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Why We Are Free Range and Not Pastured Raised

Words by: Tom Piper

At Pete & Gerry’s, we recognize that the egg aisle is a confusing place. That’s why we hope to earn your trust so that instead of having to understand every industry term out there like cage-free, free-range, or pasture-raised, you can simply reach for our package with confidence, because you know we’re doing the right thing for hens, farmers, and for your family. My family has been raising chickens for three decades and have the expertise that comes from doing something for a long time and constantly improving on it as you go. That makes our company pretty unique in the egg industry. We hope that our customers discover that we care about our hens so much that if there was a better way to raise them —­ we’d be the first ones doing it.

For many decades, the egg aisle has been almost entirely caged eggs coming from hens living indescribable lives. Finally, after years of advocacy and the growing awareness of consumers about this barbaric form of agriculture, things are beginning to change. We expect that caged eggs will be a thing of the past within the next 10 years. That’s great news for chickens, and for all of us. But, it also means that there will now be lots of less scrupulous companies trying to jump on the bandwagon. In most cases, this will be the former caged producers now producing “cage-free” eggs, but essentially using the same industrial approach they used in the past. It will represent a marginal improvement in hen welfare, because they will finally be able to move around. But the facilities where they are raised will in no way represent what a consumer would consider to be a farm in terms of scale, crowding, cleanliness, or transparency.

On the other side, there is also a group of companies competing to persuade customers that our Certified Humane Free Range standard, which you can read about here, is somehow not sufficient or adequately humane.

Outdoor Space Isn’t An Arms Race

The Certified Humane Free Range standard was developed by scientists and animal welfare experts. It calls for 2 sq. ft. of outdoor access on grass per hen. Now, this may not sound like much if you imagine a bunch of hens all occupying their own little 2’ X 2’ patch of grass. However, it’s important to note that this is just an average over a huge flock, and that not all of the hens use the pasture space at the same time. Not even close. Hens are actually a lot like people in this regard. Whether it’s cool outside, hot, or a delightful 72 degrees, many of them would simply prefer to be inside. It’s safe, comfortable, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and there’s fresh water and feed. As a company, we don’t force hens to go outside. We give them ample ways to access the outdoors, and then let the girls decide. If you spend time watching them, you will see a steady stream of hens entering and exiting the barns. At any given point in time, the hens that are outside have far more than 2 sq. ft. apiece. And, they are very social birds, so while they don’t wish to be crammed into giant warehouses, or tiny cages, they do want to huddle into little groups and cliques to cluck about whatever is on their minds. So there is always more grass and dirt areas open than occupied.

Pasture Raised brands are advertising that they offer from 35 to 108 sq. ft. per hen and suggesting that 2 sq. ft. is insufficient. More is not better in this case. More is just more. And it costs the farmers more to own and maintain that extra space for no discernible purpose. Agricultural land is scarce and expensive, so forcing small farm families to operate and maintain an excess of it just to brag about how much square footage each hen gets seems insincere and gratuitous to us.

There is a category of very small farms that can make the larger space work economically. But those are typically mixed use, hobby-style, micro farms that exist in a completely separate economic climate, selling to farmers’ markets, CSAs, and to their local area at considerably higher prices. Mainstream grocery distribution requires a higher level of efficiency in order to even get on the shelf. So we support this other style of farm wholeheartedly, just as we support backyard chicken coops, but they are a very small piece of the larger change we seek.

First we ask ourselves: What is right for the hens? We believe that we understand that better than anyone in the industry, and we follow the independently audited standard set by Humane Farm Animal Care for Free Range. Second, we ensure to do what is best for our farmers, and that means helping them raise hens humanely without undue costs. This allows us to deliver great eggs to our consumers at a reasonable price

It is an exciting time to be in the business of producing humane, ethical, organic eggs. In my lifetime, I have not seen the industry change this dramatically or quickly. Over the next year, we believe many more consumers will begin to decide what they think a reasonable egg farm should look like. We believe that a small family farm producing to the Certified Humane Free Range standard is the best way to meet our country’s egg demands in a humane, sustainable way. We don’t believe that means there is no such thing as too much space for hens, and we’re pretty sure the hens don’t either. So we will continue to try to balance the needs of hens, our farmers, and our loyal customers as best we can.

COMMENTS

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Kim Bertonassi

November 04, 2018

I cannot eat corn or wheat products,what do your chickens eat?

