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What are Free-Range Eggs?

Free-range eggs come from hens that have the freedom to roam outdoors, basking in natural sunlight and foraging for a varied diet. This lifestyle often leads to happier, healthier chickens and superior egg quality. But what does "free-range" really mean for animal welfare and your breakfast plate? Discover the full story behind the label and what it means for you.
Kathy Hawkins
Kathy Hawkins

The term "free-range" is typically used to refer to any animal that is permitted to roam free through fields, rather than being confined to a cage or enclosure. Free-range chickens are chickens that have access to grass for at least some of the day, and free-range eggs are the eggs that free-range chickens produce.

Though the USDA has strict guidelines for what constitutes a free-range chicken, there are no such guidelines for free-range eggs, and so the term can be used at will, and is sometimes abused by merchandisers. Cage-free is another term with the same meaning — many eggs at grocery stores are labeled "free-range" or "cage-free," and can cost more than twice as much as traditional eggs from caged hens.

Fig salad with free-range hardboiled eggs.
Fig salad with free-range hardboiled eggs.

Typically, free-range hens are healthier and have a more nutritious diet than hens that are kept in cages constantly. As a result, eggs that truly are "free-range eggs" tend to have harder shells, more golden yolks, and a better flavor than standard eggs.

Many people buy free-range eggs for ethical reasons, because they are under the impression that free-range hens are treated more humanely than battery hens. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In many commercial free-range egg operations, the hens are debeaked and intentionally starved, so that they continue to lay eggs, just as battery hens are.

Free-range eggs come from chickens that are not confined to cages.
Free-range eggs come from chickens that are not confined to cages.

The best place to purchase free-range eggs is from a small farm or a farmer's market. Many farms raise hens and sell free-range eggs from chickens that are not abused. If you have the space, you might also consider raising your own chicks and keeping hens for their eggs. This way, you will be able to wake up to delicious free-range eggs every morning. This is a substantial commitment, however. By doing this, you will need to make sure that you have adequate shelter for the chickens, and that you will be able to provide them with high-quality food every day.

Battery cages are crowded and do not allow free movement.
Battery cages are crowded and do not allow free movement.

Making the switch to free-range eggs is a growing trend throughout the world. Google's corporate headquarters recently decided to use only free-range eggs in its cafeteria, and Canada's University of Guelph agricultural college has committed to serving only free-range eggs in their dining hall.

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Discussion Comments


tack, you say an egg is an egg and you can't see what's wrong with "hormone pumped" eggs. You are what you eat. Crappy eggs are less healthy in terms of their good fats, vitamins and minerals, which is why we prize eggs, for their value. All you can count on is their protein, and even in this case, there is a good chance levels will be a little lower. Crappy eggs will contain toxins and pollutants. I guess it depends on how you approach food. If you're happy to eat crap, it doesn't matter.


I don't think that you can justify the cruelty of animals because humans are also suffering. If anything, this logic just perpetuates the absolute evil that disregarding our humanity can bring. If we can justify the unethical treatment of some animals for our survival, what will we compromise on next. It makes me scared to think that at some point we might see the next generation sacrifice another natural resource to justify the consumption of everyday.

What we need to focus on is the fair raising of animals in an economically viable capacity. At some point we will need to develop our technology enough and use our brains instead of our might in the fight against starvation and hunger in our human world. Smart policies can make the difference between birds that suffer for human mouths and birds that live a full and healthy life but still help the natural circle of our existence.


While it might be somewhat unappealing to learn about how chickens are treated in commercial farms, the reality about this process and business model are that these farmers can deliver quality food to the masses for a cheaper price, thus thwarting starvation for many American's and other world citizens.

I personally would rather seem some animals suffer then my fellow citizens that can't afford the extreme costs of free range eggs and chicken products. So a bird might have to spend years inside of a tight cage, there is meanwhile a smile on a boy headed to his first grade classroom because Mom's check was able to get an extra dozen eggs at the store this week.

Literally, these unethical treatments of animals are what allows for the ethical treatment of humans, and with that logic I must suggest that we continue with this process until we can feed the masses in more humane and just means of survival.


@thumbtack, I agree with you that I have never been able to determine a taste difference in free range chicken eggs and the caged equivalent. For me, the decision to purchase these more expensive free range eggs has more to do with animal cruelty then it has to do with the taste. I also have many friends that scream about the incredible taste qualities that free range birds have along with their eggs but I have to say that I still do not sense the difference.

What makes me absolutely disgusted is the way that the unethically raised bird eggs are treated along with the chickens that produce them. Often the cages that they live in are not large enough for them to even turn themselves around inside of. They literally grown into the size of the cage and are only removed when it comes time to butcher the bird. This horrible fact is one that most of society continues to ignore and should be revealed in a modern day Sinclare style novel.


When it comes to eggs, eggs are eggs and that is as simple as that. It drives me nuts when people actually go nuts over the quality of eggs that they get. I have never been able to notice a quality difference in any egg I've eaten and I have them every morning for breakfast.

I have some friends that tell me over and over again just how important it is to consumer free range eggs and the nutritional value they bring is far beyond the bleached, white shell eggs of our grocery stores.

I have even had friends go as far as coming over to my house in the morning time and cooking me a breakfast of their home-raised chicken eggs just to prove the difference to me. This experiment was of course ruined by the fact that they cooked in a different manner then I do and use different spices then I ever to do so any flavor difference was not distinguishable from any difference in the quality of egg.

I will admit that the eggshell of my neighbors eggs are superior to the eggs that I get from the grocery store. This of course meant nothing to me as I don't consume the eggshell and it actually just made it more difficult to actually crack the egg appropriately.

Until someone can show me an actual advantage to spending several dollars more per dozen eggs, I will stick to my cage-restricted and hormone pumped bird eggs. Thanks.

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    • Fig salad with free-range hardboiled eggs.
      Fig salad with free-range hardboiled eggs.
    • Free-range eggs come from chickens that are not confined to cages.
      By: Sean Gladwell
      Free-range eggs come from chickens that are not confined to cages.
    • Battery cages are crowded and do not allow free movement.
      By: emirkoo
      Battery cages are crowded and do not allow free movement.
    • Free-range eggs tend to have more golden yolks.
      By: ginauf
      Free-range eggs tend to have more golden yolks.