I think everyone has gotten the memo that cows are supposed to be eating grass (not grain or corn) and just grass for their whole lives. Chickens on the other hand do need to eat some grain in order to get adequate protein in their diets. I asked George from SeaBreeze Farm on Vashon Island, who we buy the delicious majority of our meat and eggs from, if it matters what grains the chickens eat. In his opinion, it is not so much about the grains (assuming that they are non GMO) but more about what else the chicken is free to be eating. Namely, grass, worms and bugs. By being pastured, chickens have the ability to eat whatever is ALIVE in the pasture providing them with micronutrients and access to fresh air. That difference can be tasted in the end product.
When buying chicken, especially if you don’t have access to pastured chicken from a local farmer’s market, be aware of all of the terms you will encounter. Free range, cage free, vegetarian diet, organic, and natural are a few descriptors you will come across. For example, a vegetarian diet includes corn and soy based grains which is the most common type of grain given to chickens. If given the choice, I’d rather eat a “vegetarian” fed chicken than a commercial chicken that has been fed animal by products and led a sad life in a over populated coop. By understanding these terms and asking more questions at the butcher’s counter you will have a better understanding of what you are buying and literally what went into the bird you are going to eat.