Decoding: Cage Free vs. Free Range vs. Pasture Raised Eggs

Decoding: Cage Free vs. Free Range vs. Pasture Raised Eggs
Written by: Coach Slater

With the exception of “Pasture Raised”, most everything written on the side of an egg carton is a marketing ploy by the egg industry to sell you crappy eggs. So, let’s quickly summarize the differences in these terms so you can make an educated buying decision.

Cage Free
This term means that the chickens were not in cases. They can still be confined in very close quarters inside a building where they are, literally, standing in their sh*t and can barely move. They have little or no access to the outdoors.

Free Range
This term means that the chickens were allowed “access” to the outside with no specifications as the quality or the duration of that outside exposure. So unfortunately, this term is mostly used where the chickens are crammed in large warehouses that have a small door on one end that opens to a few feet of outside dirt space. Most of the chickens never even know that door exists and couldn’t get there even if they wanted to.

Vegetarian Fed
This is a newer term that is appearing on egg cartons. When I first read it, I thought, “Cool. The chickens must be fed a healthy blend of vegetable and grains.” But then it dawns on me… a chicken is a natural carnivore, as explained below. It likes to eat bugs and insects. A “vegetarian raised” chicken was completely raised on industrialized feed and was never allowed outside. Avoid these eggs.

Organic doesn’t mean what it used to mean. Organic eggs must come from chickens that live in cage free environments, like mentioned above, so they have access to the outdoors, but they likely aren’t able to utilize it. To qualify as organic, eggs must come from chickens that are fed only organic feed (free of animal by-products, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, or other chemical additives), given antibiotics only in the event of an infection, and are free of hormones or other drugs. But, in general, these aren’t the eggs you’re looking for because they fall into that cage free category, unless stated otherwise.

Pasture Raised
Although there aren’t any regulations on this term, currently, it’s being used by sustainable farmers to mean chickens raised in the outdoors. Pasture-raised chickens have access to outdoor pasture, with fresh greens such as clover or grass, and plenty of insects to supplement their diet. Chickens are omnivores and eat worms, grubs, mealworms, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, ticks, spiders and even mice, moles, and small snakes. Their eggs have a deep-orange yolk indicating they came from a chicken that ate a well balanced and healthy diet, and thus has excellent nutritional value. This is what you want to buy if you are shopping for eggs (and can afford it).

Growing a Greener World

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