Is all free range created equal?

Anyone who has purchased eggs at the supermarket recently knows that there is a lot of choice; or at least it appears that way. Almost everyone would be aware of the first major choice to be made: cage eggs; barn laid or free range.

For many consumers, it has been over a decade since cage eggs were purchased at the supermarket. But is all free range created equal? The simple answer is no. Sadly, many consumers are paying a premium for eggs that do not afford chickens the welfare that is implied.

The free range definition was confirmed in 2017 as allowing 10,000 birds per hectare (about 1 square metre per bird) and requiring producers to prominently display their stocking density. Whilst a definition was welcomed, many were left disappointed that such a high stocking density could be labelled as free range.

It’s important to note that stocking density is not the only factor in differentiating between good and bad free range. Most of the high density free range farms have their hens in fixed sheds, so their access to quality out door areas with pasture is diminished over time. They can discourage the birds from going outside by only having food and water in the sheds. Whilst the birds may have access to an outdoor area, they will end up spending most of their time cramped inside.

This is where pastured egg farming is different – it’s free range as it should be. Our hens are stocked at less than 950 per hectare, and live in mobile caravans so they are always on pasture. Once they wear out an area of the paddock, they are moved to a new one. It’s better for the paddocks as the chicken manure regenerates them and better for the hens as they have plenty of space to scratch and forage in the grass.

The system we use also means that our eggs are layed in roll away nesting boxes and come out clean of dirt and chicken poo. This means that we are not required to wash the eggs. Keep an eye out for a future blog post with more details on how we process our eggs and why.