Confused with all the labeling of Cage Free or Free Range chicken eggs? Let me break it down for you.
So What is a Cage Free Chicken?
It is important to know about what you are buying at the grocery store when it comes to eggs. A cage free chicken is simply one who doesn’t live in a cage. That doesn’t mean they can get outside for fresh air to breathe and grass to scratch their feet on. It means that they simply are housed in a large barn with maybe 1 square foot per laying hen.
While this is a better situation than having battery hens who live in a small cage for their entire egg-laying life. Hens are always on a wire cage without ever seeing dirt or bugs or even the sky for that matter. They do have one thing in common with cage-free chickens, their diet.
They are fed the same laying mash every day of their life with no chance for a variation. These chickens are dependent on the farmer for their every need. Water and food is delivered each day to the chickens that are considered cage-free just like with battery chickens.
Cage Free Eggs Definition USDA
This is copied from this USDA website page. “Eggs packed in USDA grademarked consumer packages labeled as cage free are laid by hens that are able to roam vertically and horizontally in indoor houses, and have access to fresh food and water. Cage-free systems vary from farm-to-farm, and can include multi-tier aviaries. They must allow hens to exhibit natural behaviors and include enrichments such as scratch areas, perches and nests. Hens must have access to litter, protection from predators and be able to move in a barn in a manner that promotes bird welfare.”
What is a Free Range Chicken?
While you might have this vision of a free range chicken being let out of a red barn every day to scratch around and forage for their own food each day, you might be surprised at what this label on your egg cartons actually mean. A free range chicken is one that has access to the outdoors where they can see the sky and scratch around for bugs and grass. This doesn’t mean they can roam about freely outdoors either. This simply means they have an outside run which in big facilities is often a dry dirt lot.
Free Range Eggs USDA Definition
This USDA page defines free range eggs as this: ” Eggs packed in USDA grademarked consumer packages labeled as free range must be produced by hens that are able to roam vertically and horizontally in indoor houses, and have access to fresh food and water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their laying cycle. The outdoor area may be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. Housing systems vary from farm-to-farm, and can include multi-tier aviaries. They must allow hens to exhibit natural behaviors and include enrichments such as scratch areas, perches and nests. Hens must have access to litter, protection from predators and be able to move in a barn in a manner that promotes bird welfare.”
What is the difference between cage-free and free-range chicken eggs?
As you can probably already tell, the main differences between the two is that the chicken (cage free eggs) laying the egg is housed in a barn or similar structure their whole life and the other egg laying chicken (Free range eggs) has the option of going outside.
While the prices at the grocery store are fairly similar for both, you might choose the free range chicken eggs next time over the cage free chicken eggs knowing how they are housed and treated.
Where to Spend Your Egg Money
If you can find a local farm to buy eggs from will always be your best bet. We sell eggs each week to help cover the cost of buying good chicken feed and whole grains for fermenting. Most backyard flocks of chickens will be treated better than any chickens laying eggs for the grocery store.
Ask around or look for signs offering farm fresh eggs. These eggs are always going to be the freshest and healthiest eggs you can get if you don’t raise your own laying hens.
Here is a picture of our chickens free ranging out in the open air, free to actually roam around and find her own choice of food. Check out my chicken shoes here!