Free range vs
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PASTURE RAISED AND FREE RANGE?
It is not surprising this question is asked so often, given how confusing all the terms on the egg case can be.
For example, there is cage free, free range, pasture raised, Certified Humane, organic, non-GMO, soy-free, vegetarian, and omega-3. The list seems endless.
It’s enough to make you simply want to grab the least expensive carton of eggs and go. BUT DON’T!
Because, if you’ve found your way to Utopihen Farms, we’re pretty confident about one thing: You care far more than the average consumer.
You care about the humane treatment of animals; ethical and sustainable farming and business practices; working to make the world a better place today; and about leaving behind a significantly better world for future generations.
So you especially can’t afford to ignore the differences between free range and pasture raised, or why pasture raised eggs are better, or why some types of eggs will likely never be the egg for you.
However, we don’t want you to simply take our word for why pasture raised eggs are the best choice for people who care more.
To make sure you have the most up-to-date information about the differences between free range eggs vs pasture raised eggs, and between all the other types of eggs, we’ve collected information from a few of the most trusted sources in the food industry, and we're sharing links to those sources so you can find more information. You can read our summation (below the links) or go directly to the source:
- Certified Humane article, first published by U.S. News and World Report, "What's the Difference Between Pasture-Raised and Free-Range Eggs"
- Bon Appétit's article, "How to Buy the Best Eggs Possible"
- The Cornucopia Institute's article, "The WellBe Guide to Picking the Healthiest Egg"
- Penn State College of Agricultural Studies' article, "Research Shows Eggs from Pastured Chickens May be More Nutritious"
What’s important to remember is that just because a hen is pasture raised, doesn’t guarantee they’re receiving the most humane treatment. That’s why the best pasture raised egg is one that's also Certified Humane, which all of our pasture raised chicken* eggs are.
The benefit seeing the Certified Humane seal on your carton of eggs is that it guarantees the care of the hens that laid those eggs meets very high standards, and that the farms your Certified Humane eggs come from have been inspected and do meet those same standards. A traceability audit confirms that every egg put into a carton that displays the Certified Humane seal is, in fact, from a farm that is Certified Humane.
Every pasture raised hen farm that has earned the Certified Humane seal is also audited by an inspector who must have a masters or doctorate degree in animal science, as well as extensive expertise in chickens.
On Certified Humane pasture raised farms, hens not only roam freely but also socialize as much as they want, have continual access to water and to plenty of shade (even if providing that shade requires farmers to put up tents). Many pasture raised farms also have trees on which hens love to perch together.
*Utopihen Farms also carries Pasture Raised Duck Eggs and even though our ducks are given the highest level of humane care, Certified Humane has not yet set a standard for the humane treatment of ducks. We look forward to the day that standard exists so that we can proudly put the Certified Humane seal on our duck egg cartons.
Now let’s dive into the differences between free range and pasture raised eggs:
Lots of SPACE: A Key DIFFERENCE IN FREE RANGE vs PASTURE RAISED
Free range hens must have access to the outdoors. However, that access may be less than two square feet — and the amount of space free range hens are given just depends on the specific farm. Compare this to pasture raised hens that must have a minimum of 108 square feet per hen. Utopihen Farms, though, requires a minimum of 110 square feet per hen.
Additionally, free range hens don’t go outside as much as you might think. Pasture raised hens are let out of their barns every morning and are called back before dark. In short, they spend their days in the sun and fresh air and this makes a difference in their eggs which have higher levels of vitamin D thanks to the sunshine, as well as lower levels of cortisol (the hormone that produces stress) because they have the space to spread their wings and flourish.
NATURAL DIET: PASTURE RAISED HENS EAT DIFFERENTLY — AND IT MATTERS
Hens are omnivores and are meant to eat the types of foods found in pastures. Pasture raised hens consume plenty of plants, worms and other insects — which are a hen’s natural diet. Most free range hens don’t have a choice in their diets and, while their exact diet depends on the specific farm, they are typically fed lots of corn and soy.
Researchers from Penn State College of Agricultural Studies found the natural diet of pasture raised hens makes a big difference, and that pasture raised hens do lay healthier eggs. You can find out more about Penn State’s study and what researchers discovered on our home page, under the section titled What Does Pasture Raised Mean?
SUSTAINABLE FARMING: A HIDDEN ADVANTAGE OF PASTURE RAISED OVER FREE RANGE
Pasture raised has another advantage, too. Because the hens themselves control what they eat and spread their own manure, farmers have less work to do. The hens are healthily tending to themselves and, therefore, less equipment is needed. Both these factors make farming pasture raised hens more sustainable.
SO, WHAT ABOUT CAGE FREE?
While cage free is certainly better than caged, the reality is that cage free hens never see daylight. They are confined to significantly smaller spaces and are often cramped, living on top of each other. Some cage free egg brands are better than others, but the bottom line is this:
If you care about the health of hens and of your eggs, and if the humane treatment of animals is important to you, pasture raised eggs are your best option.
Buying pasture raised eggs also gives you the opportunity to send a message to the stores you frequent about what’s acceptable and important to you, simply through your purchase. Ultimately, making careful decisions related to the items you buy is one of the easiest ways to join us on the journey to a brighter future.