Eggs: Cage-Free, Free-Range or Pasture-Raised?

Eggs: Care-Free, Free-Range or Pasture-Raised?

( – Do you pay attention to where your eggs come from? A quick check to compare labels can leave a person with a confusing assortment of claims. But what’s the difference between cage-free and free-range eggs? How do both of those compare to pasture-raised? Here’s what each one means.

Certified Humane

The Humane Society of the United States lists three varieties of “Certified Humane” classifications for commercial eggs. Programs included don’t allow forced molting, which farmers bring about by starving the animals to speed up their laying cycles. Hens may still be subjected to beak cutting, a practice farmers employ to reduce pecking in overcrowded, understimulating environments.


Cage-free chickens might not be confined to tiny cages, but their conditions aren’t quite “cruelty-free.” Although the hens are given a little room to perch and move around, many never see the light of day, spending their entire lives enclosed in barns with several thousand other birds. In Certified Humane conditions, they receive 8 hours of artificial lighting each day to mimic natural sunlight. This is a step up from factory farms, which may notably overcrowd barns and leave their hens deprived of any natural enrichments and behaviors.


The conditions required for a “free-range” label are a step up from “cage-free” certifications. The hens might still live in a barn, but they must be allowed access to the outdoors for at least 6 hours each day, and they must each be allotted at least 2 square feet of space in the yard. Their environments might still be lacking in stimulation, but they’re given access to dust baths and places to graze.


In pasture-raised conditions, the hens have access to live vegetation, with a minimum of 108 square feet of pasture each. In Certified Humane conditions, the birds get a minimum of 6 hours a day to graze and enjoy the sunshine. They generally also have access to tents for shade and trees for perching. Their eggs might be a little pricey depending on where you live and what’s available to you, but you can feel more secure that you’re buying more ethically.

Eggs might all look relatively the same, but their sources can make one dozen vastly different from another. If you want to demand better treatment for all the farm animals that contribute to your plate, then be sure to buy pasture-raised eggs. Search the ASPCA’s Shop With Your Heart Guide to find Certified Humane products in your area. It’s an ethical choice that might make you feel better about where your food comes from.

~Here’s to Your Healthy Ascension

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