Free range was once the ethical choice when purchasing eggs, but with the changes to Free Range regulations making an educated choice in the grocery aisle can feel impossible.
To break it down, Australian law allows four categories of eggs: free range, caged, barn, and organic.
Caged hens are the industrialised, budget form of egg production once being the major form of egg production it enabled maximum output but a rather poor life for the chicken. Hens live out their lives in a cage with access to space that is the equivalent of an A4 piece of paper.
Barn Laid/Cage Free
Barn hens is merely a cage-free version of battery hens. This operation aims for maximum output in an operation made up of purpose-built sheds that hold large numbers of hens.
An operation can be classed as free range so long as the hen has ‘meaningful and regular access to an outdoor area’ and a stocking density no more than 10,000 hens per hectare. They have access to the outdoors through doors if they choose to do so.
An organic operation follows organic guidelines for farming practices and hens run at a maximum of 2500 hens per hectare, meaning they get a larger area to roam than free range. While also running under the guidelines that feeds are free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’S) and antibiotics and that the operation is run free of chemicals.
And then there are Pastured Eggs
Pastured eggs are not considered a legally recognised category, and therefore fall under the category of free range egg farming.
Pastured chickens receive the ultimate lifestyle with full time access to fresh pastures, dustbathe and space to run around in, while also being fed a specific grain mix to supply them with their full time laying needs. They get to live a life of freedom and the ability to be actually outside foraging like they would have once been doing when living wild in their preferred forest environment.
Free range have a stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare or less, which to put into perspective would be like having 7000 birds on a rugby field. Just a little cosy when you consider the fact that these birds will not leave this area for their entire laying life, therefore not receiving any fresh pasture, posing the question how ‘free range’ they really are.
The term pastured is continually growing as ‘real’ producers seek to find a way to disregard this overused term of ‘free range’ and look to promote a way of farming that is advantageous to the bird and to the landscape promoting long-term fertility of the landscape and the importance of knowing the farmer who produces your food and where this food is produced.
Here at Forage Farms our birds are held at a stocking density of 280 birds per footy field.
But does this difference in space result in a change of egg quality? Yes.
A recent study by Mother Earth News found most eggs sold on the market are nutritionally inferior to eggs that are produced in a pasture-based operation.
The study tested eggs from 14 different pastured flocks in an accredited laboratory and compared the results to the official egg nutritional information produced by the US Department of Agriculture.
The results of the study found that the eggs from a pasture operation;
- Have a 1/3 less cholesterol
- Have a ¼ less saturated fat
- Have 2/3 more vitamin A
- Have 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- Have 3 times more vitamin E
- Have 7 times more beta-carotene
As the results show, eggs produced from a pasture-based operation outperform the eggs produced from their competitors.
We believe this difference is due to the fact the chooks have access to run free in a large area, be constantly moved to fresh grass, be able to eat grass, greens, grains and bugs as they like, dustbathe to their heart’s content and most of all, produce a superior tasting egg that is better for you while enjoying the best lifestyle chickens could ask for.