It’s a question we hear often: what does the pasture raised label mean in the egg aisle? How are pasture raised eggs different from free range eggs, and what does the Certified Humane seal on our egg cartons mean? Join us as we take a closer look into the true meaning of "pasture raised."
Words by: Family Farm Team
Generally speaking, pasture raised eggs come from hens given ample access to outdoor pasture. This may sound similar to free range eggs, and that's because it is! To help concerned shoppers sort out truth from misconceptions about the pasture raised label, we're taking a closer look at the standards for humane animal care and sustainable farming practices behind the term "pasture raised."
Researchers and expert nutritionists haven't been able to agree on whether pasture raised eggs or free range eggs are a healthier choice for a balanced diet. However, there are some proven nutritional benefits from the outdoor access that pasture raised and free range standards offer. Research has shown that hens with access to outdoor pastures produce eggs with significantly more omega-3 fatty acids than eggs from caged hens. Another study suggests that eggs from hens with outdoor access contain significantly more vitamin D than eggs from cage-free or factory farmed eggs. So while it can't be said that pasture raised eggs are healthier for human nutrition, it's important to look for outdoor access requirements like the Certified Humane label on our eggs.
Interestingly enough, the 108 square feet space requirement for pasture raised hens originates from a British soil management standard defined in the 1940s. This standard was focused on rotational grazing needs meaning that the amount of space recommended per laying hen was not based on the need for the hens to be comfortable, but how much space is required when moving flocks from pasture to pasture.
This ensured that there would still be viable grass and soil for other crops or animals after the hens had been inhabiting the field for a period of time. This also means that pasture raised standards were not created with humane animal care in mind. Despite this, the 108 square feet requirement was adopted by two primary certifiers in the U.S. as the “pasture raised” standard.
Above all, we support the humane treatment for all farm animals, including the laying hens on our small family farms. We believe our farmers are happier and our eggs taste better when flocks are given access to the outdoors and exhibit natural hen behaviors like perching, dust bathing, and roaming the great outdoors. Both free range and pasture raised eggs meet our humane standards as they allow laying hens ample access to outdoor pasture and fresh sunshine.
Sadly, the cage-free egg standard is still a common label that has been co-opted by factory farms. While cage-free standards may be better than the battery cages that still dominate the industry today, the differences are marginal: cage-free hens are still confined to larger cages in massive industrial facilities with little outdoor access. This is why we strongly encourage grocery shoppers to avoid cage-free eggs and commit to buying humanely raised free range and pastured raised eggs.
So what's the difference between free range and pasture raised eggs? And if both are raised on small farms following excellent, rigorous, and high standards, what makes pasture raised eggs different? The debate comes in with respect to how much space is “enough” for laying hens. Our free range hens have a minimum of 2 square feet per hen of pasture, and that’s an average for every hen in the flock. It's very rare for all of the hens to choose to be outside at any one time during the day. Most of them prefer the shade, water, feed, or social opportunities inside the barn, so the girls that feel like venturing out usually have a vast expanse of a field all to themselves to explore.
Some producers using the pasture raised label offer even more space than those standards require, but additional pasture does not come free and is often reflected in the price on the shelf. We believe we’ve found the right balance with Certified Humane standards for our hens, farmers, and consumers alike. We often find our flocks rarely cover more than a small fraction of our substantial pastures, which you can see explore for yourself with our virtual farm tour.
It’s important to remember that organic eggs and pasture raised eggs are not the same. All laying hens require a nutrient-rich and species-appropriate diet for optimal flock health that typically includes grubs, greens, and a supplemental feed. Even pasture raised hens do not get their primary source of nutrition from foraging, instead relying on the essential proteins, minerals, and carbohydrates offered in their daily feed.
The supplemental feed offered to pasture raised hens can be Certified Organic or not, which means that eggs can be pasture raised without being organic. For shoppers looking for eggs raised without synthetic pesticides or GMOs, it's important to look for the USDA Certified Organic label no matter which type of eggs you choose.
