The chicken industry was one of the first to scale up to industrial levels in North America and perhaps because people don't often connect emotionally with them as much as they do with other animals like cows, chickens have been some of the worst treated farm animals, and still are. Today we have terms like free range and free run, but in this section you'll see that those terms are no real assurance of life improvements for them or quality for you.
Cooling chickens is part of the processing system after slaughter. Like most food products, the cooling is done to keep the chicken at a safe temperature to prohibit bacteria growth. Air chilling involves cooling the chickens over a three-hour period with cold circulated air, and although this process takes longer and is more expensive it yields a far better end product, because the birds are not being immersed in cold water and absorbing it into the meat, which is the alternative method. What this means to a consumer is that they should look for producers selling air chilled chickens, because they are buying something with better texture and flavour, but also are not paying for the weight of water that would have been absorbed using the other process.
Battery cages are named because of their resemblance to the rows and columns of artillery formations. Battery cages are typically used to commercially raise egg laying hens in formations where the birds are stacked in close quarters on top of each other. Although some countries and states have banned the use of battery cages, over 80% of Canadian eggs are raised in this condition, but could still be labeled as organic, or local.
The term "free-range" is not legally defined in Canada, but it generally means birds have some access to the outdoors. Uncaged chickens can include free-range and non-free-range. However, the birds can still be placed into overcrowded conditions with only a small access point to the outdoors, and in general this term is hard to point at as a real measure of ethics, quality or nutritional value. That's not to say that free range farms are all bad, or good, but because the term is not actually substantiated it’s important that if consumers care they still ask questions about products labeled with this term.
Free run is an unregulated term but is meant to say that the hens can move freely in the area they are raised in, but not necessarily allowed access to the outdoors, and speaks nothing to what conditions the birds are actually raised in - number of birds in the space, amount of light, or nutritional density. Free run birds could be raised in overcrowded conditions leading to highly stress and illness.
Grade A Eggs:
Grade A eggs are those that have a clean and uncracked shell, a round and centered yolk, a firm white, and a small air cell. These eggs are sold for retail, and so all eggs bought in a grocery store are Grade A. Grade B eggs are typically sold for commercial baking and Grade C eggs are only used in the production of processed egg products.
Pasture Raised Eggs:
Our pasture raised eggs come from hens that have spent most of their lives on pasture, or with access to a pasture and graze naturally. These chickens consume some grain feed grown on site and lots of grass, bugs, worms and anything else they can find in the dirt. They tend to be let out of the barns early in the morning and called back in before nightfall. Studies have shown that some of the nutritional benefits of pasture raised eggs are: 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and 7 times more beta carotene.
The process of cooling chickens after slaughter in cold water. This process is less desirable than the other option, which is air chilling, but used far more often because it requires less time and is much cheaper. This process also adds water weight to the bird, which increases the purchase weight, can make the texture of the meat somewhat mushy and diminish the flavour. Consumer’s should be aware than when buying commercial meat chilled in this way they are partially paying for that water, so even though it is cheaper, when cooked it will shrink.
White Rock Chickens:
This American breed of poultry originates from Massachusetts and is named after Plymouth Rock. The White Rock is often referred to as a breed on its own, it is actually a variety of the Plymouth Rock, which can come in different color varieties, including white. Bred to withstand the northern climates, the White Rock chicken is extremely hardy and is prized for its calm temperament, and use as both a meat and egg laying chicken.