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."
Are pasture raised eggs healthier for you?
Researchers and expert nutritionists haven't made it clear 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 both 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. The bottom line: it's always important to look for outdoor access requirements like the Certified Humane label on our eggs.
History of pasture raised standards
The standard 108 square feet space requirement for pasture raised hens originated from a British soil management standard defined in the 1940s. This standard was focused on rotational grazing needs, or rather the amount of space required when moving flocks from pasture to pasture. This ecological approach 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.
Are pasture raised eggs humane?
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.
Pasture raised eggs vs. cage-free eggs
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.
Pasture raised eggs vs. free range 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 farms raising pasture-raised hens offer even more space than those standards require, but additional land 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, partner 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.
Pasture raised eggs vs. organic eggs
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. 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.
Our Pete & Gerry's eggs
At Pete & Gerry's, the health and well-being of our flocks and family farmers will always come first. We don't see a meaningful difference in animal welfare between free range and pasture raised standards, so we're committed to upholding Certified Humane standards and keeping our eggs affordable and accessible. Regardless of which humane labels you choose, we applaud your commitment to humane animal care! We hope you know that choosing Pete & 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.