Cage-Free, Free-Range, and More: How to Decode Your Egg Carton

Whether you like them sunny side up or scrambled, these labels are important to know

Cage-Free, Free-Range, and More: How to Decode Your Egg Carton

Eggs, for example, are a great source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids, with only 75 calories per serving. However, the nutrition facts could change based on where your eggs came from. We spoke with Handsome Brook Farm CEO, Betsy Babcock, about the differences between certain types of eggs and what you should reach for next time you’re at the grocery store.

Type 1: Caged Eggs

According to the Handsome Brook Farm, caged eggs come from chickens that are kept indoors in confined cages (less than one square foot per hen) in warehouse chicken barns. The chickens do not have the ability to move around and their diet consists of feed only.

Type 2: Cage-Free or Free Roaming Eggs

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Cage-free or free roaming chickens still live in cramped conditions, with limited ability to move around and no access to the outdoors. The diet also consists of feed only.

Type 3: Organic or Free-Range Eggs

Organic or free-range chickens are kept indoors but some organic farmers follow the standards of requiring outdoor access to a grassy are or concrete pad. Organic hens are fed mostly stored organic feed, but do not receive much nutritional value from outdoor food.

Type 4: Pasture-Raised Eggs

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Handsome Brook Farm follows the standards of pasture-raised chickens, which spend a large portion of their days outdoors or in the pasture. The indoor nesting offers about two square feet per hen. The chickens are able to exhibit normal chicken behavior such as dust bathing, free movement, and foraging for grass and bugs. Their diet consists of grass, seeds, insects, and supplemental feed.

Animal Welfare

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“It surprises most people to learn that laying hens, even traditional organic or free-range hens, never spend any time outdoors,” said Betsy Babcock, CEO of Handsome Brook Farm. “Rather, their entire lives are spent in cramped warehouse conditions living in between one and one and a half square feet of indoor space their entire lives. No room to roam, perch, dust bathe, or forage — essential behaviors for chickens. Access to outdoors, if provided at all, is minimal, not designed to promote the hens actually going outdoors. Birds are stressed, kept in the dark a good bit of the time to calm them in their close quarters, and severely beak trimmed to keep them from pecking each other.”

More on Animal Welfare

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“Pasture-raised hens, in contrast, are raised with a completely different priority in mind — respect and intentional actions to promote the well-being of the laying hens,” Babcock said. “Handsome Brook Farm pasture-raised hens are provided not only roomy barns to nest and rest in, but over 108 square feet of space outside to forage, frolic, and hunt for bugs. It makes for a happy hen and a delicious, ethically produced egg.”

Nutrition

“All eggs are an excellent source of protein,” Babcock said. “That said, a recent University of Pennsylvania study showed that eggs from pasture raised hens have twice the levels of Omega-3s, vitamin A, and vitamin D than non-pastured eggs!”

Price

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“The least expensive eggs come from factory produced conventional or organic farms,” Babcock said. “At the bottom end of the price list are caged (usually white) eggs. The efficiencies of putting millions of hens in cages enable the lowest price, and lowest quality, as well as the lowest level of animal welfare.   As animal welfare increases, so does the price of the egg — as it is more expensive to provide more room for hens. At the top end, pasture-raised eggs are indeed more expensive than other type of eggs, due to the additional pasture and barn space provided, and the much smaller flock sizes than traditional grocery eggs. But it is a winning situation, as the quality of the egg is far superior to any other on the store shelf. For a few dollars more per dozen you truly get the highest quality egg, from the most humanely raised hen.”

Quality

“Eggs that are factory produced (caged, cage-free, organic, and commercial free-range) are from hens that are confined in cramped conditions with, in most cases, no access to the outdoors, sunshine and have extremely limited freedom of movement,” Babcock said. “In addition, their nutrition is based completely upon processed feed, which does not contain the natural proteins and nutrients that come from a balanced outdoor diet. This has a dramatic effect on the quality of the egg. The result of an egg from a traditional commercial chicken is a pale yellow yolk and thin egg whites, and a very bland or ’sulfur-y’ egg-y taste.”

Supporting Family Farms

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“One of the distinct benefits of the pasture-raised model is that it supports small family farms throughout the United States,” Babcock said. “With relatively small flock sizes, and a fair economic structure, our pasture raised model can be implemented by a single family and provide a full-time on-farm income for that family, eliminating the need to work off-farm.”