Barnyard Buddies

What do "Cage-Free" and Free Range Really Mean?

By Nellie's Kindness Crew

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We get this question at Nellie’s Free Range Eggs a lot. And it’s no surprise. The egg aisle has more unique terms these days than Doritos has flavor varieties. Free range, cage-free, pasture raised, GMO-free, organic, farm fresh, all natural, and the list goes on. Particularly, when it comes to humane standards like Cage Free and Free Range, it can be very hard to know the difference.

But, there is very significant difference between the Certified Humane Free Range standard that we use and “Cage Free” that you are seeing more and more of in the marketplace. (The quotations around Cage Free are there because, as you will see, it’s quite misleading).

Most people would reasonably assume Cage Free to mean “no cages.” But the term is not a regulated standard by the USDA or the FDA (Free Range is defined by the USDA). So egg producers are left to define it for themselves. And as you might expect, the gigantic factory farms that have always brought you conventional eggs, laid by hens imprisoned in tiny, floor-to-ceiling battery cages inside massive warehouse complexes, are now either converting these same factories to “Cage Free” or building new ones, as you can see in the photo above.

And what is going into all of these “Cage Free” egg factories? You guessed it – cages. Bigger, more complex cages than before, but cages nonetheless, with no doors to the outside. The “farm” depicted in the photo is expected to produce 1.5 million eggs per day. I’ll repeat that, 1.5 million per day!

There is no question that placing 10 giant buildings the size of aircraft hangers on a flat piece of earth in the middle of nowhere allows for some serious labor efficiency in terms of handling and processing eggs. But we don’t think consumers would consider it farming. At our small farm in New Hampshire, we deliberately stopped building new barns, becoming less efficient in the process, because we wanted instead to partner with other small farms around the country like our own.

Because we don’t want to be confused with the now misleading term Cage Free, at Nellie’s Free Range, we have adopted a Free Range standard certified by the respected Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) organization. Our floor style barns have no cages, period. There are doors every few feet, allowing one and all to come and go when the weather allows. We even have policies of our own for humane care that exceed those set by HFAC.

Please watch our video that helps explain the important difference between Certified Humane Free Range and Cage Free so you can be as informed as possible about the eggs you buy.

Comments

Vonda MedeirosJanuary 22, 2020

Hi I been using your eggs for a few years now.. We love it! Especially since when I eat comercial eggs I feel it! I’m that sensitive! And I can test that every time and it’s true! Now I also noticed that in summer your eggs aren’t as huge as in winter. Tho I do realize there’s many chicken breeds and so there’s different size eggs. That being said I’m assuming you must be feeding them chicken feed. And if there’s grains in the chicken feed it causes the eggs to be larger then the normal egg size from just grazing . I purchase gras fed beef from local farms. But as far as chicken itself we truly need to be picky as like your video puts it... so many companies use false advertising on their labels... insane to eat healthy these days.! i choose not to shop in the middle of the supermarket isles .. and if all possible to not even purchase the so called Certified by the FDA for obvious reasons! So we grow our produce whenever possible and avoid all water bottles and facet water! I make my own distilled water and travel to a underground source to gather my own pure water. So we go to extremes ! I’m planing ,if not this year ... then next year to raise at least 6 chickens for eggs. But in meantime I’ll purchase your eggs but wanted to know about your feed. If you can tell me what brand and what’s in it. Thank you!

Nellie's

Hi Vonda! We applaud and admire your dedication to providing good food and clean water to your family - that truly sounds like dedication! As far as the feed for our hens, the feed actually varies a bit from farm to farm and no one brand of feed is used. In addition to being on pasture, all our farms use a 100% vegetarian supplemental feed that contains corn and soy, as well as a wide range of other beneficial nutrients and minerals that help keep the hens healthy, like electrolytes and sodium bicarbonate. Beyond those guidelines, we trust our family farms to source their feed locally or however makes sense for them. We hope this helps!

Robert JalewskyDecember 11, 2019

Hi, My wife has recently learned that she is allergic to the antibiotics used in chickens. She currently eats Nature’s Promise which is a private Label chicken & eggs through Stop & Shop. Are your eggs totally antibiotic free? We would love another option for eggs if possible. Thanks Rob

Nellie's

Hi Robert. Our hens are not given antibiotics as a preventative measure. This practice was adopted by factory farms to deal with the constant filth and disease that is their chicken filled warehouses. They will typically treat healthy hens with antibiotics as a prophylactic measure. Our barns are airy, uncrowded, clean and safe. If in the rare circumstance a hen is discovered to have a health issue requiring antibiotics, and this is very rare, she will be segregated from the main flock and treated. Her eggs will not go into our cartons until she is fully recovered and off any medications. Hope that helps to answer your question!

Sonia November 06, 2019

Are your eggs GMO Free?

Nellie's

Great question, Sonia! Because the feed for our hens is not certified organic, we cannot guarantee that it is free of GMO's. We offer these eggs for our consumers who may wish to have free range eggs from hens that are treated humanely, but at the lower cost than organic eggs. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to let us know!

kate cohenMay 10, 2019

Hi, Love your eggs but I am concerned about GMO feed. Are you eggs NON GMO?

Nellie's

Thanks for the question, Kate! Our eggs are not USDA Certified Organic, so we cannot guarantee that their feed is 100% free of GMOs. We do have an organic sister brand called Pete and Gerry's that may be better suited for you: https://www.peteandgerrys.com/.

