Social Good

Is Pasture Raised Better than Free Range?

By Nellie's Kindness Crew

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At Nellie’s, we recognize that the egg aisle is a confusing place. New terms and labels have been showing up on egg cartons over the last few years, and we understand that it can be overwhelming to sort through them all and understand what they mean for the hens, farmers, and consumers. With so many people talking about cage-free, free range, grass fed, pasture raised, and whether pasture raised vs free range eggs are best, it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin!

Luckily, our farms have been raising chickens for many decades. Over the years, we've gained expertise that only comes from doing something for a long time, and we're constantly improving on it as we go. This is one of many things that sets Nellie's apart from others in the egg industry. It's our hope that each time you're at the grocery store, you can reach for the purple carton with confidence because you know we’re doing the right thing for our hens, farmers, and for you. And by helping you navigate all those confusing terms in the egg aisle, we hope to show you why we're so proud to do what we do.

What does cage-free mean?

For many decades, the egg aisle has been almost entirely made up of caged eggs coming from hens living truly horrific lives. Finally, after years of advocacy and the growing awareness of consumers about this barbaric form of agriculture, things are beginning to change. We expect that caged eggs will be a thing of the past within the next 10 years, and that cage-free standards will be the norm. That’s great news for chickens, and for all of us.

However, we’re not expecting everything to be perfect once caged eggs disappear from the shelves. We don't doubt that there will be a handful of less scrupulous companies trying to jump on the bandwagon. In most cases, former caged producers will switch to cage-free while still cutting corners and using the same industrial approach theye have in the past. So what does cage-free mean, anyway? For hens, it means that they cannot be enclosed in cages, but these standards don't require hens to have any amount of outdoor access. This shift to cage-free will represent a marginal improvement in hen welfare thanks to additional room for movement within the barn, but it's not enough: the facilities where cage-free hens are raised in no way represent what a consumer would consider to be a farm in terms of scale, crowding, cleanliness or transparency. So if cage-free isn't the best option, then what is? This brings us to the question of pasture raised eggs vs free range eggs.

The Certified Humane Free Range standard

Part of how Nellie’s has worked so hard to earn your trust is by adopting the philosophy and practices of Humane Farm Animal Care’s Certified Humane Free Range standards. These standards were developed by scientists and animal welfare experts. There are many different requirements for becoming a Certified Humane Free Range farm, but one of the most important - and most contended - is outdoor space.

How much space do free range hens have?

All farms producing free range eggs under Certified Humane standards must provide 2 square feet of outdoor access on grass per hen. Now, this may not sound like much if you imagine a bunch of hens all occupying their own little 2’ x 2’ patch of grass, but it’s important to note that this is just an average, and it's incredibly unlikely for all of the hens to be in the pasture space at the same time. In fact, it nearly never happens.

Hens are actually a lot like people in this regard. Whether it’s cool outside, hot outside, or a perfect 70 degrees, many of them would simply prefer to be inside at any given moment. It’s safe, comfortable, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and there’s fresh water and feed available at all times. As a company, we don’t force our hens to go outside. We give them ample ways to access the outdoors, and then let the hens decide. If you spend time watching our girls, you will see a steady stream of hens entering and exiting the barns. This means that at any given point in time, the hens that are outside have far more than 2 square feet each. Hens are also very social birds, so while they don’t wish to be crammed into giant warehouses or tiny cages, they do prefer to huddle into little groups and cliques to cluck about whatever is on their minds. Even on the brightest and sunniest days, there are always more grass and dirt areas open than occupied.

Pasture raised vs free range

Despite how rigorous Certfied Humane Free Range standards may be, a small number of egg companies are set on persuading consumers that free range is not sufficient or adequately humane. Brands providing “pasture raised” eggs - another up and coming term in the egg industry - are advertising that they offer from 35 to 108 square feet per hen. They also argue that the 2 square feet provided for free range hens is insufficient. Having been in the business for many years now, we have to disagree.

