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What to know about free-range eggs

What to know about free-range eggs

Posted on March 6th, 2022

In general, hens that are free to roam in their houses and have access to some outside space produce free-range eggs. Hens that live in cages without any roaming opportunities produce cage eggs.

Many egg cartons carry the free-range label. While this does mean that the hens have some access to roaming and possibly outdoor space, there are no uniform standards as to what constitutes free-range eggs.

Keep reading to learn more about the various egg certification schemes, how these schemes classify eggs, and the benefits of free-range eggs both for the health of people and for the chickens.

Defining free-range eggs

Under USDA regulations, free-range eggs must come from hens that can move about freely both vertically and horizontally in indoor houses.

Because there are no definitive standards on how much space hens should have, different farms use a variety of housing systems. Some keep their chickens in aviaries with multiple tiers or floors, but this is not always the case.

Hens that produce free-range eggs must have access to fresh food and water. They must also be able to go outside whenever they want throughout their laying cycle. Often hen enclosures have fences or netting.

Farms that produce free-range eggs must create an environment that allows their hens to exhibit natural behaviors. They must provide facilities that enable the birds to live as naturally as possible, such as scratching areas, perches, and nests. Farmers also need to protect their hens from predators and give them access to litter.

While farmers keep cage-free hens in similar conditions, they do not need to have access to outside space.

Nutritional differences

According to one study, there are slight differences in the mineral content of eggs depending on the rearing environment. Researchers found a higher magnesium content in free-range eggs. However, they also found that organic eggs had lower phosphorus and zinc content.

Another study found that beta carotene levels were also higher in free-range eggs. Other researchTrusted Source has shown that eggs from pastured hens contain higher levels of flavonoid and carotenoid antioxidants, as well as anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids than eggs from caged or organically-raised hens.

Beta-carotene acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body. The body also converts it into vitamin A, which is an essential fat-soluble nutrient that is critical for many aspects of health, including supporting the immune system.

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