Is This the One Way Commercial Chickens Might Be Healthier Than Free-Range?

January 14, 2016

Compared to their speckled and colorful farmers market counterparts, grocery store eggs seem pale and plain—a sad reminder of the life the hen that laid them lived. Most conscious consumers know the horrors of industrial farming, not to mention the negative side effects of factory-raised meat. But they might be surprised by a recent study suggesting one way that commercially raised chickens might have an edge over those in your wacky neighbor’s chicken coop.

A small University of California, Riverside study published earlier this week discovered that free-range chickens carry more parasites than their commercially raised cousins. In the study, researchers checked 100 hens from 20 different backyard flocks for lice, fleas, and mites.

The results? Eighty percent of the flocks were infested with parasites—a much higher percentage than you’d find in commercial poultry farms.

Gross, we know. But when you think about it, is a louse here and there really a big deal? Not according to the researchers—although they can decrease egg production, they won’t otherwise harm the chickens, the people who raise them, or the consumer. Another important distinction is that these are external parasites, which won’t affect either the eggs or meat from these chickens (unlike some of the other parasites that can contaminate your food, like tapeworms).

Moreover, the study’s authors note that the perks of living a free-range lifestyle—namely, being able to roam freely and roost in spacious coops—probably caused this problem in the first place. Because commercial birds seldom have access to the outdoors and often live in tiny cages, they rarely come into contact with mites, fleas, or lice.

And another caveat of the story is that these were backyard farmers. The study’s authors noted that few of the poultry owners they surveyed used any preventative measures, like quarantining new hens before adding them into the flock.

So if industrial poultry farms want to chalk this one up as a win, sure, go ahead. We’ll still take our eggs free-range, thanks.

Photo credit: John Goodridge via Flickr

This article is related to:

Educational, Food, Health, News, Organic

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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