Why You Shouldn’t Buy Free Range Eggs (And What to Do Instead)

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Eggs

We all know that factory farming practices are bad. Really bad.

Most chickens are raised in big production houses and are confined to an area the size of an oven for their entire life. These poor birds are also pumped full of cheap grain feed to fatten them up as quickly as possible. As a result, their legs are often unable to support their body weight and break under the strain of the extreme load. They’re often injected with antibiotics that sturdy up the legs and allow them to survive to six weeks. At this point, they’re processed for production, wrapped in plastic, sold to you at the grocery store, and fed to your families.

None of this is news to you. Knowing full well the inhumane and downright disgusting practices of factory farms, you probably pay close attention to labels when purchasing eggs from the grocery store:

Labels like…  “Free Range”   “Organic”   “Hormone-Free”   “Antibiotic-Free”

 Think these words somehow make your eggs more healthy, humane, and natural? Think again.  Most of the token labels that you’ve been paying $3 + more for per dozen mean absolutely nothing. 

 

Organic Shmorganic

The term organic simply means that the chickens’ feed has been certified by a government agency to contain no unnatural fertilizers or pesticides. However, the chickens may still be living their lives stacked two-high in a feed house, defecating on one another in a life of chicken misery.

Most of these big-box chickens are de-beaked, a process that involves half of the beak of each chicken being chopped off.  This prevents the chickens from resorting to the cannibalism and suicide that occurs as a result of living under such cruel conditions. These behaviors aren’t difficult to imagine. Chickens were designed to pick and scratch for their entire lives.

 

What about free range?

This certification has been widely abused throughout the poultry community.  One might think the term should mean that the birds have room to explore, play, and forage. But this has come to mean something entirely different.

Take that same feed house from the previous few paragraphs, cut a little hole in the wall, and it’s suddenly considered “free range.”  These chickens are considered free range because they have the “option” to explore  (even if the feed house is surrounded by dirt and the chickens literally never go outside to act like chickens).  You may want to rethink paying the extra $5 for this “upgrade” the next time you’re at the supermarket.

 

Hormone + Antibiotic Free

The phrase “hormone free” is a convincing selling point for store bought eggs. But that’s all it is – a term to make you believe that the product you are purchasing is superior to others.

In the United States, it’s actually illegal for commercial egg-laying hens to be given hormones — for good reason. But I can’t blame any company for bragging about the “hormone-free” status of their product as most people have no idea this is an industry standard.

Antibiotics are another story. According to USpoultry.gov,

“Antibiotic-free claims on egg cartons can be only be made by egg producers who choose not to use any antibiotics in feed or water during the growing period of pullets or while hens are laying eggs. Flocks producing certified organic eggs must be antibiotic free by regulation.”

Although this label does carry more weight than it’s “hormone-free” cousin, it still doesn’t count for much. If a chicken’s living conditions necessitate the need for disease-preventing antibiotics, you can bet that chicken is far from living on a pasture with plenty of space to roam and forage.

 

The Solution

Yes, Primal Pastures does sell eggs. But this post isn’t an advertisement for them (though our eggs are amazing).

Instead, I (we) would rather you raise them yourself. Seriously! It’s not as difficult as you might think.

That being said, we have definitely had our share of “learning experiences” in raising hens for eggs (detailed post coming soon), but the reward has been more than worth it. We’re even working on a few projects to keep you from making some of the mistakes we’ve made in trying to  raise egg-laying birds as efficiently and effectively as possible (sign up for our mailing list to be the first to know)!

Aside from buying pasture-raised eggs from your local farmer, raising them yourself is really the only other option if you aren’t into supporting inhumane farming practices and feeding antibiotic infested chicken eggs raised on grains and soy to you and your family. By raising your own eggs, you can guarantee that they will be…

  • Beyond Organic
  • Truly Free Range
  • Free of hormones, antibiotics, and chemicals
  • More nutrient-dense (note the rich color of the pastured egg above)

Plus, it’s fun! With hens laying eggs in your own backyard, every day feels like Easter (minus the candy overload). You’ll be providing yourself and your family with the best possible source of eggs available. And saving a ton of money! Give it a try – what do you have to lose?

