When are free-range eggs not free-range eggs?

It depends.

If you live in the US, it depends on what you mean by “free range”. Chances are, your idea of free range is not the same as the government’s idea of free range. Your idea probably looks something like this:

Nice, right?

The government’s idea looks more like this:

Yes. That qualifies as “free range”. Legally.

According to Mother Earth News:

  • “Cage Free,” “Free Range” or “Free Roaming”: None of these terms are currently regulated by the U.S. government, although there are some third-party verification programs. Nevertheless, “free range” usually means the laying hens are raised in large flocks in big open warehouses rather than in stacked cages. They can walk around, flap their wings and preen their feathers a little. “Cage-free” does not mean outdoor access. “Free-range” implies some outdoor access, although it is probably very limited, and on dirt or concrete rather than pasture.

In order to get the significant nutritional superiority of eggs from chickens who have free access to the outside, grazing on grass and insects, the term you want to look for is “pastured”. For more information on this subject, The Huffington Post just published an excellent article.

Heedley’s Hens are out from dawn to dusk; we have the deep orange yolks and the happy hens to prove it!


6 thoughts on “When are free-range eggs not free-range eggs?

  1. The risk is worth the reward. The chickens are so much happier when allowed access to all the benefits of free ranging. I have completed the move, bought the dog for protection (Livestock guardian dog) and now I am just waiting for everyone to get settled in before turning them loose. I will allow them their first day of free-ranging next weekend. Supervised of course. The first day I spotted 4 bald eagles flying by overhead. That nearly made me shove them all in the barn. Apparently the neighbours have chickens who range freely, and he has never lost them to a bird of prey.

    Hopefully they were just passing by. If they nested near the new property, I would worry constantly. My puppy is only 10 1/2 weeks old. She is still way too young to protect properly, though I’m sure her barks do repel predators. She barks like a full grown small dog.

    I will never eat a store bought egg again. If I have to toss my eggs for whatever reason (ie: worming)- I am going to buy from someone locally.

    • Congratulations on your move, Aoxa! How did the flock take it? Have they seen their new Great Outdoors? What a monumental task that must have been. I can’t even contemplate it…

      • I couldn’t wait anymore. They started free ranging when I returned home from work on Tuesday. They were not affected by the move at all. They laid 7 eggs the next morning (which is one more than the usual 6). I did lose one hen :( She was unwell before we moved, and passed away Monday night. She was my very favourite girl. The one that made my turn from hobby to near obsession.

        I really don’t know what was wrong with her. I’m just glad she is not suffering now. None of the others show any signs of anything wrong.

        But besides that, everything is going very well. They love their new barn!

      • Oh, I am so sorry to hear that. Do the other girls miss her? I’ve never lost a hen to illness or mysteriousness, and I’m not looking forward to it. Are you buying/hatching any chicks this spring?

      • I have 42 eggs in the incubator right now. I have 15 chicks already. 7 that are 6.5 weeks – 3 that are 7.5 weeks and 5 that are 2 weeks. All the chicks are being raised by broodies right now.

        I plan on selling the majority of the chicks I hatch myself to make some extra money for feed/expenses.

        My hens stayed very close to her the last few days. She was never left alone. The head hen followed her everywhere. After she passed, I didn’t notice any sadness amongst the rest of them.

        I do think it might have been worms, though I thought all would have them? I wormed everyone just to be safe.

      • I am so jealous of your broodies! As I wait for the babies, I reeheeheeally wish Buffy were taking care of them. Grrrrr. I hope that raising them in the coop will facilitate integration, along with the large free ranging space they have. I’ll jump off that bridge when I get to it…

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