At Pete and Gerry’s, we don’t see a meaningful difference in animal welfare between free range and pasture raised standards, so we choose to maintain Certified Humane standards and keep our organic eggs affordable and accesible. Regardless of which humane labels you choose, we applaud your commitment to humane animal care! We hope you know that choosing Pete and Gerry's means you're not just getting an egg laid by a hen that has an exceptionally humane existence—you're also supporting small family farms all over the country.
January 22, 2023
Do you sell non fertilized eggs.
January 23, 2023
Great question, Linda! Our small family farms do not allow roosters, so none of our eggs are fertilized.
October 24, 2022
Bravo, very good idea
July 03, 2022
What are you chickens fed? I've been told that pasture raised chickens still have to be fed grain feed.
July 06, 2022
Our Certified Humane Free Range hens spend most of their days foraging outdoors for bugs and tasty greens, but unlike cows or sheep, they are not ruminants and cannot subsist solely on the organic pasture that’s available to them. That’s why we provide our hens with a supplementary feed containing USDA Certified Organic corn and soy. The soy is a great source of additional protein, while the corn provides carbohydrates. There is also a wide range of other beneficial nutrients and minerals in our feed that help to keep the hens healthy, like electrolytes and sodium bicarbonate.
The requirements for the pasture-raised label isn't regulated by the USDA, so you'd have to look to a third-party certifier to find any sort of regulations regarding feed.
Hope this helps to answer your question!
Feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] with any other questions or concerns.
June 05, 2022
How do you verify each individual farm is following these standards?
June 06, 2022
Thanks for reaching out to us here at Pete and Gerry's! Our farms are frequently audited by members of the USDA to make sure we are compliant by all regulations of USDA Organic. Additionally, because our hens are free range, we are also audited by the ASPCA to make sure all our farms follow free range standards. Detailed lists of how audits are comprised as well as what regulations and standards are to be organic or free range can be found through each organizations website, respectively.
Sounds like you are on top of things. Thanks for the reply, and keep up the eggcellent work!
December 24, 2021
Enjoyed this read! I had a couple questions:
What do you do with male chicks?
Are the chickens bred to overproduce eggs which has a negative affect on their health and bones? Or do they produce eggs naturally?
Thanks so much.
December 28, 2021
Happy to see you've taken an interest in how our hens are raised! To answer your questions: 1. Our hens are bred to produce eggs naturally. We don't believe in adding anything to our chickens' feed that wouldn't be beneficial to their health and nutrition. We believe that a genuinely healthy hen produces the best quality eggs.
2. Thank you for this important question regarding male chicks. Although we do not have our own hatchery or breed any of our own hens, we are sensitive to the issue of male chicks and are actively investing in technologies that we hope will help result in a humane long-term solution. You can find out more about these efforts here: http://fal.cn/VnzY
October 04, 2020
I buy your eggs even though yours is the highest price. For me the humane treatment of animals is a great value.
One thing I would suggest is you consider moving to cardboard containers rather than plastic.
Using plastic in organic free range is like making love with a blanket between a couple. If you are going to do it then go all the way. You can even use recycled and biodegradable.
October 05, 2020
Hi Don, thank you for choosing to pay more to support our small family farms and for taking the time to reach out to us on this important matter. Sustainability is a huge part of everything we do, and we are always researching new materials and methods for doing things that will allow us to become even more sustainable. That said, we've chosen to use our current cartons because they are made from 100% post consumer recycled plastic and can be recycled again. If you'd like to learn more about our cartons, we invite you to check out this blog post: https://www.peteandgerrys.com/blog/paper-or-plastic. We hope you enjoy and please don't hesitate to reach out with any further questions or concerns.
August 25, 2020
Are your organic eggs pasture raised? It is not labeled on the box.
August 26, 2020
We follow the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) Certified Humane Free Range standards, which you can peruse here: http://certifiedhumane.org/free-range-requirements/. Being free range means that during most times of the day and year, our hens are free to roam outside as they please. This is very different from cage free, which typically does not involve any amount of outdoor access.
