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Pastured eggs and meat are chicken products that have been harvested from chickens allowed to roam in open pastures. Advocates believe that the chickens are happier and healthier, and nutritional analysis has shown that the eggs are also richer in useful nutritious elements like omega 3 acids and vitamin C. As a result of more labor intensive production techniques, these eggs are more expensive than conventional ones, and they are rarely available in conventional supermarkets, which order eggs in such high volume that small farmers cannot meet the demand.
Some consumers confuse the concept of free-range eggs with pastured eggs. Many conventional egg supply companies encourage this confusion, because consumers are sometimes willing to pay a premium price for products that they believe were harvested in humane and sustainable ways. The two terms are not synonymous, however, and "free range" eggs, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, must come from chickens that are offered access to the outside. Many commercial production companies provide this access in the form of a small door that is opened a few times a day; used to being confined indoors, the chickens make no move to explore the outdoors. Pastured chickens are raised in a pasture, with mobile coops to roost in at night.
Conventionally produced eggs come from large warehouses full of hens. The hens are kept in confined cages where they often cannot stretch and move around, and they may be debeaked to prevent them from attacking each other. The floors of the cages are slanted, so that as the hens lay eggs, they roll onto a conveyor belt to be collected. The end result is cheap eggs in large volume, but the eggs tend to be less nutritious, and more subject to contamination with bacteria. The chickens are often fed prophylactic medications, which in turns leads to more virulent, drug resistant forms of bacteria like Salmonella and Escheria coli. When animal advocacy organizations raised public awareness about conventional egg production, “free range” labeling, and pastured eggs, some consumers started to seek out more information about where their food comes from.
Because pastured hens eat a varied diet, their eggs are more nutritious. The hens eat grasses, grubs, worms, insects, and an assortment of edibles, which alter the texture, taste, and consistency of their eggs. They also tend to be thicker, with stronger, darker yolks and a more complex flavor. These eggs are often organic, though not always, and are found at farmers' markets and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) cooperatives. Although there is no scientific basis for it, some people also believe that pastured hens are happier, and seek out pastured eggs because they are concerned about the treatment of food animals.