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Chicken School

Understanding Organic and Other Terms

Knowing how your food is raised is an important part of being an educated consumer.

Knowing how your food is raised is an important part of being an educated consumer. While all chicken in Canada is raised to a high standard of quality and animal care, you also have choices in how the chicken you buy is raised. Understanding those designations can be tricky, so here are a few pointers to help you along the way. For a more in-depth review of how chicken is raised, visit

Raised without Antibiotics

Raised without antibiotics on the label means that the chicken was not treated in any way with antibiotics. Chicken without this designation does not necessarily imply that antibiotics were used in raising them but if you’re concerned, the best way to make sure is to opt for the product that specifically states antibiotic-free. For more information on antibiotics, visit our antibiotics in-depth section.

Hormone-free and/or Steroid-free

Though it is rare, some marketers still classify their chicken as “hormone-free.” Again, this is used as a marketing tactic, since all chicken raised in Canada has been raised without added hormones, and in fact the use of hormones in raising poultry has been banned in Canada since the 1960s.


Chicken that is sold as “organic” is raised to a specific standard as laid out by the Canadian General Standards Board, in addition to the standards set by a reputable organic certification board. Since these boards vary from province to province, there are slight differences in the rules for organic farming in different areas of the country. In general, organic chicken must be raised with certified organic feed that contains no animal by-products or antibiotics and any supplements, such as vitamins, must be approved by a certification body. For more on what organic means, take a look at our “Understanding Organic” section in “On the Farm.”

Free Range

The term “free range” has not been legally defined in either Canada or the U.S. but generally, it refers to poultry that has been permitted to graze or forage outdoors. Since there is no hard and fast definition of this term, we recommend speaking to your butcher or grocer about what exactly is meant by free range, especially when buying chicken in the winter or early spring as chickens cannot be raised outdoors in most Canadian winters.

Free Run

Free run is different than free range in that chickens do not necessarily need to be raised outside but they are required to be able to move around freely within the barn. Though there is no legal definition of this, all chickens raised for meat in Canada are considered free run.

Grain Fed

Since all chicken in Canada is given feed that consists of over 88% grain, this term is typically just used for marketing purposes. Chicken labeled as “grain fed” is stating the obvious, though some brands boast special types of grain, such as vegetarian grain.

Vegetarian Grain Fed

Vegetarian grain fed means that the feed given to the flock contains no animal by-products, which are often added to feed as a protein source. In these cases, the feed contains only vegetable protein such as soy, which can alter the flavour and colour of the meat. While chickens are omnivores, chickens can be raised on vegetarian feed, as long as an appropriate protein level is achieved.