What are "pasture raised" eggs? Simply put, they are the most delicious and nutrient-dense eggs that you can find. In this post, I'll define some of the terminology that you'll see used to describe eggs from your local farm, farmer's market, or supermarket.
Pasture-Raised Eggs vs. Organic
So, are pasture raised eggs organic? They can be, but aren't necessarily. Organic certification is a process that was developed by the US Department of Agriculture to start controlling the use of the word "organic" in food marketing. The program seeks to prevent the use of organic in products that are not made according to stringent regulations regarding the use of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and other unnatural substances. This is great except the regulations were designed with big-agriculture factory farms in mind and most small producers are simply don't operate at the scale that would be required to make organic certification profitable. However, many small farms believe in the principles of organic certification even if they don't go so far as certification. But, as far as eggs are concerned, organic eggs may be produced from hens in confinement-type factory farms, or from hens that live their entire lives outdoors.
Pasture Raised Eggs vs. Free Range Eggs
The term "free range" has only been defined by the USDA in the context of poultry produced for meat. In that case, birds just have to have access to outside. In practice, this can be just a small door in a giant grow-out house. If you're interested in different meat poultry practices, read my post about pasture-raised chicken. In the egg production world, free-range can really mean whatever the producer wants it to mean.
Pasture raised hens move to fresh pasture often. They live a majority of their lives on pasture and not in a barn that only gives access to pasture. Movement to fresh pasture ensures that the benefits of the pastured poultry farming model come together into an egg that is documented to be more nutrient dense in important vitamins and fats when compared to non-pasture raised eggs.
Pastured poultry live on rooted-in-soil vegetation and actively growing pasture.
99% of so-called "pasture raised" eggs in the grocery store are raised in a barn, not on pasture.
The key to understanding how this can be is the difference between "access" and "on". Industrial factory farm marketing departments want you to believe that their product is equivalent to true pasture raised eggs. So they say the hens have "access" to pasture. What that really means is that there's a door out of the barn somewhere that may or may not be open most of the time. What's outside would not usually be considered true, living pasture either.
Benefits of Pasture Raised Eggs
When we raise chickens, whether for meat or for eggs, on pasture we are putting the birds in a natural environment. They produce meat or eggs that are more flavorful and more nutrient dense than the confinement-house alternative. The reason for this is that they are outside all day, eating bugs, and grass, and whatever else that looks tasty. They also get lots of exercise. In short, they're happy birds doing what comes natural to them.
I think the following table does a great job summarizing the major differences between the various labels applied to eggs:
Pasture Raised Eggs Nutritional Benefits
Compared to non-pastured eggs, pasture raised eggs have the following nutritional benefits:
- 286% more Omega 3 fatty acids
- 13% less saturated fats
- 73% more VitaminA
- 200% more Vitamin E
So, as I'm sure you can see by now, pasture raised eggs really are the best and most nutritious eggs that you can buy.
If you'd like to learn more about the greatness of pasture raised eggs, check out the following video from the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association.
If you live near Apex, Pittsboro, Cary, or Chapel Hill, North Carolina and want a source for pasture raised eggs, then Leaning 7 Farms is the place for you! If you'd like to learn about pasture raised eggs from Leaning 7 Farms, or be among the first to know about our product availability or happenings on the farm, be sure to sign up for our newsletter below.