1. It’s the right thing to do. Chickens that are pasture-raised are able to roam (relatively) free and are able to eat the foods that most closely match their natural diet. We see the term “vegetarian fed” on many egg labels as a marketing scheme, but chickens are not naturally vegetarians. Allowing them to move around on pasture allows them to enjoy the fresh air and eat a variety of foods such as seeds, grasses, insects, and worms. There is far less crowding when they are able to roam free, leading to better conditions and less stress for the chickens.
2. It’s better for the environment. Chickens raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) create a toxic environment, polluting the air, waterways, and soil with the large amount of waste they produce. Pasture-raised chickens, however, are able to leave their droppings in the pastures they are grazing upon, which fertilizes the soil and allows for new life to grow — completing the life cycle.
3. Eggs produced from pasture-raised chickens are more nutrient dense. In 2007, Mother Earth News, an advocate for better farming practices, studied the nutritional differences between eggs from pasture-raised chickens and eggs from conventionally raised factory chickens. Compared to a conventional egg, a pasture-raised egg may contain:
· 2/3 more vitamin A
· 2x more omega-3 fatty acids
· 3x more vitamin E
· 7x more beta carotene
Other studies have shown that vitamin D in pastured eggs may be up to four to six times higher than conventional eggs given all of the natural sunlight pasture-raised chickens are exposed to. Pastured eggs may also yield higher levels of folate, and even measurable levels of vitamin C, likely stemming from the natural diets they are eating.
Because of the lack of regulation in the egg industry (much like the meat industry), the term “pasture-raised” on a label may not mean much. Some egg producers choose to obtain certifications like the “Certified Humane®” pasture seal. This seal identifies eggs that meet certain standards and that come from farms that have been inspected by the Certified Humane program. Certified Humane farms go through regular audits to ensure every egg that goes into a carton comes from Certified Humane® pasture farms.
So how do you choose what type of eggs and which brands will work best for you? I put together the table below to help you to make the most informed decision for you and your family when purchasing eggs. It’s important to note that pastured eggs are typically the most expensive eggs on the market. If price is a sticky point, it will be worth shopping around to find local farms, farmers markets, or stores in your neighborhoods that offer competitive pricing for pastured eggs, or purchase them only when you find them on sale. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t always buy the highest-quality pastured eggs, we can only do the best with the resources and options that we have. Hopefully someday, all of the eggs available for purchase will be from chickens raised on pasture.