Natalie VanRandwykMarch 08, 2019

Dear Nellie’s, thank you for your thoughtful farming ethics. I have always wondered about the labels on eggs that say “vegetarian” hens. Having raised chickens, I know they are not vegetarian - eating all manner of insects, worms, amphibians, etc. To me, this seems like a red flag saying that our chickens never go outside. Your eggs are bar far the best I’ve purchased at a grocery store. Thank you for making them available to Publix.

Nellie's

We're so touched by your loyalty, Natalie, and while our chickens are not considered "vegetarian" as they certainly enjoy their pick of grubs and bugs in the fields, we firmly believe that letting them eat in their naturally omnivorous way is very important for keeping them happy!

John SchmidFebruary 24, 2019

We love your eggs. Of all the organic, free range, etc. eggs we have tried, Nellie's has the darkest, orangest yolks of any we have found in this country. We know that is important, as it is an indicator of nutritional content. My wife is recovering from breast cancer surgery and just finishing up post surgery treatment - chemo and radiation. As such, I have a couple of concerns and questions. Nellie's does not advertise as 'organic'. How close to organic are they? And does the feed you give your chickens soy free? Oh! Nellie's are also the best tasting eggs we have found, either in the grocery store or from small farms. And we eat a lot of eggs. Thank you for a superior product.

Nellie's

Thank you so much for your kind and generous feedback, John. We hope your wife is resting and we wish her a swift recovery. In terms of feed ingredients: our eggs are not USDA Certified Organic, so we cannot guarantee that the corn, soy, and other nutrients and electrolytes that the chickens consume are free of GMOs. That being said, we have a sister brand call Pete and Gerry's that is USDA Certified Organic. If you're interested in giving those eggs a try, you can find more information here: https://www.peteandgerrys.com/.

Catherine BakerFebruary 16, 2019

We love your eggs & appreciate the care that you provide your hens!

Nellie's

Hi Catherine, thanks for taking the time to leave such a sweet comment. We'll pass the compliments on to our happy hens! :)

Richard ThomasFebruary 10, 2019

We bought some nellies eggs the other day and they were very watery. Here is our address 47 treasures place queensbury ny 12804

Nellie's

Hi Richard, we're so sorry to hear that your recent carton of our eggs was not up to standards. Do you mind sending us an email at [email protected] so that we can gather more information and replace this carton for you?

Betty ThomasJanuary 23, 2019

Great product, thanks for being available in my area.

Nellie's

Thanks so much, Betty! We're so happy we are able to bring some farm fresh eggs from our happy hens to you!

Elisabetta ValesiDecember 01, 2018

I cracked an entire six pack of your eggs this morning and they all had two yolks each. How does that happen?

Nellie's

Wow! Sounds like it was your lucky day, Elisabetta. Here's a blog post that explains why double yolks occur: https://www.nelliesfreerange.com/blog/gold-mine-why-double-yolks-occur.

Micky WatsonOctober 31, 2018

Thanks for explaining

Nellie's

You're quite welcome, Micky!

MichaelOctober 22, 2018

Are the hens killed, after they have served their purpose?? Lay eggs

Nellie's

Thank you for this thoughtful question, Michael. At the end of a flock’s natural laying cycle, we contract with several poultry transportation and processing companies to purchase our birds. These companies send trained and certified humane handling poultry crews to our farms to pick up the hens. At this point, the hens belong to that company, but we have worked with them to ensure that our birds are going to acceptable follow-on markets. You can learn more about this process in our FAQ section.

Annette BatsonOctober 17, 2018

What is your response to this: https://www.facebook.com/sharer/sharer.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fpeta.vg%2F2bwd From what I've read, your eggs may technically qualify as "free range" however if the thousands of barn floor chickens don't have easy access to exit the barn, then they really don't have "free range." With thousands of chickens in your barn, it would be impossible for the majority of them to reach the small doors to get out in the fresh air. Likewise, I question how in this situation each individual chicken can access food and water? Before I purchase your eggs again, I will need to know your beloved chickens are truly free to range. It shouldn't be hard to modify the barn to truly allow all of the hens to roam outside. Thank you.

Nellie's

Hello Annette, At Nellie’s Free Range, we are deeply committed to ethical egg production on free range small family farms. In 2003 we became the first Certified Humane egg producer in the US. We also believe in transparency when it comes to food production. That’s why we conduct public tours on family farms to allow consumers to come and see exactly how our eggs are produced. During those tours we allow photography and videos because we are proud of the way we produce and have nothing to hide. The photo in question was captured on one of those tours. Every aspect of the Frey Family Farm depicted in the photo meets Certified Humane’s Free Range standards. The hens have the ability to move freely throughout the barn and to go outside onto grass pasture. Free range and pasture-raised hens spend part of their days inside and part outside. Hens are social animals and like to congregate closely together. So while it may look crowded, we assure you the hens are comfortable. If you’re interested in getting a more comprehensive look at our farms, the following video is a great resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvkPwm1gRKw. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to send us a direct message or email us at [email protected], as we’d be happy to answer them.

Gary M BelfordOctober 11, 2018

What do you do with your chickens when their egg-bearing years are over? Do you send them chicken slaughterhouses?

Nellie's

Thank you for this thoughtful question, Gary. At the end of a flock’s natural laying cycle, we contract with several poultry transportation and processing companies to purchase our birds. These companies send trained and certified humane handling poultry crews to our farms to pick up the hens. At this point, the hens belong to that company, but we have worked with them to ensure that our birds are going to acceptable follow-on markets. You can learn more about this process in our FAQ section.

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