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[email protected]

November 05, 2018

Hi Kim, thanks for the question. Our girls get to enjoy a varied diet that includes outdoor forage for bugs and worms, but they also receive an organic grain mixture. As for the supplemental feed we give them, it consists mainly of organic corn and soy. The soy provides them with the extra protein they need to maintain a well balanced diet, and the corn is a great source of carbohydrates. There are also a wide range of other beneficial nutrients and minerals in our feed that help to keep the hens healthy, such as electrolytes, sodium bicarbonate, and more. Let us know if you have any follow-up questions!

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Ari

October 30, 2018

I suppose the main question comes down to the diet of the birds more than how much sq footage they have. If your birds eat an omnivorous diet, then it strikes me as the healthiest eggs I can buy. Would love to know what the daily diet consists of, because if I see another 'vegetarian diet' label on a dozen eggs I may lose my mind.

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[email protected]

November 01, 2018

Hi there Ari! Great question and you make a good point. The hens get to eat an omnivorous diet, because they scratch around for worms, bugs, and other insects. As for the supplemental feed we give them, it consists mainly of corn and soy. The soy provides them with the extra protein they need to maintain a well balanced diet, and the corn is a great source of carbohydrates. There are also a wide range of other beneficial nutrients and minerals in our feed that help to keep the hens healthy, such as electrolytes, sodium bicarbonate, and more. Let us know if you have any follow-up questions!

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Ari

November 09, 2018

Thanks for the response. Obviously we want to see a reduction in corn and soy as that resembles modern feed lots, but there are significant logistical and monetary costs with that request. I would be curious to see a deeper breakdown of the feed itself. In percentage terms, how does the corn, soy, protein, etc break down?

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[email protected]

November 10, 2018

That's a fantastic follow-up question, Ari. Unfortunately, it's tough for us to give a solid breakdown because the feed make-up changes depending on a number of factors like flock age, egg size and productivity, and time of year. In general, though, corn and soy make up the largest percentage of the feed in fairly equal parts. In terms of soy-free feed alternatives, we've definitely considered the possibility, but cost is actually not the barrier for us (most corn and soy alternatives are cheaper). Feed alternatives tend to be significantly less effective than traditional feeds containing corn and soy, which in turn leads to lower productivity and smaller eggs, while many consumers prefer larger sizes. That's not to say that our feed won't change in the future, but for now, we think we've found a good balance that benefits both our partner farmers and consumers.

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Dan

October 27, 2018

Hi, I recently went shopping for groceries at a local Stop and Shop in Berkshire County and I saw the only brand of free range eggs available were yours. I would like to know who thought it was acceptable to charge $6.39 for one dozen of eggs? Are you kidding me? WHY WOULD ANYONE CHARGE THAT AMOUNT FOR A DOZEN EGGS?!

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[email protected]

October 29, 2018

Thanks for reaching out to us, Dan. We completely understand where you're coming from. One of the primary reasons for the higher price tag on free range organic eggs is the amount of space required and the costs to maintain that land. Another contributing factor is the size and centralization of a farm or operation. Most conventional eggs are coming from factory farms that save money and cut corners by housing hundreds of thousands of hens in just one small space. Because these businesses are centralized, the cost of transportation can be minimal compared to the cost of transporting eggs from a network of farms like we do. By staying small and choosing to partner with small family farms spread out among the states, we have also had to put some major funding towards transporting the fresh eggs to our packing facilities, where they are then cleaned, packaged, and transported to your local grocery store. Although transportation and pasture space account for a large portion of the store price, we think the extra steps and efforts are worth it if it means maintaining our integrity and commitment to humane practices and small family farmers.

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Leon Zimmer

June 29, 2018

After reading about factory farms and the egg industry in Jonathan Foer's book "Eating Animals" I had decided to stop eating eggs entirely. However, I did some research on Pete and Gerry's organic eggs (which I have been enjoying for some time now) that led me to read Tom Piper's article. I hope his words are true; they make sense to me and will allow me to continue eating eggs without feeling guilty.

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[email protected]

July 03, 2018

Hi Leon, we're so happy that our article was useful and that it helped you feel confident about supporting the humane practices that we stand for. Thank you so much for making a choice that not only benefits our hens and farmers, but consumers all over the country who are trying to make conscious and informed decisions and are taking the steps to consider where their food comes from.

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