What is Free Range?
(and how is it different from Cage Free?)
The egg aisle is a complicated place these days. There are so many terms like cage free, free range, organic, etc. It can be hard to know what’s important and who to trust.
If you’re reading this, it’s safe to say you already know what you don’t want. You don’t want to buy eggs from companies that quite literally cram hens into tiny cages and never let them out. It’s sad to say, but 9 out of 10 egg-laying hens in the U.S. are still forced to live this way.
Cage free is an improvement. And many retailers and restaurants have announced plans to transition to cage free over the next 10 years. We’re happy about that. But cage free probably isn’t what most people would assume! Unfortunately, some giant egg producers saw that consumers were flocking to this unregulated definition. Their feathers haven’t changed, they are just trying to do “cage-free” in the cheapest way possible. That means packing millions of birds overcrowded factory facilities full of floor-to-ceiling aviary systems that are nearly as bad as those individual cages in terms of density.
Watch this video to see what Cage Free really is! Incredibly, they are boasting about this.
Generally, they have just replaced smaller cages with bigger cages, packed with birds, and are calling them cage free because the birds can move about more. The birds never go outside, do not have adequate perch areas, or places to scratch in the dirt. They use all sorts of other practices like putting antibiotics in the feed to ward off disease due to the overcrowding. These producers are not Certified Humane as we are, which is a standard administered by the non-profit Humane Farm Animal Care organization.
At Nellie’s, we’re very proud to raise all our hens in a Certified Humane, free range environment. This guarantees that on every one of our small, free range farms:
- Hens live in “floor barns” (i.e. no cages or levels) and have plenty of space to perch and socialize.
- They have easy access to the outdoors with real grass to peck, play and dust bathe.
- The have access to antibiotic free feed and fresh water 24/7.
- And much more.
Read more about Certified Humane here.
Outdoor access for our hens is important, but we also have to insure that our free range hens are safe from predators and disease from wild birds.
In accordance with Certified Humane standards, we protect our free range hens by not allowing them outside during the following conditions:
- During cold and inclement weather (would you want to go outside barefoot in the snow? Hens generally feel the same way).
- When ground predators such as fox and coyote are seen in the immediate area.
- During migratory bird season, or when large flocks of small birds roost nearby, to prevent exposure to diseases such as avian mites or Avian Flu.
When the free range hens do need, or want, to be inside our barns, they still have dirt scratch areas, perches, and nesting boxes where they can engage in their natural behaviors.