Check out some of the most frequently asked questions about Nellie’s Free Range Eggs. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, please contact us and we’ll be happy to get you the answers you’re searching for.

Our hens

What does free range mean?

Each of our partner farms follows the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) Certified Humane Free Range standards. Being free range means that during most times of the day and year, our hens are free to roam outside as they please. This is very different from cage free, which typically does not involve any amount of outdoor access.

We do have to ensure that our free range hens are safe from predators and disease, so we can’t allow them outside if ground predators such as fox or coyote are seen in the immediate area. During migratory bird season, we protect our birds from exposure to diseases such as avian mites or avian flu. On rainy or cold days, our hens enjoy dust bathing and socializing in their spacious hen houses.

Learn more about our free range hens here.

What is cage-free? Is it the same thing as free range?

Not at all! Cage free does represent an incremental improvement over the current industry practice of battery cages where hens can’t move. But despite the name, Cage Free is still caged. The new aviary systems being rushed to market to meet the demand for cage free are gigantic floor to ceiling metal enclosures full of layers, catwalks, and doors. It’s a bit better of a life than not being able to move, but the hens never see the outside and these are still very much factory farms with all the inhumane practices intact. Check out this blog post to learn more about the differences between cage free and free range.

What does pasture raised mean?

Pasture raised is another term that has emerged in recent years. While there are no USDA standards supporting the term, responsible producers are providing the hens with grass pasture to forage on, just like free range. The debate comes in with respect to how much space is “enough” for hens.

Our free range hens have a minimum of 2 square feet per hen of pasture, and that’s an average for every hen in the flock. It is very rare for all of the hens to choose to be outside at any one time during the day. Most of them prefer the shade, water, feed, or social opportunities inside the barn, so the girls that feel like venturing out usually have a vast expanse of a field all to themselves to explore. Some folks who produce under the “pasture raised” term offer even more average space than this, but that space does not come free and is often reflected in the price of those eggs on the shelf. We think that we’ve found the right balance with Certified Humane Free Range for our hens, farmers, and consumers alike.

Learn more about the difference between free range and pasture raised here.

What happens to sick or injured hens?

To start with, we don’t have many. Our free range hen flocks have a pretty good life. Our farmers keep an eye on their flocks all day long; it’s a round the clock job! Whenever we find a sick or injured hen, we separate, treat, and then return her to the flock when she’s back to full health. We never administer antibiotics at any time.

In general, we have far less challenges with disease and injury than conventionally raised caged hens because we don’t overcrowd them. They have access to the outdoors, fresh air and water, and can socialize with their hen cliques. All of this makes for a healthy and safe environment for our girls.

Do you give your hens antibiotics?

No. This practice was adopted by factory farms to deal with the constant filth and disease that infests their chicken-filled warehouses. They will typically treat healthy hens with antibiotics as a prophylactic measure. In contrast, our barns are airy, uncrowded, clean, and safe. If in the rare circumstance a hen is discovered to have a health issue requiring antibiotics (and this is very rare), she will be segregated from the main flock and treated. Her eggs will not go into our cartons until she is fully recovered and off any medications.

Do you give your hens hormones?

We do not. And the use of hormones is illegal for anyone raising poultry. Unfortunately, that is not the case with other types of farm animals.

How many eggs does a hen lay per day?

It’s right around 1 per day for most. A flock will average around 307 eggs per hen over the first 52 weeks of laying. This will decrease a bit as the hens age.

Do you feed the hens corn or soy?

Our Certified Humane Free Range hens spend most of their days foraging outdoors for bugs and tasty greens, but unlike cows or sheep, they are not ruminants and cannot subsist solely on the pasture that’s available to them. That’s why we provide our hens with a supplementary feed containing corn and soy. The soy is a great source of additional protein, while the corn provides carbohydrates. There is also a wide range of other beneficial nutrients and minerals in our feed that help to keep the hens healthy, like electrolytes and sodium bicarbonate. To quote one of our feed suppliers “those hens eat healthier than I do!"

We have never had a customer complain of soy allergies being triggered by eating our free range eggs. In fact, as we understand it there is likely almost no trace amount of soy left in an egg after a hen lays it. The American Egg Board website is a good resource on this subject: their research suggests that eggs should probably be considered gluten free as well. Still, if you have allergies or concerns about corn or soy in your diet, it’s always a good idea to consult a health professional before consuming eggs.

Do you de-beak your hens?

