Let’s take a look at what cage free, or free range, entails….
You see them in the store, you read about them online and hear about them in passing conversation, but you may not really understand what cage free eggs mean. You may assume that cage free means the hens that lay the eggs are free to roam wild with no shelter, but that’s not entirely true. Let’s take a look at what cage free, or free range, entails.
Many farmers these days raise their chickens cage free
You’ll find that most farming operations with egg laying hens confine them to small battery cages where they can barely move their wings, let alone scratch, perch, socialize and move about. In recent years there has been a push to get chickens out of those wire cages and into the open to improve their well being, both physically and mentally. Many farmers these days raise their chickens cage free, which means they are free to roam in spacious barns with access to the outdoors – ideally.
Cage free chickens have more freedom of movement, yet still have the opportunity to be protected from the elements and predators. Mother Earth News says that chickens raised in a pasture produce eggs with less cholesterol and saturated fats, two times the omega-3 fatty acids, three times the vitamin E, seven times more beta carotene, two-thirds more vitamin A, and up to six times as much vitamin D as caged chickens. This sounds all well and good but unfortunately, free-range labels don’t always mean pasture raised. Yes, those chickens must be able to roam free outside, but for how long? How much room? Can they still be given antibiotics? Do they still face overcrowding? The short answer is yes because this part of the cage free eggs industry is not as strictly regulated.
That’s where research on the part of the consumer comes in. Anyone can slap a “cage free” label on a carton of eggs, but how do you really know it’s true? Fortunately, more and more farmers are practicing more humane treatment of chickens within cage-free barns. Be on the lookout for labels that say Certified Humane, with the added bonus of organic eggs coming from free range chickens that only graze in organic grass fields.
You may hear the terms cage free chickens and free range chickens used interchangeably. Simply put, cage free means the chickens are not confined to cages, but they may spend all their time indoors, while free range chickens are also uncaged inside barns but have some degree of outdoor access, says the Humane Society. Again, though, there is little to no regulation regarding how long they must be outside, what they can be fed and what the quality of the outdoor access must be.
The next time you are at the market perusing all the many different kinds of eggs there, take a moment to read what you are buying.