The Magnificently Confusing World of Egg Terminology

December 28, 2018

Have you taken a few minutes lately to slow down and truly explore your local store’s egg selection?  

Chances are you are loyal to a specific brand for some reason.  You like the look of the packaging.  Its what you grew up with in your childhood fridge.  Or, like my mom and the vast majority of consumers, you were duped by misleading marketing. (Just because it says “Happy Chickens” on the front doesn’t actually mean those chickens are happy, Mom. How do they measure chicken happiness, anyhow? I'm just sayin’).

So here you have it, the definitive guide to confusing egg marketing.

Pasture Raised: This is the gold standard for eggs and replicates the most natural way that chickens would live in the big wide open.   Pasture-raised eggs come from chickens raised in a…wait for it… pasture!  These chickens typically have a henhouse that is open at all hours so the chickens are free to enter and exit as they please.  This is how our chickens are raised.  They are often outside in the cool morning foraging for tasty bugs and worm and retreat to the shade of their open-sided hen house in the heat of the day.   Inside the henhouse, the chickens have access to water, crushed oyster shells to help their digestion and eggshell formation, and an organic, non-GMO, corn-free, soy-free feed mix when they want something other than bugs (but truly, they’ll eat up the plants and bugs first any day).  We have a wide perimeter of fencing to (try to) keep predators out.  Our hen house is mobile, so it gets moved around the farm incrementally following the cattle, this is called livestock rotation, eating all the bugs that are left behind from the cows, and working synergistically to kindly fertilize our soil for us.  Those clever little avians!

Free Range:  This sounds as if the chickens are free to roam on the range, right?  Wrong!  Free range means that the chickens have access to the outdoors at some point in time daily, but the quality of the outdoor space and the amount of time they spend there is not regulated.  Free range chickens are often raised in a large aviary with a small door that is closed most of the time, but that gets opened for them to step out onto a concrete patio for a few minutes a day so that they “see the natural daylight.”

Cage Free:  Cage-free chickens do not live locked up in individual cages, per se, but they do live locked up inside of an aviary and never have access to the outdoors.  ‘Nuff said.

Organic:  USDA Organic certification of all things in the US, and eggs are no exception, has very specific rules and regulations.  For eggs to get this certification, these chickens have to be cage-free (see above) and eat certified organic feed (which is most likely full of cheap corn and soy fillers).  However, these chickens can be raised in overcrowded conditions, again, with very little access to the outdoors and natural food sources, like bugs.

Farm Fresh:  Watch for this one at Farmers Markets.  It has no…meaning…whatsoever.  I have seen a vendor who sells “Farm Fresh” eggs who claims to sell them for many different farmers, but who actually buys them from the grocery store and repackages them.  There is no regulation for this term, and is often meant to mislead the consumer and blow smoke up their…

Vegetarian Fed:  Chickens are not meant to be vegetarians.  They’re meant to forage for bugs and seeds.  When you see this term, run the other way.  It often means these chickens are fed a cheap mix of unhealthy GMO corn and soy…. In other words, stuff that we as humans should not be eating, and after all, we are what our food eats!

Kristin Varela-Schild
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