Pasture raised is another term that has emerged in recent years. While there are no USDA standards supporting the term, responsible producers are providing the hens with grass pasture to forage on, just like free range. The debate comes in with respect to how much space is “enough” for hens.
Our free range hens have a minimum of 2 square feet per hen of pasture, and that’s an average for every hen in the flock. It is very rare for all of the hens to choose to be outside at any one time during the day. Most of them prefer the shade, water, feed, or social opportunities inside the barn, so the girls that feel like venturing out usually have a vast expanse of a field all to themselves to explore. Some folks who produce under the “pasture raised” term offer even more average space than this, but that space does not come free and is often reflected in the price of those eggs on the shelf. We think that we’ve found the right balance with Certified Humane Free Range for our hens, farmers, and consumers alike.
February 09, 2020
Are the hens get fed corn
February 10, 2020
Hi Sandy, our hens do receive corn in their feed. In addition to being allowed to range freely on pasture, our hens are offered a 100% vegetarian USDA Certified Organic feed containing corn and soy to make sure they get plenty of protein and carbohydrates.
January 21, 2020
Do your chickens consume soy
Hi Sue! The short answer is yes, our hens do receive soy in their supplementary feed. The soy is a great source of additional protein, while the corn provides carbohydrates. There is also a wide range of other beneficial nutrients and minerals in our feed that help to keep the hens healthy, like electrolytes and sodium bicarbonate. Although there are cheaper alternatives to corn and soy, they typically aren’t as effective and can decrease egg production and even egg size, which can pose problems both for our partner farmers and our consumers. We hope this helps!
November 06, 2019
Hi, I was wondering if you're chickens lay eggs outside or in the coop?
November 27, 2019
Great question, David! There's always the potential for "ground eggs" in free range conditions, but for the most part, this is avoided by providing our hens with private, cozy, and comfortable nest boxes in their coop. You can learn more about the importance of nest boxes here: https://www.peteandgerrys.com/blog/guide-to-the-perfect-nest-box.
April 22, 2019
Hi, I’ve been buying your eggs for a couple of months now and I like them, however one thing I’ve noticed is that most of them have a little bit of blood which the diferentes brands I tried before would rarely ever have, so I’m wondering if that’s normal or if you guys have any comments about it.
April 23, 2019
Great question, Amy! Though they can be a bit unappetizing, blood spots are harmless and a natural part of the egg-laying process. You can read more about what causes them here: https://www.peteandgerrys.com/blog/blood-in-egg. If you're ever unhappy with a purchase, please don't hesitate to contact us so that we can replace it for you.
March 12, 2019
looking for humane raised eggs milk and cheese
Hi Sareeka, if you're looking for Certified Humane Free Range Eggs, then you've come to the right place! We invite you to peruse our website for more information. For milk and cheese, we would suggest checking with Certified Humane on their store locator: https://certifiedhumane.org/take-action-for-farm-animals/shop-2/ Thanks for reaching out!
February 25, 2019
I am enjoying your eggs, but have noticed thinning of the egg shell. As your eggs are now across the market, I wonder if something has changed that has caused the shells to become more delicate. I am finding more and more cartons with broken eggs, too.
We're so sorry that you've noticed some thinner shells recently, Samuel. We can't say for sure without tracing one of your cartons, but it's quite possible that these eggs are coming from younger flocks that are still learning how to lay. Whatever the case may be, we'd love to replace these past purchases for you. Do you mind sending us an email at [email protected]?
December 03, 2018
How do you keep predatory animals away from your flock
December 04, 2018
Great question, Steve. It's definitely a round-the-clock effort. Our farmers keep a close eye out for predators during daylight hours, and at night, our hens remain in the hen house. One of the benefits of working with small family farms is how hands-on and dedicated they are to keeping their flocks safe. Thanks to their vigilance, it's quite rare for us to lose a hen to a predator.
April 02, 2021
November 02, 2022