It’s true what they say about eggs: easy as anything to prepare, full of protein, and rich in vitamins and choline, they really are incredible. But with so many confusing terms sprawled across egg cartons these days, selecting a dozen has become increasingly difficult. Free-range, cage-free, and pasture-raised eggs are supposedly better options, but what do these labels really mean? We asked Maddie Morley, a farmer at Grass + Grit Farm in New Paltz, to help us crack this mystery wide open. Here’s what we found:
Cage-Free: These birds are not confined in attached cages, but “usually live in large ‘barns’ with tens of thousands of other laying hens and absolutely no outdoor access,” says Morley. “In these situations, their beaks are almost always clipped with a heated blade [to prevent them from pecking each other].”
Free-Range: The birds must have continuous outdoor access, but may not have pasture space. “Most large-scale, free-range egg farms still house thousands in large ‘barns’ where the only outdoor access is a fenced-in yard,” she explains. Many times, these birds are also de-beaked.
Pasture-Raised: According to Morley, these eggs have been shown to contain larger amounts of omega-3s and vitamin E. While there isn’t a legal definition for this term, it means laying hens were raised outdoors, on a pasture, but may not necessarily mean they are rotated through fresh fields.
The takeaway? The best eggs are those from smaller farms that focus on overall animal welfare. “A bird raised in that environment is able to express its natural instincts, eat high quality food, and improve the soil.”