Our chickens don’t like snow. They don’t like it blowing in their faces and they don’t like to stick their un-Columbia-booted scrawny yellow feet in it. As long as there is snow on the ground in New Hampshire, our chickens prefer to stay either in the hen house or in the enclosed, roof covered coop where they can huddle together in cold misery.
In the summer our birds are all over our yard, picking up bugs, worms, scratching at the dirt, and doing their thing. They are as free-spirited as they are free-ranged.
Does this mean that we only have summer-time free-range chickens?
According to wikipedia:
Free range is a term which outside of the United States denotes a method of farming husbandry where the animals are allowed to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner. In the United States, USDA regulations apply only to poultry and indicate that the animal has been allowed access to the outside. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside.
While the definition of free range in the United States turns this into a bit of a joke (walking through a cramped outdoor pen for 5 minutes a day could qualify a farmer to charge you more for their expensive “free-range” birds and eggs) it makes the answer to my question quite clear, at least in one part of the world.
In the winter it is our birds’ choice to not leave the outdoors enclosed pen. Although we’ve tried on occasion to coax them out they want nothing to do with it. But even on the coldest day, our birds always have daily access to a fenced in outdoor pen. This means that although in the U.S. we are definitely considered to have free-range chickens and thus have free-range eggs. Alas though, elsewhere in the world because of our chickens’ reluctance to step forth into the yard when there is snow, our birds are considered “contained chickens.” *sigh*
Even though we feed the girls treats, place a light in the hen house on the coldest of nights, hang holiday decorations on their walls, and treat them as humanely as we would any member of our family, our birds are still considered imprisoned, because ultimately when you come down to it, a wire cage will always be just that, a wire cage.