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Pasture-Raised vs Free Range Eggs: What's the Difference?


   My family consumes a lot of eggs, about 3 dozen a week between the 4 of us. Clean eating is really important to us, so I care a lot about the quality of eggs we're getting. I'm planning to get a small backyard children coop built this spring so we can raise a few hens ourselves, but until then, we're stuck getting most of our eggs from the supermarket (I do buy eggs from our neighbor when he has extra). There are so many different terms on egg cartons though, it can be a bit tricky to figure out which eggs are best. I've spent some time researching and here's what I found out:


Caged hens

(which produce pretty much any eggs that don't state they're free range, pasture raised, cage free, certified humane, or organic) are kept in tiny cages, some as small as 67 square inches! Most never see the light of day. Most are fed a soy or corn (probably GMO) diet.


Cage-Free hens

are given slightly more space since they are not confined to cages but most still never see the light of day. They spend they're entire egg laying lives confined to a crowded barn being fed corn or soy.



is an especially misleading term when it comes to hens. Free Range hens are not required to have more than 2 square foot a piece and while they must have access to the outdoors, many never actually see it. Many are kept in crowded barns with only a single access point or two to a small caged in outdoor space. They are typically fed a corn or soy based diet. Free-range  unfortunately does not mean hens who are free to roam and forage outdoors like one might think.



are the eggs you want to look for. While, as far as I can find, there are no current regulations,  this is the term being used by sustainable farmers to refer to hens that are given ample time and space (at least 108 square foot per bird) outside to forge for bugs like chickens are supposed to (they are fed some feed too).  If you really want to be sure your getting quality eggs from healthy humanely raised hens, look for pasture-raised eggs with the "Certified Humane"  seal. The seal means the eggs come from farms that have been inspected to meet very specific standards including the freedom to roam freely during the daytime.

   According to a study out of Pennsylvania State University, pasture-raised hens produce eggs that contain several times the amount of both vitamin D and E than conventionally farmed eggs. And twice the amount of omega 3 fatty acids. Healthy chickens produce healthy eggs.

   Another term I've seen on egg cartons lately that drives me crazy is "Vegetarian Fed". Guys, this isn't a good thing. Chickens are omnivores, they're supposed to eat insects, worms, and grass. So please don't be fooled by this sales ploy.

   All in all, healthier happier chickens who are free to roam and forage for insects and worms produce healthier eggs. Look for the term "Pasture-Raised" and the "Certified Humane" seal when shopping for eggs.

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  1. I haven't seen "vegetarian fed" on eggs. It makes it seem as if they were fed by a human who eats a vegetarian diet! I totally agree with you, though. Chickens are omnivores and will eat insects if they have access to them. This is healthy for them.

    1. Lol @ chickens fed by vegetarians! Definitely going to be the picture I imagine in my head now :-)
      I've noticed a big difference in the quality of eggs from chickens fed strickly grains and those that are free to eat insects and such. The yolks are a much brighter color and they taste better too!

  2. Love this!!! My family and I are on a real tight budget so we cut back on eggs since pasture-raised are expensive. But I really want to have chickens once we have some land, so I'm with you there! And funny thing about reading this today is that I just talked to my husband (who is from a farming family) about corn-fed beef is full of saturated fats when they should be eating grass to make omega-3 fats (anti-inflammatory fats), which is what inspired my post on 'The Price of Convenience' this week. He told me that few farmers are having to produce for a very high demand, so they are doing the best they can with the information they have. I think it's the same for chickens. Chicken is in high demand, so to match the convenience of consumers, farmers are having to cage them and feed them corn/soy because there isn't enough grass for all of them to eat. As a result, their meat and eggs are full of saturated fats instead of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats. The price of the convenience of buying chicken and eggs from a grocery store at any time....

    1. I agree that high demand probably plays a big role. Maybe the answer is more backyard chicken coops :-)
      Can't wait to get started with our chicken coop this spring! Quality eggs can definitely get pricey, it will be nice to be producing some of our own.

  3. Thank you for all this great info! It's so hard figuring out what everything is once you're in the grocery store especially if you have a family in tow. I watched a CBC Marketplace special about this not too long ago. Decisions, decisions, decisions!

    1. Your welcome! So many confusing terms out there!

  4. Thank you for clarifying that. it's good to know.

  5. Thank you for helping everyone understand I only buy organic eggs

  6. Our girls are pastured raised. They love their free living lifestyle and we love the eggs they give us.

    1. We finally got our first batch of chicks a couple months ago. So excited to start getting eggs from my own hens :-)

  7. I've always been confused by the difference in eggs. Which are actually the best for your health? This post was incredibly helpful. Thank you!

    1. Marketing terms can definitely be confusing.
      Thanks for reading :-)

  8. It's so sad that "free range" can be so little. How is 2 sq ft free range?! Thank you for explaining this to me so I can make the right decisions on my eggs from now on.

  9. Really useful article, with lots of information I could use. I love eggs!

  10. Great information! I live in Germany and farm/pasture eggs are very easy to get and affordable, because they have way more regulations on such things. It’s crazy how much better those eggs taste than the ones I’ve had in America from the grocery store.

    1. That's great that they are so easy to get in Germany! Wish the US would implement better regulations. It is amazing how much better eggs from happy healthy hens taste!

  11. Yes! I look for pasture-raised, too. This is a GREAT breakdown. So helpful!


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