Have you already started raising your own egg-layers? If so, how’s it going??

 

Comments

  1. Mary says

    We started raising our own chickens in Arkansas about two years ago. It was wonderful!!! I can’t tell you how much satisfaction we got over watching our hens grow and prosper, not to mention the reward of the best eggs we’ve ever tasted. I knew exactly what our hens were eating (and what they weren’t), so I was very confident in feeding them to our family. We lived in town, so our chickens couldn’t roam freely, but our 8 hens had a 4X8, well ventilated henhouse with a 30′ run. Plenty of room to be chickens!

    Unfortunately, we moved to Wisconsin about 5 months ago and haven’t built the henhouse. I hope to be able to get the lumber and supplies to re-build soon so we can get back to having our own girls in the back yard again! I hate having to buy store-bought eggs, knowing how the hens live and not knowing what they’re eating. Home-raised eggs are the BEST!!!

    • Katrina says

      I had the pleasure of eating eggs from a local farmer in Laguna Beach. I was astounded at the color, texture, and flavor difference. I paid twice for them than the ones in the store but they were 100% worth it. They were creamy and delicious. I would love to learn more about the process of having hens!

      • Bethany McDaniel says

        Katrina, isn’t the difference unreal!? It’s hard for me to eat regular eggs at restaurants now!

      • Nina Rietsch says

        Hi Katarina,
        I live in Laguna Beach and would love to know which farmer you purchased the eggs – I had no idea that was even an option here!

        • Bethany McDaniel says

          Hi Nina! We actually sell pastured, beyond organic eggs at our farm (Primal Pastures) located in Temecula! We just started doing home deliveries as well. If you’re interested, sign up for our mailing list using the link below to be the first to know when we launch new products each month. I believe we’ll be launching this month’s products any day now and delivering them this weekend!

          http://www.primalpastures.com

          • Nina Rietsch says

            Hi Bethany,

            Thanks so much for the quick reply! I stumbled upon your site and am thrilled! I am out of the country until the end of September but I look forward to participating in your events this coming fall and placing orders for eggs/meat/etc. I signed up to receive information from your website. Thank you for doing what you do! It really is so exciting to know that farming is still alive and well in Southern California and that you and your family are keeping our community healthy and well-informed.

            Thank you! – Nina

            • Bethany McDaniel says

              Awesome, Nina! Thanks for signing up and for your interest. Have a great trip – looking forward to seeing you out at the farm sometime!

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Mary, how cool that you used to raise your own hens! I notice the taste difference in pastured eggs vs. store bought eggs even more than with meat. Good luck with getting your new hen house built!

  2. Kat says

    Hi I’m a student, in 7th grade. And I subscribe to you guys because I learned you guys are like great famers and don’t add chemicals to the things to hurt the plants ! I really wanna win you guys are the best ! ❤️ Please keep doing what your doing

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Thanks so much for the support, Kat! It seems like you’re definitely more informed than other 7th graders out there! :)

  3. Katharine says

    What would you suggest if we live in an apartment? Only buying from farmers markets? Do we know that those chickens are treated humanely and allowed to feed ok grass?

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Katharine — great question. It can be tough to tell what types of conditions your eggs come from, even at farmers markets. Many of the eggs sold at farmers markets are cage free/free range, but not pastured. Aside from visiting the farm where they come from yourself, I would suggest asking as many questions as possible. In regards to raising hens in an apartment setting, we’re actually working on something that could make it possible. Sign up for our mailing list (if you aren’t already) to find out more…

      • Stacey says

        Are you kidding!!??? That would be phenomenal – I don’t live in an apt but our very small space (no yard) in Oceanside prevents me from raising chickens – can’t wait to see your solution!!! WOW – you guys are the best.

        • Bethany McDaniel says

          Hey Stacey! Check out the latest post (Ask Anything: Farmer Paul) for more info on what we have in the works for raising chickens in smaller spaces :) We’re still working on it, but are super excited for it to be ready!

