The Amish are a fundamentalist religious sect prevalent in parts of Pennsylvania that eschew modern conveniences and attempt to live in the same manner as their forebears. The Amish are typically involved in agriculture and chicken raised on Amish farms has become popular with chefs and consumers seeking an alternative to poultry raised on large-scale factory farms.
The term Amish chicken first became popular in the 1990s, referring to chicken raised by Amish farmers. Since then, consumers have become increasingly concerned about the health implications and the cruelty in respect to factory-farmed chickens which are typically raised in confined spaces and fed hormones to cause them to grow more rapidly. Amish chickens are free-range and are housed in Amish chicken coops that allow them to freely walk in and out. This method of raising chickens is reputed to result in a tastier, healthier bird free of hormones and medication.
Gerber's Amish Farm Chicken is one of several brands marketing Amish poultry. On its website (gerbers.com), the company details the benefits of Amish chicken. The primary advantage of this type of chicken is the taste, which is the result of the chickens being fed an all-natural feed that contains no antibiotics, hormones or additional medications. Furthermore, Gerber's differentiates Amish chickens from organic and free-range chickens by noting that organically fed chickens may be free of chemicals and pesticides, but are not necessarily raised in a stress-free environment, which allegedly results in a better tasking chicken.
There are no specific regulations governing feed required to brand a chicken as an Amish chicken. However, consumers who buy Amish chicken assume the feed is made with vegetable-based ingredients that is free of any chemical additives. Gerber’s, for example, says its chickens are fed a “unique feed formula of cereal grain and vegetable oil with added vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.” The feed is also free of “meat or bone meal, fishmeal, bakery by-products, medicinal growth stimulants, antibiotics, hormones, or additives containing arsenic or arsenic compounds.” As a guarantee that its chickens are fed in this manner, Gerber’s has letters on file from feed manufacturers and Amish farmers stating the feed contains no antibiotics or medications. Furthermore, Amish chicken may not be free-range or free-roaming, or even raised by Amish farmers. When buying Amish chicken, consumers need to do the appropriate research to ensure the chicken they buy has the quality they expect.
Buyers need to beware when purchasing Amish chicken. According to a 1999 article in “The New York Times,” not all Amish chickens are fed this all-vegetable, medication-free feed. According to Ariane Daguin, co-owner of a company that supplies Amish chickens to New York restaurants and markets, the term Amish chicken is “a marketing ploy” that “doesn’t mean anything.” Just because a chicken has been raised on an Amish farm, she noted, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been fed vegetarian feed.