Eggs: Cage-free, free-range, organic, pastured? What’s the Difference?

Difference of eggs.

Alright – I dunno about you, but shoppin’ for eggs can be kinda confusing. Doesn’t your mind get tripped up between quality and price? I used to think that free range was the best option until I started seeing “pasture-raised.” Ok – hands down, this is the best kind. But what’s the difference? The goal is to always get the best quality for the best price, right?

Conventional eggs (And what I mean by conventional are eggs that you would buy in a large chain grocery store such as Lucky’s, Albertson’s, Safeway, etc. ) generally raise their chicks in cages, where the space is so confined that their beaks are often cut to prevent pecking one another to death from stress. They are generally fed corn, soy, and antibiotics when they become ill.

Cage-free: Cage free means that chickens are not necessarily confined to cages. That there are open doors that are available for them to roam around. However, cage-free does not define how often, how long, or even IF the chickens get some time out of their confined space.

Free-range: When we think of free-range, we’re thinking better in terms of quality. When I hear the term free-range, I see chickens roaming freely on grass with huge amounts of space to run around. The problem with this label is that in the US, according to the USDA’s standard, free-range means that the chicks must have access to the outdoors, which could mean a mere hole and small open space to roam. This does not mean that the chickens are actually roaming free. 

Organic: Do you remember my article on what it means to be certified organic? It means that your eggs are non-gmo, no antibiotics, pesticides, or growth hormones were used, non-irradiated, artificial dye, artificial sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, and sewage sludge free. Whew. Right. We don’t want all that in our eggs.

Pasture-raised: This means that the chicks are “either surrounded by pasture or mobile chicken coops rotated in the pasture itself.” They are allowed to roam free with enough outdoor space to eat and do what’s natural for chickens. They are rotated to new pastures regularly and have been found to be twice richer in Vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids.

Pasture raised chickens provide much more benefit to their farmers than just their eggs. They provide fertilization for the farm, tillage, and weed and insect control on pasture. Their manure fertilizes the pasture soil.

Your Ideal Egg: Organic AND pasture-raised. You are ensured that your egg is free of unwanted material by being organic, and you receive the highest quality, nutrient-dense egg you can get. To see a list of brands by rating, see Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard.

So why is your ideal the egg most expensive? Farmers who allow their chickens to roam freely often end up with lower egg production (less chickens) and higher labor costs.