If you don’t have access to fresh eggs from a farmer, who you know and trust to have raised that product in a way you’re comfortable with, what is your next best option?
Grocery stores and their providing companies have cunningly come up with marketing tactics to make you believe the egg you purchase is coming from a chicken that lives a pastoral life of scratching and foraging on green, open pastures. But just because the carton says “Free-run“, doesn’t mean the chicken lived any better life than one in a cage. Let’s look at the different labels you’ll find in the grocery store, and what they really mean:
(Just your regular old egg, with no claims other than size and grade)
These eggs are laid by chickens kept in “battery cages“. They are essentially a 12″x12” box, with no room for the chicken to exercise her natural tendencies: scratching, preening, roosting and nesting. Birds in these situations often have their beaks trimmed to prevent feather picking- a natural tendency for chickens when they are bored or kept too close together.
A recent publication produced by the Ontario Farm Animal Council has this to say about laying hens:
“Laying hens in Canada are mostly raised in cages. Modern laying hens are descended from jungle fowl, which used to live in small groups under tree roots. This means it is natural for hens to want to live closely together with other birds, and small enclosed spaces- reminiscent of those ancient tree roots- make hem feel safe and protected….
With mesh floors, their waste falls away, keeping the birds and eggs clean. It’s practical and clean housing system that offers other benefits to the birds and farmers, and affordable eggs to consumers.”
If I even began to tell you all the things wrong with just these two paragraphs, well we’d be here for a long time. I can tell you right now though, that although I may be a descendant of someone who once lived in a cave and cooked over a fire, I have no desire today, to live in a cave or cook over a fire. (At least not every day anyway!)
Chickens do enjoy sleeping closely together, but they do not enjoy spending their days crammed up like sardines. I’ve spent many many hours watching my chickens, of all different breeds, socialize with one another, and I can tell you there is nothing they love more than wandering and foraging, often all alone, or in small groups of 3 or so. They definitely do not huddle close together under a bush.
As for the wire floors, can you imagine how comfortable that would be to stand on all day? And when it comes to cleanliness, chickens are perfectly capable of keeping themselves clean given the space to preen and dust-bathe. Eggs are also easily kept clean if the nesting boxes are kept clean. Not to mention, commercially produced eggs are washed in chlorine solutions, stripping them of the natural protective coating God gave them (this coating is called the “bloom”).
Alright, I could go on for ever about this, but for the sake of this article, we’ll move on.
Free-run/Cage Free eggs:
These chickens live in large open barns, usually with access to nesting boxes, but not always, and are not required to provide dust baths or perches. There are also no requirements for the hens to have any more floor space than they would in battery cages. I think this is the most green-washed option out there.
The same as above, but usually with dust baths and perches. They are also provided with access to out doors at least some of the time– But there’s no regulations on how long that time is. It may be an hour or less!
It’s important to note with both free-run and free-range eggs produced in large capacity barns, that unless certified organic there are no third-party verifications!
So what other options do you have? Some people would argue the being certified organic is not that important, and there are many cases when I would agree with that, but for eggs, I do believe being certified is very important! Certified organic eggs are required to provide nesting boxes, perches, dust baths, and regulated outdoor time. Organic barns are audited regularly, and standards are high and very strict. This makes it more difficult and costly to produce organic eggs, but for the sake of an animals quality of life- It’s worth it!!
I am able to raise my chickens in a way that is truly free-range. The girls go outside, unrestricted all day long. I’ve lost a lot of lettuce and geraniums (and also some chickens) but the girls are so happy having this freedom. They go in to a nice secure coop on their own every night to keep them safe from predators.
Not everyone is able to do this though, because of high predation, but there’s still a huge difference between the chicken runs of a small scale farmer compared to that of a massive barn.
If you’re unable to purchase eggs directlly, I hope this sheds some light on your other options!