It’s a question we get quite frequently: what does the pasture raised label mean in the egg aisle? How is it different from the Certified Humane Free Range seal on our cartons? And why aren’t Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs pasture raised? As these questions continue to come up, we think it might be time to dive a little deeper into the meaning of "pasture raised."
Words by: Jesse Laflamme
Generally speaking, pasture raised eggs come from hens with access to pastures outdoors. This may sound similar to free range, and that's because it is. Here are are a few questions, misconceptions, and facts that explain what the term "pasture raised" means in practice.
Simply put, pasture raised eggs are not necessarily healthier for you than free range, cage-free, or conventional eggs. However, there are some nutritional benefits that accompany 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 conventional (or caged) eggs. So while it can't be said that pasture raised eggs are "healthier" for you than another kind, it's wise to look for outdoor access requirements in the egg aisle, whether that means Certified Humane Free Range or pasture raised.
Above all, we support humane treatment for all farm animals, including hens, of course. We sincerely hope that consumers will only buy free range and pastured raised eggs in the near future (and that inhumane options will be obsolete). The cage-free standard has already been co-opted by factory farms, and while it's better than the battery cages that still dominate the industry today, it's only marginally so—the hens are essentially confined to larger cages in massive industrial facilities with doors to the outside. This brings us to the key similarity between free range and pasture raised, which is part of what makes them both humane options in the egg aisle: outdoor access.
The much larger space requirement for pasture raised hens actually originates from a British soil management standard defined in the 1940s that was based on rotational grazing needs. In other words, the amount of space recommended per hen was not based on the need for the hens to be comfortable, but on how much space is required when moving flocks from pasture to pasture. The idea was to ensure 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. To put it plainly, the space requirement had nothing to do with animal welfare.
Despite this, it was adopted by the two primary certifiers in the U.S. as the “pasture raised” standard. And interestingly, the standard allows for “rotational fencing” meaning that even if they claim 108 square feet per hen, that is the undivided total; not what is available to a hen on any given day. More space is great. We applaud responsible egg farming at whatever scale. But the more space you use, the higher your prices. One only has to look at the price of farmland to know this.
As for the difference between free range and pasture raised eggs, they are both raised following excellent, rigorous, and high standards, provided that they are certified by a credible 3rd party such as Certified Humane, as ours are. So what makes pasture raised different? 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'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 who tout the pasture raised label 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. Beyond that, our firm belief is that the amount of space our hens have is more than sufficient. You can see this in all of the photos of our family farms, where the hens rarely cover more than a small fraction of our substantial pastures.
It’s important not to confuse pasture raised eggs with organic eggs, as they are entirely different things. Laying hens, including pasture raised hens, do not get their primary source of nutrition from foraging. It comes from their feed, which can either be organic or not. There are many pasture raised eggs that are not organic as they are fed conventional feed that was grown with pesticides or GMOs, so it's important to look for the USDA Certified Organic label no matter which type of eggs you choose.
At Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, we don’t see a meaningful difference in animal welfare between these two excellent standards, so we choose to maintain the Certified Humane Free Range standard and keep our organic eggs affordable and accesible. If you prefer to buy pasture raised eggs instead, we applaud your commitment to humane treatment. Just know that when you choose our Certified Humane Free Range and USDA Certified Organic eggs, 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.
Learn more about why we've chosen free range over pasture raised here.
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.
May 18, 2016
July 09, 2018