  4. Heather says

    Two weeks ago I started researching exactly what you’ve explained to us in your post and made it my little mission to find local farmers to buy from in LA. I found two this past week, and I feel good knowing the chickens are raised outdoors on soy free food by loving families. :)

    My yard is about 10 feet smaller than Pasadena’s chicken law allows or I’d be building my own coop right now!

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Heather, isn’t it crazy how meaningless some of those labels are!? Glad you’ve found a few local farmers to buy from!

    • Aj says

      Hi Heather, can you post the name of those two farms/famers in Los Angeles that you are recommending and any others you have been happy with :))) thank u

  5. Bruce Bagwell says

    I love your blog. I have chickens for the eggs and love it. They are fun to watch, easy to care for and we love the eggs. Here in Riverside county we are allowed to have fi urban chickens in a normal neighborhood. I think six is a much better number for a family though.

    Thanks for all you guys are doing.

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Bruce, isn’t raising chickens the best!? Thanks for the support! I’ll be doing more egg-related posts in the future — looking forward to hearing your input!

  6. RT says

    Wow! Very informative blog and helpful in differentiating between the various labels at the grocery stores. I’ll be paying more attention in the future!

  7. David says

    Love me some eggs and appreciate the information provided in the post. Looking forward to trying some of your eggs soon. Keep up the fantastic work you are doing guys…together we can change the world!

  8. Amy says

    I had 4 hens a few years ago, unfortunately we had to move before they actually produced any eggs. We now live in a house that I could possible start again. I miss it. Even with no eggs yet, the hens were lots of fun to watch. I would love to hear more about the trials and errors of raising your own or tips. I want to have hens again :)

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Amy, sorry you never got to enjoy eggs from your hens :( Hopefully you’ll be able to get more soon! I’ll be doing a more in-depth post about raising hens soon!

  9. amy says

    We started buying free range eggs from a neighbor down the street a few yrs ago and will never go back. Someday I would like to have a farm or ranch of my own to raise livestock and produce the best way possible. Thank you for your information and inspiration!

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Thanks for the support Amy! Glad you’ve found a good place to buy eggs — the difference between farm fresh eggs vs. store bought is astounding!

  10. says

    So great that you’re sharing this important information. All the terminology gets confusing – even for people “in the know” and trying to do the right thing. Thanks for all that you do!

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Kelly, you are so right. Labels do a great job of complicating what should be simple. Glad this post could help!

  11. Jessica says

    This is completely wonderful. My aunt owns chickens and there is Nothing like the color and taste of her pastured chicken eggs. I can’t wait to try some of yours, and your meat products! So glad I found a sustainable, humane farm close to home!

  12. says

    Would you consider raising ducks so I can buy pastured duck eggs??? Pretty please!!! They are safer and more nutritious for my cancer patients, as they are alkaline forming, while chicken eggs are acid forming. They also taste AMAZING, and have a higher nutritional profile than chicken eggs (which I still love and eat all the time). The problem is, the only producers I have found who sell at the Laguna Beach Farmer’s Market, feed their ducks feed with corn and soy. And having seen pictures of their farm, the duck’s pond and pin was too small for the number of birds it was housing. I would buy a dozen per week, and would refer you to all my clients!
    Thank you for considering,
    Valerie

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Valerie, we’ve been wanting to start raising duck for awhile now! We’re in the process of searching for new land (with a pond) right now, so as soon as that happens, duck eggs will be high on our agenda! If you haven’t already, sign up for our mailing list to be the first to know when duck eggs become available!

  13. Madeline Haydon says

    Thanks for the info on labels!
    Raising chickens aren’t an option for me at this point but I used to have them and my three little lady hens were great ! Nice blog, Bethanny.

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Hey Madeline!! I didn’t know that you used to have hens…so cool! Hopefully you’ll be able to get some again one day :) Thanks for the support!

  14. says

    Great article clarifying the differences in labeling. I’ve been raising my own eggs for years. I’m on a half acre with little or no predator pressure so they can truly free range the property. They get no commercial feed, but eat seeds dropped by my breeder parrots which are in suspended cages, scratch through the compost pile for bugs and eat fallen fruit from the blackberry bushes and mulberry tree. The yolks are dark orange and thick when cooked with awesome flavor.