We do not de-beak our hens, but we do follow a practice accepted and recommended by Certified Humane, our third-party animal welfare certifier, of mild beak trimming. This is not for our financial benefit, but for protecting the weakest members of our flocks. The goal of a correctly administered beak trim is to prevent a sharp hook from developing on the end of the beak. The scientific committee of Certified Humane determined that a very minor trim of the sharp tip of the beak on or before the chick is ten days of age is humane, and often more so than leaving aggressive hens with a means to hurt others, no matter how much space is available to them. Although free range hens can be wonderful and nurturing, the reality is that they can also be incredibly cruel and vicious to the weakest members of the flock.

The beak trim has traditionally been administered by trained professionals at our small family pullet farms under Certified Humane guidelines. Our company is always looking for how to do things even better, and we recently began transitioning to an infrared mild beak trim performed at the hatchery when the chicks are one day old. The benefits of this method include a more consistent and even trim, less stress for the hens because they don’t have to be caught and handled, and less risk of disease for the pullets transmitted from the beak trimming crews who visit multiple farms. We hope to fully convert to this method over the next few years as the hatcheries which service our small family farms upgrade their equipment.

A great resource for more detailed information about beak trimming standards can be found at Certified Humane’s website here.

Our farms

I’ve read bad things about male chicks. What happens at Nellie's?

To fully answer your important question about  male chicks, we’d like to explain a little bit about how our farms work.

We are deeply committed to how our free range hens are treated from the day they are born. We take ownership of our hens when they are delivered to us at 16 or so weeks old. Prior to joining us at our farms, these hens are hatched at a hatchery and raised by small family farms in free range pullet houses. The hatcheries that supply our hens are operated by companies ISA/Hendrix and HY-line, which own the rights to the genetics. These hybrid breeds have been developed especially for egg-laying productivity and it is what makes commercial egg farming possible at the prices consumers currently enjoy. We do not currently have the resources or expertise to produce our own breed of egg laying hens, which is why we have chosen to work with these hatcheries.

Once the chicks are hatched, they are sorted by gender. The female chicks will become egg laying hens and are transported at one day old to the pullet house. Unfortunately, there is no role for male chickens in egg farming. Male chickens from laying breeds are not suitable for meat because they mature very slowly. Additionally, even in a free range environment, a rooster’s tendency to fight would create a terrible, inhumane environment for hens. So, given that there is no viable market for the male chicks, the hatcheries euthanize them. To do this, the hatcheries use one of the practices recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association. We do not have control over which practice they use and it varies depending on the hatchery. We wish that there was an alternative, but there currently are no hatcheries available to us that produce chicks without male chick culling.

All this being said, we do not believe that we can stand by idly and pass the blame onto hatcheries. They are producing chicks for farmers like us, so we must own some of the responsibility for current practices. As part of our commitment to the humane treatment of hens from the very beginning of their life, we are serious about doing our part: we have spoken with company leaders at the hatcheries and advocated for the end of male chick culling. The hatchery/hen genetics industry is very consolidated with only a few companies worldwide. They are headquartered in Europe where there has been much greater political will to force change - for example, the German government has stated that male chick culling will be phased out in Germany over the coming years. Germany, the Netherlands, and the European Union, in partnership with the hatchery parent companies, are providing financial support to various university research efforts occurring in Europe.  There are several in-egg technologies to sex the eggs, which are rapidly progressing in testing. We maintain contact with researchers at the University of Leipzig, Germany and Project In Ovo in the Netherlands and plan to offer financial support to them. Their work is focused on commercializing a prototype in-egg sexing technique.

In addition to working with researchers, we are working to partner with nonprofits, such as Compassion in World Farming, to support their efforts around this issue. We are also partnering with Unilever, who has taken a leadership role on this issue, to coordinate efforts and bring positive change to the United States. Commercializing the technology and bringing it to the U.S. is going to require a team effort and we are taking a leadership role in this effort.

While we cannot change the entire egg industry at once, we are committed to building a sustainable business at a scale large enough to create meaningful progress in the way laying hens are raised and treated in the U.S. Currently, over 90% of eggs consumed in the U.S. are produced in horrific caged environments.

We are optimistic that as consumers become more interested in how our food is produced, we will continue to see improvements in the humane and ethical treatment of farm animals from their first day to their last.

How many family farms do you work with? Where are they located?

We have over 40 independent, family owned and operated farms in our network. These are small, free range farms usually run by two parents and their kids. We are very proud of the fact that our company can provide a realistic living for those families that still want to farm in a world of industrial scale agriculture. Our network currently spans the Northeast and Midwest, and we’re always expanding our reach. You can find a map of our partner farms here.

May I visit one of your small family farms?

Our partner farmers hold tours at their farms throughout the warmer months, and we would love to have you join one! Click here to see if there are any upcoming farm tours in your area.

What happens to the hens when they are too old to lay eggs?

We have put a lot of critical thought and research into the best way to address our hens at the end of their laying days. There are several options to consider.

