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By Jesse Laflamme
We get this question at Nellie’s Free Range Eggs a lot. And it’s no surprise. The egg aisle has more unique terms these days than Doritos has flavor varieties. Free range, cage free, pasture raised, GMO Free, Organic, Farm Fresh, All Natural, and the list goes on. Particularly, when it comes to humane standards like Cage Free and Free Range, it can be very hard to know the difference.
But, there is very significant difference between the Certified Humane Free Range standard that we use and “Cage Free” that you are seeing more and more of in the marketplace. (The quotations around Cage Free are there because, as you will see, it’s quite misleading).
Most people would reasonably assume Cage Free to mean “no cages.” But the term is not a regulated standard by the USDA or the FDA (Free Range is defined by the USDA). So egg producers are left to define it for themselves. And as you might expect, the gigantic factory farms that have always brought you conventional eggs, laid by hens imprisoned in tiny, floor-to-ceiling battery cages inside massive warehouse complexes, are now either converting these same factories to “Cage Free” or building new ones, as you can see in the photo above.
And what is going into all of these “Cage Free” egg factories? You guessed it – cages. Bigger, more complex cages than before, but cages nonetheless, with no doors to the outside. The “farm” depicted in the photo is expected to produce 1.5 million eggs per day. I’ll repeat that, 1.5 million per day!
There is no question that placing 10 giant buildings the size of aircraft hangers on a flat piece of earth in the middle of nowhere allows for some serious labor efficiency in terms of handling and processing eggs. But we don’t think consumers would consider it farming. At our small farm in New Hampshire, we deliberately stopped building new barns, becoming less efficient in the process, because we wanted instead to partner with other small farms around the country like our own.
Because we don’t want to be confused with the now misleading term Cage Free, at Nellie’s Free Range, we have adopted a Free Range standard certified by the respected Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) organization. Our floor style barns have no cages, period. There are doors every few feet, allowing one and all to come and go when the weather allows. We even have policies of our own for humane care that exceed those set by HFAC.
Please watch our video that helps explain the important difference between Certified Humane Free Range and Cage Free so you can be as informed as possible about the eggs you buy.
Are the hens killed, after they have served their purpose?? Lay eggs
Thank you for this thoughtful question, Michael. 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. You can learn more about this process in our FAQ section.
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From what I've read, your eggs may technically qualify as "free range" however if the thousands of barn floor chickens don't have easy access to exit the barn, then they really don't have "free range." With thousands of chickens in your barn, it would be impossible for the majority of them to reach the small doors to get out in the fresh air. Likewise, I question how in this situation each individual chicken can access food and water?
Before I purchase your eggs again, I will need to know your beloved chickens are truly free to range. It shouldn't be hard to modify the barn to truly allow all of the hens to roam outside. Thank you.
Hello Annette, 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.
What do you do with your chickens when their egg-bearing years are over? Do you send them chicken slaughterhouses?
Thank you for this thoughtful question, Gary. 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. You can learn more about this process in our FAQ section.
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