    Can’t eat store bought eggs anymore. When the girls slow down during the heat of summer or cold of winter, I do without.

    I would join Paul in recommending that anyone who can have a few laying hens, even if you only have a small place, hens are quiet and shouldn’t bother neighbors as long as you keep the pen clean with deep litter to absorb any odor. Deep bedding is also good for the hens since they love to scratch through it looking for bugs. When it’s time to change the bedding, it is perfect for making compost, an additional benefit to keeping chickens.

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Wow, sounds like your hens are really living the dream! So cool. How long have you been raising them? And I agree – the difference in flavor is remarkable. I notice the “pastured vs. conventional” difference in our eggs even more than in our meats!

  15. says

    I remember reading the omnivore’s dilemma and being introduced to the term “supermarket pastoral”…now when I see those labels, that’s all I can think! I have started farming a little out of order and started with milk goats first. Next up is chickens but it will take us a while to get there so it’s terrific to know there are local farmers with these fabulous eggs. We love your meat too!

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Tara, I still haven’t read that one! It’s been on my list for awhile and I think you just gave me the nudge I needed to start it! Goats milk is awesome! How has that been going for you?

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Thanks for the support, Stephanie! You’ll have to report back on your experiences of raising chickens!

  16. Anna says

    I want to raise my own chickens for eggs, but the coop is a big stepping stone for me. I just don’t know where to start. Looking forward to a series about getting started. Thanks for the info!

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Anna, you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. Starting is the most difficult part of the whole process. We’ll definitely have information to help you get started soon!

  17. Lori W. says

    I am looking forward on your information regarding raising your own chickens. I am disgusted by the food industries lack of concern for the health and welfare of everyone (chickens included)! It’s sickening that these large farmers are so desensitized to the conditions and treatment of these animals :(

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Lori, you’re so right – factory farming practices are truly sickening. At one point, I was so disgusted with it that I became a vegetarian for 6 months — until I learned that there was a better way to raise animals! We’ll have more specific information on raising chickens soon!

  18. Amy says

    Excited to see you’ve started a blog. Love the topics, love your beliefs and practices, and really looking forward to trying your products. I hope to bring my family to your next event so we can meet all of you.

  19. Mary M says

    I would love to have backyard chickens, but it’s not legal where I live. Plus, I have no idea what I would do with the chickens once they stopped laying. I don’t think I could do what it takes to get them into my stew pot. I would end up feeding non-laying birds for years. I will come back later when I have more time, to read comments and see if anyone else has this issue and what their solutions are.

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Mary, that’s a great question that I (unfortunately) don’t have an answer for. I’ll try to get back to you with some info if I hear of a solution!

  20. Leela says

    I’m a huge fan of fresh eggs. We don’t have hens of our own but I do try and get eggs from our CSA when the hens are producing. CSAs and vendors like Primal Pastures are so helpful for understanding the seasonality of our food since most of us have become so disconnected from the land.

  21. Monya says

    I’ve just started raising my own chickens. It really is fun to watch them grow (they grow FAST!) and get their own personalities. Can’t wait for them to start laying eggs!

  22. says

    Thanks for the great article. I will post it to my website. I love the golden color of the yolk from “healthy” eggs!
    I will share your info at my GAPS group meeting tomorrow.

      • says

        Dr. Pam is the best! When we brought in Noah for a 1 year checkup and long cold thing he wasn’t kicking – guess what she recommended? SUNSHINE! How amazing is that? I don’t think there are too many American doctors this day in age who would recommend something like that. And guess what – a couple good days neked running around the farm and the kid kicked that 2 month cold!

        • Bethany McDaniel says

          That is so awesome! Definitely not the norm to recommend sunshine — but it should be! Dr. Pam, hope you enjoy my next post this week on the topic of…SUN EXPOSURE! :)

  23. Gabrielle says

    That beautiful deep orange yolk can make people believers. I don’t think my husband really cares where I buy my meat and produce, but he’s a big supporter of pastured eggs. The quality is just so *visible*.

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Gabrielle, it really is! I notice the difference in “pastured vs. store bought” in our eggs even more than in our meats.

