I guess you can’t look a gift chicken in the beak. That’s sort of how I feel about Murray’s Chickens. I read “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” and I heard (in my head) pastured. It turns out the two are not the same. Let me explain:
After my last blog post I emailed Murray’s Chicken and asked this question:
“Can you tell me if your farmers rotate their chickens on the pasture? The image I have is of a fixed farm and I can’t really tell if there is truly a way for the chickens to get out. Are the chickens raised to go outside? Is their water and feed rotated outside?”
I got a speedy (if curt response) back. Murray’s chickens are free to roam — but inside their barns. They don’t have access to outdoors, “due to bio security protocols (avian influenza).”
Hmmn. That’s weird. I looked back at their website. Something about it must have made me think the chickens were on pasture. I shot back another email:
“Thanks for the info, but I was a bit confused. On the Murray’s home page (http://www.murrayschicken.com/) it says: ‘Murray’s chickens are locally raised in Pennsylvania lush countryside by a select number of family farms. Their leisurely lifestyle includes plenty of fresh air and an all-vegetable diet free of antibiotics and hormones.’
Then on your products page (http://www.murrayschicken.com/products.php) it says: ‘Our birds have access to fresh air and sun and combine an all-natural, all-vegetable diet with plenty of exercise.’
If they do not have access to outdoors how do they get sunshine?”
My once again speedy answer via email replied: they have windows in the barn that give them access to sun and fresh air. Technically, the Murray’s website did not lie. But their words did imply some sort of pastoral happy place that included out-of-doors. I read the pastoral inspired language and believed pastured. Which some would call good marketing and some might think is a bit of green washing.
So I shot them another email and asked them which it was. “Your website,” I emailed, “left me, at least, with the impression that Murray’s chickens were farmed outside. Before I post anything more about this, do you have any comments?”
Again, Murray’s was super quick in answering my question and they did have a comment. They said:
“Regarding our website , I have changed the wording on our web page to: Our birds have access to roam freely in their barns combined with an all-natural, all-vegetable diet with plenty of exercise.
I agree the previous wording may have caused confusion. Thanks for the heads-up.”
Wow! I was very impressed by their commitment to providing consumers with accurate information.
While I was waiting for Murray’s to respond, I figured I’d better dig a little deeper into what the Certified Humane Raised & Handled’® label really means. What I found out, speaks volumes to how incredibly awful industrial farming must be. Even though Murray’s chickens are not allowed outside, according to this standard these chickens get:
- adequate food and water
- clean living environment
- clean litter that they can take a “dust bath in”
- ability to roam freely in their barns
- protection from vermin and predators
What they don’t get is
- beak trimming or “any other surgical alterations”
- cages — all the time
- tethers to hold them done
- too much cold or warm
- dirty litter that stinks of urine
For more complete info you can check out their Humane Farm Animal Care Standards February 2009: Chicken that I downloaded here.
Which brings me to the next question. Who or what exactly is Humane Farm Animal Care?
Humane Farm Animal Care is a national non-profit 501(c)3 organization which was “created to improve the lives of farm animals by setting rigorous standards, conducting annual inspections, and certifying their humane treatment.” They claim that the Certified Humane® Program is helping improve the lives of millions of farm animals.
It all sounded great. But why wasn’t the freedom to go outside part of their criteria for the humane treatment of chickens? I called Humane Farm Animal Care and asked.
The woman who answered the phone was very friendly and informative. She was also a mom, and she related to the difficulty of finding the right balance between ethical, humane, and environmentally sound choices and trying to stay within some budget. And she agreed that pasturing chickens ideal, but it’s hard to take a big industry and get movement – you have to start somewhere.
She said that some of their farmers hold their farms to standards that are higher – their chickens may be free roaming or pastured. And that since they started the organization, they have seen that more and more producers moving toward better, more humane practices, and even more affordable products. So it’s working. But it’s still a work in progress. I can certainly respect that.
So will I buy Murray’s chickens? Yes. They are still a more humane option compared to the huge industrial farm brands. But do they fit my new eating values 100 %? No. But at least now that I know what I’m getting with Murray’s chickens, I can make an educated choice.