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Effects of free-ranging on meat taste in slow-growing birds

Demand for meat from free-range broiler chickens is increasing. Consumers believe that free-range access is important for broiler chicken welfare. However, welfare is not the only driver.

Studies have shown that when buying chicken meat, product attributes such as healthiness, quality and taste are as important as welfare.

Organic poultry products are percieved superior

Animal welfare is seen as an indicator for some of these other product attributes and organic animal products are often perceived to be superior in these aspects. Organic production systems for broilers provide free-range access, but also use slower-growing hybrids.

Free-range access may influence quality, composition, and taste of broiler chicken meat, because the animals are likely to exercise more and have access to fresh and diverse plant and animal food sources. Photo: Henk Riswick
Free-range access may influence quality, composition, and taste of broiler chicken meat, because the animals are likely to exercise more and have access to fresh and diverse plant and animal food sources. Photo: Henk Riswick

Breed influenced meat quality

The choice of breed can influence meat quality parameters such as tenderness, regardless of the production system used.

Free-range access influences meat taste

Free-range access may influence quality, composition, and taste of broiler chicken meat, because the animals are likely to exercise more and have access to fresh and diverse plant and animal food sources. The effects of free-range access on meat quality, composition and taste has been studied, but results are not consistent.

Free-range access can also influence production parameters such as body weight, feed intake and feed conversion ratio. A possible reason is that as free-range chickens, although studies show that only 5 to 11% of the animals being outside at any given moment, get more exercise, resulting in a lower body weight at slaughter and a higher feed conversion ratio.

Free-range: Bad for slaughter weight – good for meat taste

In the current experimental setup, it was attempted to increase free-range use by providing different types of shelter. As shelter has been shown to be an important determinant of free-range use. It was investigated whether differences in production performance, quality, composition or taste of breast meat could be observed from chickens either kept indoors or given access to either grassland with artificial shelter or short-rotation coppice with willows to stimulate free-range use. Three groups of slow growing broilers were raised indoors, had free-range access to grassland with artificial shelter or had free-range access to short-rotation coppice with willow. Free-range use, feed intake, and growth were monitored, and after slaughter (d72) meat quality, composition, and taste were assessed. Overall, free-range access negatively affected slaughter weight, but positively affected meat quality, taste, and composition.

Authors: Lisanne M. Stadig, T. Bas Rodenburg, Bert Reubens, Johan Aerts, Barbara Duquenne and Frank A. M. Tuyttens, Poultry Science

5 comments

  • S.M. SHANE

    Meaningless article without data. Suggest that references should be cited correctly.

  • Linda Maggio

    Here is one- I and my clientele absolutely notice the difference in taste when broilers are raised free range.

  • Steve Roney

    A recent study at the University of Kentucky showed no difference in taste in a blind taste test using a slow growing breed v. conventional broilers. Seems a small return in exchange for using twice the natural resources to produce the meat.

  • Josef Schmitz

    I fully agree, that free-ranged broilers taste better. Hope that all breeders do not use antibiotics to cope with higher exposure to germs and molds broilers have free-ranged. I have seen alternatives from Flavorex that perfectly solve these problems.

  • Linda Maggio

    Im not sure the actual breed matters as much as access to grass. Our birds are out on pasture all day long. We use natural shelters such as trees and thick stands of bushes. When it gets dark they return to the sleeping shelter.

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