Are pasture raised eggs better than free range?

In the case of outdoor space on family farms like ours, more isn’t necessarily better. Outdoor space isn't an arms race. More is just more, and it costs the farmers more to own and maintain that extra space for no discernible purpose. Agricultural land is scarce and expensive, so forcing small farm families to operate and maintain an excess of it just to brag about how much square footage each hen gets seems insincere and gratuitous to us.

There is a category of very small farms that can make the larger space work economically, but those aren’t the farms producing the eggs we see at the grocery store. Instead, they're typically hobby-style or micro farms that exist in a completely separate economic climate and sell their pasture raised eggs to farmers’ markets, CSAs, and their local community members at considerably higher prices. And while this is a wonderful option for those who can afford to support those hyper-local farms, mainstream grocery distribution requires a much higher level of efficiency in order to even get on the shelf. So, while we support these kinds of farms wholeheartedly (just as we support backyard chicken coops), they make up a very small piece of the larger change we seek.

Why choose Nellie's Free Range Eggs?

Our primary goal here at Nellie’s is to do what's right for our hens. With many years under our belt and close relationships with fantastic organizations like Humane Farm Animal Care, we're confident that we understand these wonderful, curious creatures better than most producers in our industry. Second, we always want to do what is right for our farmers, and that means helping them raise hens humanely without unnecessary costs or negative impact on their land. For us, following Certified Humane Free Range standards is the best way to do right by both our hens and farmers. And in turn, we have the privilege of delivering high quality free range eggs to consumers at a reasonable price.

It's an exciting time to be in the business of producing humane, ethical, free range eggs. We're thrilled to see more and more consumers putting thought into their vision of or preconceptions about egg farming. And we truly believe that our success proves that this is the best way to meet our country’s egg demands in a humane, sustainable way. Thankfully, our farmers don't need acres upon acres per hen to do exactly that. Every time you reach for that purple carton, know that we're always striving to balance the needs of our free range hens, our farmers, and our loyal consumers as best we can.

Comments

NIKKI P.January 02, 2021

I'm so glad that I read your article and have now switched to purchasing your eggs. After purchasing my 1st dozen of your eggs, I did a comparison of regular store brand eggs and your eggs. The brightness of your yolks sold me and now I have become even more conscious of what my family and I eat, even if it does costs a little more. Thanks!

Nellie's

Hi Nikki! We're so delighted to hear that you have been enjoying our eggs. Thanks for choosing free range!

SonjaJuly 10, 2020

My husband & I do appreciate the look and taste of your eggs. Regarding the feed you use. I wonder why you are not stating the feed is Non-GMO...We are, after all, what your hens eat. All vegetarian doesn't mean the feed isn't artificially developed. We do want to thank you and yours for your care of the hens and ultimately for us, your buyers.

Nellie's

Hi Sonja, You have a great question! When our free range hens aren’t pecking around for insects in the pasture, they enjoy a supplemental feed consisting mainly of corn and soy. The soy provides them with the extra protein they need to maintain a well balanced diet, and the corn is a great source of carbohydrates. There are also a wide range of other beneficial nutrients and minerals in our feed that help to keep the hens healthy, such as electrolytes, sodium bicarbonate, and more. Let us know if you have any follow-up questions! ~Marco

James DegierSeptember 10, 2019

Do you feed the hens with non GMO corn? Thanks

Nellie's

Hi James, Our free range hens are fed conventional grain from reputable suppliers, but we cannot guarantee that this feed is free of pesticides or GMOs, and therefore it cannot be considered organic. Our eggs are a great choice for customers who would like eggs from hens treated with kindness and to the Certified Humane Free Range standard, but at a lower cost than organic eggs We do, however, offer another option for customers who are concerned about pesticides and GMOs. Our Pete and Gerry’s Organic eggs are produced by Certified Humane Free Range hens also raised on small family farms, but these hens are fed exclusively organic grain which is free of any pesticides or GMOs. Our organic eggs are a little more expensive because of the feed costs, but we feel it is a fair price for bringing organic eggs to market without shortcuts. Thanks for reaching out!

