Free Range labels are regulated by the USDA only for poultry produced for meat. The requirements are not very high: poultry can use the label if the chicken had any access to the outdoors each day for some unspecified period of time; it could be just a few minutes, and does not assure that the animal ever actually went outdoors to roam freely. The regulation doesn’t specify how large the outdoor area needs to be or how long the chickens must have access to it. As a result, chickens can be crowded into a small outdoor space for just a few minutes per day and still qualify for the free-range label. There’s also no requirement for the type of outdoor space. This means that instead of grass to graze on, the chickens may only have access to a small square of dirt or gravel.
Pastured poultry is a sustainable agriculture technique that calls for the raising of laying chickens, meat chickens (broilers), and/or turkeys on pasture, as opposed to indoor confinement. Humane treatment and the perceived health benefits of pastured poultry are causing an increase in demand for such products.