  24. Gina Sutton says

    This blog is exactly the kind of stuff I want to see! I’m really excited that there is an increasing awareness and interest in good healthy food! Many people are unaware of the bigger picture. I haven’t purchased from a local farmer yet, but I’m in the process and super excited about it :) I found your blog through the primal pastures website and hope to purchase some great meat from them soon

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Gina, so glad you’re liking the blog so far! Let me know if you’re ever interested in reading more about any particular subject. Hope you enjoy our meats!

  25. Faith Williams says

    My husband and I really wanted to raise our own chickens but just found out that our HOA won’t allow it. So, for now, we will have to stick with organic eggs from Sprouts.

  26. Judith says

    We raise our own chickens here in Menifee. Our chickens are healthy, appear to be happy, but with a chicken how does one know? We supplement their feed with fresh vegetables from our garden and they in turn give us beautiful, colorful and delicious eggs. A win/win for all!

  27. Greg Hammond says

    Great article! I’m so looking forward to all the innovation you guys are and will be bringing toward this important part of our lives.

  28. Kate says

    Thanks for this post! The way chickens are treated is appalling, and it’s good to have these misconceptions cleared up. “Free-range”…what a cruel joke.

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Kate, that’s a good way to put it…”cruel joke” sums it up perfectly. Thanks for reading!

  29. Pam says

    I’m so happy I came across this article, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot & just this morning was at the store looking at the egg options wondering…are these REALLY the best option for us? I live in South Florida and am on the hunt for a local farm to buy our eggs, as we don’t have room to raise our own chickens right now. :(

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Shoot! Primal Pastures delivers to OC if you ever want to order from us! Although our Costa Mesa drop site might be a far drive for you :(

  30. says

    Love all the great things happening for your PP Fam. I want to raise hens, but I can’t figure out the first thing to do… one of my 3 dogs is a whack job, I’m pretty sure he would try to have some very FRESH and organic/pastured/noantibiotic live chicken!! Let’s do this… AND WHEN do I get to order PP Eggs?? No secret egg club emails coming my way :)
    @be_bbeautiful ig.

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      HAHA! Your comment about the dogs made me laugh :) We’ll have more info coming soon on how to raise egg-laying hens of your own! And yes – our eggs usually sell out super fast. Keep trying! We’re working on getting more land soon so that we’ll be able to produce more and keep up with the demand.

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Hey Madeline!

      That’s tough but I totally understand not always being able to make it work to go to the farmer’s market! I’d probably try to buy organic eggs since that guarantees that the chickens were at least given organic feed. I really wouldn’t pay any extra for cage free or free range though. Those terms (aside from not meaning much by definition) aren’t regulated and really can’t be trusted!

      Hope that helps!
      -Bethany

  31. says

    I would comment that “Beyond Organic” eggs from a chicken not fed organic feed is not even as good as organic. Since grain makes up 80-90% of the hens’ diet, its quality is a very important factor. Feeding a chicken a chemical-free salad along with its chemical-sprayed (maybe even GMO) chicken feed is not beyond organic. It is less than organic.

    It’s not an either-or situation, though–I believe a chicken should get organic feed AND all the grass it wants to eat!

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Hey Joel! I definitely agree – anyone who markets a product as “Beyond Organic” can’t forget that supplementing with Organic feed (if supplemental feed is necessary) is an obvious component of that. Anything else would not constitute as a beyond organic product/animal.

      We let our chickens forage for bugs and grass on the pasture and supplement that with Organic, Non-GMO, soy-free feed!

      • eva says

        Bethany- may i ask , what do you supplement with? Is it Organic corn or wheat or other or are your chickens 100% happy with grass, bugs,worms etc?

        Also-any news on the ducks? Would love some duck eggs too :)

        Big thanks, Eva

  32. says

    HI!
    I am introducing more and more diet facts to my patients who come to my office who are suffering from menopause. This information is so relevant because diet is so important for them in this time of their life. I would really enjoy learning more and even contributing to you readers about what I am learning in this specialized area. The right foods from the right sources are so important. Than you for the information.

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