Free range farms make waves across Arkansas - KATV - Breaking News, Weather and Razorback Sports

Free range farms make waves across Arkansas

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CABOT (KATV) -

Buying a packet of chicken at the store now comes with a checklist of criteria for many trying to be more health conscious.

Trends include free range, antibiotic-free and hormone-free meats.

To avoid the confusion, some are turning to buying locally.

Mountain Springs Farm is one of many free range farms making waves across Arkansas. 

Increased demand for antibiotic-free, hormone-free and humanely raised meat is pushing consumers to seek out farms like Mountain Springs, which are taking farming back to its roots.

Wes Nichols and Paul Killingsworth run Mountain Springs Farm in their Cabot backyards.

"We each just wanted to put a little bit better meat on the table for our families," Killingsworth said.

Their farm has chickens, pigs, goats, cows and turkeys.

The pair and their families don't consider themselves farmers. Nichols is in the military and Killingsworth is a local business owner. 

They said they are just two guys with a hobby that got a little out of hand.

"We started to produce a little bit more and thought, if we like this, other people might like this as well, and might want to buy this," Killingsworth said.  "Initially, they didn't. But then it picked up and now it's sort of overwhelming, we can't meet the demand that we have."

That demand is fueled by increasing concern over techniques involved in producing meat in mass quantities.

"There's a really large market of folks who want naturally raised, good clean meat that's antibiotic free, hormone free, medication free, cage free, humanely raised," Nichols said. "That's what people want."

Nichols and Killingsworth consider their farm to be all of those things, and it is easy to look around and tell their animals are enjoying themselves. 

But they, like many small, local farms, don't have, or need, any official accreditation; the US Department of Agriculture doesn't get involved unless a certain amount of product is produced.

Even for large companies, the rules are vague.

According to the USDA, in order to be sold as "free range" the website states: "Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside." 

The agency does not specify the amount of time or level of outside access.

Other labels you might find on meat or eggs in the store also are only subject to vague requirements, such as cage-free, which: "Indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle." 

The size of the room or enclosed area, and the number of animals, again, are not specified.

"If you have sick animals you have to start dosing them with something or you lose all of them and that's why you hear about antibiotic additives in feed, it's very necessary if you are going to put animals in a building and put them in a high density situation," Killingsworth said. "When you put them outside and just them do what they were meant to do, you might get one or two sick here or there but typically it's not a problem."

Arkansans are seeing the benefit of buying more meat and eggs grown by local farmers. In many cases, like Mountain Springs Farm, their neighbors.

"I can't completely bash the big industry because guess what it's our nations food supply. But I think there's a sustainable way that we can raise animals humanely and do it in a way that's environmentally friendly that provides us a much better product," Nichols said.

For links to Arkansas farms, click here.