Head to the grocery store, and you’re likely to see any assortment of labels on your egg cartons.
And my personal favorite…vegetarian (don’t even get me started!).
In fact, about 98% of all eggs in the United States are produced by cage-raised hens. Very few people would disagree that a chicken raised in confinement is going to be a less healthy chicken that produces less flavorful, less nutritious eggs.
But when it comes to the other “marketing” labels, there’s a lot of confusion over what’s actually better – and what’s a waste of your money.
I’ve written extensively about why organic isn’t always worth it. Sure, there are some products that are definitely worth buying organic, but it’s important to remember that even organic eggs can come from inhumane factory conditions.
So…what kind of eggs should I buy? Here’s the low-down on what all of these monikers mean – and why pasture-raised eggs are definitely the way to go.
**J&R Pierce Family Farm is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to allow sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products on Amazon. I often link to Amazon when recommending certain products, and if you choose to purchase, I may earn a small percentage of the sale. It costs you nothing extra, and all recommended products are ones that I personally vouch for. **
What Kind of Eggs Should I Purchase?
Honestly, it’s up to you – and I would never fault anybody for purchasing a product due to budgetary, geographical, dietary, or any other kinds of restraints. But it’s important that you educate yourself on the various labels associated with grocery-store eggs so that you can be a more thoughtful consumer.
Knowing where your dollars are going is important!
What Are Organic Eggs?
Organic eggs – or rather, certified organic eggs – are laid by hormone- and antibiotic-free hens who have access to outdoor areas and are fed a diet of strictly organic food. There are certainly conditions that are allowed, though, and some that aren’t even regulated.
Access to the outdoors can mean a small, crowded run for thousands of birds – or it can mean full access to the outdoors. The one benefit of purchasing certified organic eggs is that all organic farms are verified and inspected by third parties, which makes it less common for fraudulent marketing to occur.
What Are Free-Range Eggs?
Free-range eggs aren’t necessarily pasture-raised. It simply means that the chickens have to have access to the outside. There are no regulations in place about how much space they need or how clean it needs to be.
Free-range does not mean organic. Free-range chickens can be given animal byproducts, food from GMO vegetables, and antibiotics. Roosting bars and nest boxes aren’t always guaranteed, and overcrowding is common.
What Are Cage-Free Eggs?
Cage-free is a very loose, very unregulated term. It could be everything from fully free-range chickens to chickens who have some access to outdoor space. It could even be chickens confined to a barn! Cage-free producers are not audited by inspectors unless they are also certified organic.
Many people assume that cage-free and free-range mean the same thing, but that’s simply not the case. It just means that they can roam around of their own free will. There’s also no limit to how many birds can be kept in a barn that is “cage-free,” or about how clean and sterile the barn needs to be.
Nor are there regulations that limit questionable practices like beak-trimming and forced molting, which are done to limit aggression and cannibalism and to improve egg production.
Technically, chickens raised in chicken tractors are not cage-free – they still are confined. However, this is a much more ethical manner of raising chickens, as they are moved everyday to limit boredom and provide access to the best nutrition.
What Are Omega-3 Enhanced Eggs?
These eggs, which you may also see marketed as “omega-3 fortified,” come from hens that are given feed that contains substantial amounts of flaxseed. Flaxseed is naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids, which most doctors agree is vital for our own health and wellbeing.
But that’s where the benefits end. Hens that lay omega-3 enhanced eggs are kept in the same conditions (ie, battery cages) as factory farm eggs, and the omega-3 label isn’t regulated by the FDA. Therefore, while you will likely get eggs that are higher in omega-3s, there’s no way to figure out how much you’ll actually be getting.
What Are Vegetarian Eggs?
This one really gets me going, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about it.
The latest marketing craze I’ve discovered has been with so-called `vegetarian” hens. These chickens are fed a vegetarian diet of strictly vegetarian feed. However, it is not a well-regulated label, and to be honest, kind of a stupid one. Chickens, by their very nature, are omnivores. They eat bugs, rodents, snakes – whatever crosses their path!
Depriving chickens of their natural ability to forage for protein-rich morsels is not only cruel, but it laughs in the face of nature. And there’s really no benefit of eating vegetarian eggs – except for one, which I’ll mention for the sake of doing my due diligence.
Some commercial chicken feeds do contain animal byproduct. This isn’t always sourced from the healthiest or most palatable sources – so I get that argument. But there are plenty of ways that small farms can – and do – avoid this byproduct. For example, we purchase our grain from a local farmer.
We know exactly what goes into his feed, and yet we still don’t market our eggs as vegetarian because they’re not – we aren’t going to confine our chickens to a barn 100% of the time to make sure they never eat any meat.
A final problem with vegetarian eggs is that chickens require a certain amino acid known as methionine in order to be healthy. Just so that farmers can sell vegetarian eggs that are still organic, the USDA allows supplementation of methionine – which is a chemical.
So…what? Are you really any better off?
What Are Pasture-Raised Eggs?
Now, the good stuff! Pasture-raised eggs are those from chickens who are allowed unfettered access to green grass and sunshine.
Unfortunately,a s with all the other marketing labels, there are no regulations for pasture-raised eggs. Like “all-natural” or “free-range,” it is a loose term. However, pasture-raised eggs are generally more nutritious than those produced in confinement operations or operations of any other kind.
Are Pasture-Raised Eggs Healthier?
Yes – for a number of reasons.
Crack a pasture-raised egg into a frying pan, and you’ll likely gasp when comparing it to a traditional sot rebouh-egg. The color is a deep orange and the yolks stand up firm on their own, unlike the milky whites you’ve likely seen on store bought eggs.
Plus, pasture raised eggs have higher quantities of the following:
- Vitamin K
- Beta carotene
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin E
- Omega-3s and 6s
- Vitamin A
Pasture-raised eggs have less cholesterol and saturated fat than store bought eggs, too.
The vitamin D in particular is worth mentioning. Eggs from hens who are raised outdoors – and exposed to direct sunlight – have up to six times more vitamin D than their counterparts. You can get almost all of the vitamin D you need in a day just by eating two pasture-raised eggs a day.
Why are pasture-raised eggs more nutritious? Most scientists and nutritionists believe that it’s because pasture-raised hens are allowed to consume a more natural diet that includes a variety of foods, including grass, green plants, seeds, insects, worms, and other foods.
How Can I Ensure My Eggs Are Ethically Produced?
The easiest way to make sure your eggs come from the best possible sources is to get to know the farmers who raise the hens that produce them!
We welcome visits to our farm and encourage any questions that arise (as long as we are on-site to answer them, of course!). A farm that has strict biosecurity measures in place or does not allow visitors is one that has something to hide, in my opinion. You shouldn’t have to sign a waiver in order to find out where your eggs come from.
Get to know the producer of your eggs – and connect yourself to the actual process by seeing the chickens and getting to know how they are raised – and you’ll rest easy knowing your eggs are sustainably and ethically produced.
And never, ever blindly trust a label. Be a critical consumer and ask as many questions as you can! You have every right to know what you’re putting into your body.
Interested in learning more about our farm-fresh eggs? Get in touch here.
Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to check out these articles!
- 12 Reasons Why Sheep Are the Coolest Livestock You Can Raise
- Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Lambing (But Didn’t Want to Ask!)
- 12 Common Hoof Problems in Sheep
Subscribe to our email newsletter for regular tips and tricks on homesteading – wherever you are. You can also follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for frequent updates. Happy homesteading!