First, we could keep them ourselves. In order to feed and house our retired laying hens for the remainder of their lives, we estimate that the cost of a dozen eggs would be at least $12.00 at the shelf. We feel that this would not be affordable for our consumers. Additionally, it would prevent us from achieving our broader aim of building a sustainable business at a scale large enough to create meaningful change for the way laying hens are raised and treated in the U.S.

The next option is adoption. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find a way to make this work either. We have found that there is some interest locally in adopting hens, but not nearly enough for us to move several thousand hens in time for the new flock to arrive.

Our last option is for the hens to be sold for food. Even this option is not without difficulty because laying hens have far less meat than broiler hens who are bred specifically for that. Many commercial egg laying hens are simply euthanized and landfilled at the end of laying, and as farmers, that seems terribly wasteful to us. So, while we know some consumers will be unhappy to learn that our hens go on to be used for food, we do feel that it’s the most responsible thing to do.

At the end of a flock’s natural laying cycle, we contract with several poultry transportation and processing companies to purchase our birds. These companies send trained and certified humane handling poultry crews to our farms to pick up the hens. At this point, the hens belong to that company, but we have worked with them to ensure that our birds are going to acceptable follow-on markets.

There are currently two main markets for our birds, each receiving about half of the overall quantity. One is live poultry markets where consumers are able to select live birds for consumption. The other is a US federally inspected processing plant that specializes in processing “light poultry,” including laying hens. This plant uses the latest technology to ensure the hens are quickly and humanely slaughtered. For consumers who want eggs from hens that are never slaughtered, we understand our eggs will not be a suitable option. We encourage these consumers to raise their own hens for which there are excellent resources available online.

While it’s important for us to continue to move the bar on humane egg production, we also feel that it’s important to remember that over 90% of eggs consumed in the U.S. are produced in horrific caged environments. For those hens, their best day is the day when they are finally put out of their misery. We believe Adele Douglass, the founder of Certified Humane, said it best: “our hens only have one bad day.”


What's a B-Corp?

We’re proud to say that in 2013, we became the first egg company in the world to achieve Certified B Corporation status based on our commitment to the environment, our workers, our farmers, and our communities. Learn more about what being a B Corp means to us here.

Should I eat eggs past the best before date?

Unfortunately, we cannot recommend that you eat our eggs after the date printed on the packaging. In general, we use a “use by” date on our cartons. This means that the eggs should be consumed on or before that date. Use of a “sell by” date is not federally required, but may be required by certain states. If your carton does specify “sell by” near the printed date, then the eggs can be consumed within 15 days of that date.

Why do you put your eggs in plastic cartons?

This is an important question that we get quite a bit! As a values-led certified B Corporation, we are diligently committed to people and the planet, and therefore we wanted to base our decision on research and real data.

We found that although plastic is often associated with negative environmental impacts, our cartons are actually better for the environment than traditional molded fiber cartons made of pulp. An independent life cycle analysis has shown that molded fiber cartons have more than double the carbon footprint of our cartons. Our RPET egg cartons approach “carbon neutral” and generate significantly less environmental impact than comparable plastic cartons.

Our cartons are made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. In many parts of the country, there’s a surplus of recycled soda bottle plastic, and each carton puts that surplus to good use. The cartons are made from the world’s most widely recycled plastic, so they are readily accepted by most recycling programs and considered a #1 plastic. When recycled again, our cartons are significantly less harmful to the environment than recycling pulp packaging, consuming far less energy, and water, with no waste or added chemicals.

Also noteworthy is that the paper inserts are recyclable. The inserts contain 10% of recycled fibers, and the paper we use comes from a North American paper mill that is FSC certified (Forest Stewardship Council).

Finally, the plastic cartons protect the eggs better than pulp, which is something many of our customers appreciate. You can easily check for cracked eggs by just turning the carton over.

What's the trick to opening your cartons?

Great question! Our recycled packaging does a great job of keeping our eggs inside, but we understand that it can sometimes be a bit tricky to open. Here is a how-to video from some of our youngest farmers!

Did I see a Nellie's Free Range Eggs truck picking up eggs at a huge factory farm?

We actually weren’t there to pick up eggs - quite the opposite! We sometimes deliver our eggs to these locations in order for them to make it to the store. This is known as Direct Store Delivery. We prefer to deliver our eggs ourselves right to their warehouse or stores but in many cases and due to pre-existing distribution contracts, we have to deliver to a big factory style egg producer who will load our eggs onto their trucks and make the delivery. That’s why you might see our egg trucks at those locations from time to time. We would never source our eggs from those places, but we do have to hitch a ride on their trucks now and then.