The vast majority of the 9 billion chickens produced for meat in the US each year are confined indoors with tens of thousands of other birds, and no opportunity for going outdoors. While chickens can engage in certain natural behaviors indoors when given the opportunity, outdoor runs provide a much higher number and diversity of stimuli than any indoor environment can provide. Outdoors, birds can engage in natural foraging behavior, exercise and have access to natural sunlight and fresh air. Foraging is an important instinctive behavior for chickens, who spend a major proportion of their active time foraging when given the opportunity. And birds that are able to exercise have fewer leg problems such as lameness and fewer skeletal abnormalities.
Some studies also show that meat from chickens that had the opportunity to go outdoors may be better for you than meat from confined chickens, with higher levels of heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Outdoor access: Criteria key
"Access to the outdoors" is required, but there are no standards for the size of the outdoor run, the size and
accessibility of the doors to the outdoors, or the amount of time that the doors must be open. A small covered porch can count as "outdoor access."
The program ensures that birds have access to an outdoor run that is larger than a porch and is up to half the size of the indoor space. Various requirements ensure that birds have ample opportunity to access the outdoor space.
The program ensures that each chicken has at least 5 ft2 of outdoor space, or the chickens are raised in a pasture-based system.
Outdoor access: How labels stack up against criteria