If you are trying to live a more conscious and ethical lifestyle, you’ve probably wondered to yourself, what are pasture raised eggs? Is there a real difference? Am I wasting my money? First off, no, you are not wasting your money. You can’t put a price tag on animal suffering, and anyone who cares about animal welfare would agree that a couple dollars more for eggs that are humanely produced is worth every penny. And, actually, many brands can be found quite affordably – you just need to know where to look.
Also, yes, there is a major difference between pasture, conventional, cage-free and free-range eggs. So before you make your next omelet, learn about what sets the pasture raised above the rest.
What are pasture raised eggs?
Pasture raised eggs come from hens who are free to roam pastures, grasslands and forests, pecking for insects, seeds and grasses (their natural food) during the day. At night, they retreat to their hen houses to roost, nest and lay eggs (this also protects them against predators). While pasture-raised is not a specific certification in and of itself, it does imply that the eggs come from small family farms with large pastures for egg-laying hens.
Certified Humane and American Humane Certified, on the other hand, are official certifications that comes with a list of requirements for the production of pasture-raised eggs. To receive the Certified Humane or American Humane Certified label, the hens must be kept on a pasture 12 months of the year and there must be 2.5 acres per 1000 birds, or 108 sq. feet per bird. At night, as outlined above, the hens are kept inside. Pasture raised are the most humane of all the egg types.
Many brands have the Certified Humane or American Certified Humane label. If they don’t, it may be a smaller, local family farm that has not yet applied for this certification. If ever in doubt about the conditions of the hens at the farm you get your pasture-raised eggs from, you can always call them and ask directly for more information about the conditions for their hens. Usually, they will be thrilled to provide this information and maybe even invite you for a visit.
Are pasture-raised eggs healthier?
Yes, according to research, pasture-raised eggs are healthier than conventional eggs. In fact, a study by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences has shown that pasture-raised eggs contain double the vitamin E and omega-3s. Folic acid and B12 is 70 percent more, and vitamin A is over 30 percent more in pasture raised. Plus, chickens who have had exposure to sunlight lay eggs that contain three-to-four times more vitamin D.
All these nutrients provide much-needed nourishment to the body. Omega 3’s lower blood pressure, preserve hair and skin health, improve mobility of the muscles and joints and support healthy brain function. Vitamin D strengthens the bones and muscles, boosts immunity, and helps prevent diabetes and hypertension. Vitamin B12 is essential for anemia prevention, higher energy levels and healthy hair. So, as you can see, they provide way more nutrients than conventional, which preserves whole body wellness and beauty.
Free range vs. pasture-raised eggs
Pasture raised eggs come from hens that are free to roam on grassy pastures year-round eating their natural diet of bugs, grasses and seeds. The hens retreat to hen houses at night for warmth and protection from predators. According to Certified Humane and American Humane Certified standards for pasture raised, hens must have 108 square feet of pasture per bird.
Free range eggs come from hens that have approximately 2 square feet of outdoor space each for around 6 hours per day. The space usually contains a large flock of birds in an open air warehouse. The ground does not need to be comprised of living vegetation and is often dirt or concrete.
Cage-free eggs come from hens with no access to the outdoors. Cage free simply means, as it sounds, that they are not in cages. They are in a crowded room, building or enclosed area, with approximately 1.25 square feet of space per bird.
Caged eggs come from hens who live the entirety of their lives inside large, enclosed warehouses in battery cages that measure no more than a sheet of paper. They are unable to move or flap their wings, and there are usually multiple hens stuffed into each cage, which can cause extreme anxiety, pain and frustration.
Where to buy them
Know where to look for affordable pasture-raised eggs. You may notice if you go to your local supermarket, pasture-raised eggs are actually more expensive than in major health food stores. Conventional supermarkets price gauge a bit because there is no house brand and not much competition between pasture-raised egg brands. If you go to a place like Whole Foods, Trader Joes or even Costco, you can find a variety of brands (or at least a house-brand) and for that reason, more reasonable pricing. Here are some common stores where you can find pasture-raised eggs:
- Costco. Costco carries Kirkland Pasture-Raised Eggs (their house-brand) 24 for just $8.99*
- Whole Foods. Whole Foods has their house brand 365 eggs at $4.99 a dozen. They also sell other brands like Vital Farms for $5.99 a dozen*
- Trader Joes. Trader Joes sells them for $3.99 a dozen. My local Trader Joe’s was selling Carol’s Pasture Raised Eggs.
- Sprouts. Sprouts sells house-brand pasture raised eggs for $4.99 a dozen*
- Local Farmer’s Market. Head to your local weekly Farmer’s Market where farmers of the region come to sell their eggs. Prices vary but it’s great to be able to purchase right from the farmer. You can even visit a local farm.
*Prices and pasture-raised egg supplier may vary according to region and time of year. Pricing as of Winter 2021.
Pasture-raised eggs are most definitely the most humane and healthy egg option at the market. However, since this is not an official certification in and of itself, you are going to want to do your research to ensure the farm is meeting your ethical standards. The easy way to identify this is via the Certified Humane and American Humane Certified labels. However, you can always go a step further and contact the farm directly if you have additional questions about their practices.