What does it all mean?
I didn’t grow up with a chicken coop in my backyard. I grew up in the city, first 9 years in Shreveport, Louisiana second 9 years in Denver, Colorado spending some time in the supermarket egg aisle. If you’ve been in the supermarket egg aisle lately you’re probably familiar with the assault of qualifiers and descriptors — Cage-free! Hormone-Free! Free-range! Local! — that awaits you there. Here’s what they all mean, and how to navigate them efficiently — or just shop with your local farmer!
Most of this information can be found on the USDA.gov website. But I’m a little more entertaining.
Cage-free, a term regulated by the USDA, means that the eggs come from hens that, put simply, aren’t caged: They can “freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle, but [do] not have access to the outdoors.” Considering the conventional cage is 8 ½ by 11 inches, or the size of a piece of paper, this seems like a better lifestyle — but there are downsides, too. According to All About Eggs by Rachel Khong, large cage-free facilities have more hen-on-hen violence and lower air quality than facilities that use cages.
Free-range, another USDA term, means that the eggs come from hens that have some sort of access to the outdoors. However, it doesn’t mean that the hens actually go outdoors, or that the outdoor space is more than a small, fenced-in area; it simply implies that a door exists that a farmer could at some point open. “SAY What?!?” was my reaction to that as well.
Pasture-raised is not a term regulated by the USDA; however, if the carton says “pasture-raised” and also includes stamps that say “Certified Humane” and/or “Animal Welfare Approved,” it means that each hen was given 108 square feet of outdoor space, as well as barn space indoors. This is pretty much as close to the Old McDonald E-I-E-O farm vibe you’ll get when dealing with large or small scale egg producers. So if you’re looking to support those practices, you’ve found us.
For eggs to be Organic, the only stipulation is that they must come from hens who are fed an organic diet. Amount of space per hen, access to the outdoors — neither of those are specified or required, though many organic eggs are also at least free-range. Our Ladies and Roo have their own organic chef! Deacon Dave purchased a plastic compost full of Soldier Flies. Soldier Fies isn’t a nickname we gave them, but a TYPE of fly that lays thousands of eggs almost daily, supplying a buffet of lava for the Ladies. ah-hah Another post idea! …with lots of pictures.
So, given all of this information…what are you going buy?