Thomas R EarlJuly 20, 2019

Thanks for the information. I purchase your eggs from Giant Food in VA.

Nellie's

Our pleasure, Thomas. Thank you for supporting our free range farms by purchasing our eggs from your local Giant!

Auntie LaneyJuly 18, 2019

Is there corn in their feed?

Nellie's

Our chicken feed does indeed contain corn, which we've found to be essential for providing nutrients and carbohydrates to our hens. Please don't hesitate to send us an email at [email protected] with any further questions!

LBMay 10, 2019

Are you hens fed grain?

Nellie's

Great question, LB! We do provide a supplementary feed containing corn and soy. Although our hens get lots of nutrients from foraging outdoors, hens are not ruminants and even pasture raised hens cannot subsist solely on outdoor forage.

JimMay 10, 2019

Thank you for explaining the difference between free range vs. pasture raised and your approach to raising hens and eggs. I believe In Your product, philosophy, and the information you provide will ensure I stay a loyal customer.

Nellie's

We can't think you enough for your loyalty, but more importantly, for being an informed consumer. Thank you for supporting our free range farms, Jim!

Julia Campla October 30, 2018

Hens rock if you we were more like them we’d be a friendly planet ... those roosters tho .. hahaha I knew all able them suckers ... they can hurt you if they feel threatened ... that big rooster 🐔 my dad had ... no wild animal were gonna mess with him ! Lol 😂 keep doing eggs right ! Thank you caring about our animals

Nellie's

Hi Julia, thanks for the feedback!

Jennifer HallinOctober 30, 2018

Thank you God and Nellies for finally caring about egg laying hens ! I have struggled all my life with factory farming and chosen not to eat anything coming from a factory farm ! But, my heart still aches for the animals forced to endure this . Any progress is SO important and I am so happy that things are shifting away from the awful factory farms of the past %! Thank you Nellies for being a leader in the industry and proving you can make a living and still turn out a great product without making life unbearable for animals ! I applaud you’re efforts 💯%. !! Thank you to all at Nellies!!🐣🐥🐤❤️

Nellie's

Hi Jennifer, it has always been our goal to educate our consumers on why we do the things we do. We know it's not easy but it certainly is worth it. Thank you for supporting our humane farming efforts.

Mario October 25, 2018

You should be ashamed of yourself! Thank god for people who really care and show to the rest of the world who you really are and expose your lies to your now ex customers! There is footage on-line showing thousands of chickens crammed tightly together and visitors founding it difficult to avoid stepping on them. Even though the birds weren’t kept in cages, they still had only a little more than a square foot of space each. Such restricted space prevents chickens from performing natural types of behavior, such as extending their wings, stretching their necks for foraging activities, and properly roosting and resting. Birds were missing feathers and beaks! I'm telling everyone I know and posting on my Facebook.

Nellie's

Hello Mario, at Nellie’s Free Range, we are deeply committed to ethical egg production on free range small family farms. In 2003 we became the first Certified Humane egg producer in the US. We also believe in transparency when it comes to food production. That’s why we conduct public tours on family farms to allow consumers to come and see exactly how our eggs are produced. During those tours we allow photography and videos because we are proud of the way we produce and have nothing to hide. The photo in question was captured on one of those tours. Every aspect of the Frey Family Farm depicted in the photo meets Certified Humane’s Free Range standards. The hens have the ability to move freely throughout the barn and to go outside onto grass pasture. Free range and pasture-raised hens spend part of their days inside and part outside. Hens are social animals and like to congregate closely together. So while it may look crowded, we assure you the hens are comfortable. If you’re interested in getting a more comprehensive look at our farms, the following video is a great resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvkPwm1gRKw. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to send us a direct message or email us at [email protected], as we’d be happy to answer them.

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