, organic, or free of any of the aforementioned undesirables. Most chicken from subscription boxes is free range, organic. You may as well purchase from your local grocery store, which brings us to the bottom rung of the ladder…
The grocery store should be your last resort. There are basically two options: free range/organic and conventional “all-natural.” Please do not be fooled by “all natural:” it’s an all-natural chicken that was fed an incredibly unnatural diet. Free range chickens are not the same as pastured (though it does sound nice, doesn’t it?) Anecdotally, people say they can tolerate organic, free-range chicken in the pressure cooker. I’ve made do with this in the past, but I don’t recommend it as a long-term solution.
Do the Best You Can
When it comes to sourcing quality pastured chicken, doing the best you can means starting at the top of this entire post and working your way down the list to something you can live with both physically (health-wise) and financially. I source my chicken from a wonderful local farm that supplements their pastured birds with locally milled organic, non-GMO, soy-free grain. To me, supporting a local family is more important than buying the best meat available clear across the country. But my health is also in a position where I can tolerate what’s offered locally.
Good luck on your quest to find your perfect chicken–your body will appreciate the time and effort you put into searching!
- Hope BK, Baker R, Edel ED, Hogue AT, Schlosser WD, Whiting R, McDowell RM, Morales RA. An overview of the Salmonella enteritidis risk assessment for shell eggs and egg products. Risk Anal. 2002 Apr;22(2):203-18.