I’m Egg-stremely Confused – Part 1: Free Range, Cage Free, Organic…What’s the Difference?

Introducing the first post of a new blog series from Little City Kitchen Co. called The Little Locavore.  Many of you know that I’m pretty passionate about the local food movement and am always encouraging people to eat in a more mindful and informed way.  The first topic we’re going to cover is eggs…

In a recent Skype conversation with a dear friend, the subject of eggs came up.  She proudly held up her organic, cage-free container and said, “These are good, right?”  My response was that they’re certainly a step up from conventional supermarket eggs, but to beware of terms like cage-free, free range, etc…

Many of the egg-related terms are misleading, so I thought we could start with some definitions and explanations, and then we can talk about the better options…

Conventional/Supermarket style:

Sorry guys…there’s just no way to really soften this part of the message.  Eggs that are mass-produced are typically raised in little cages, sometimes as small as ½ square foot (the size of a sheet of paper) with little or no room to turn around.   They’re fed conventional feed which is generally commodity-driven, mostly animal byproducts and genetically-modified grains.

It’s not a pretty life and the eggs are lack in the nutrition department due to their conditions and diet.  If you’re a die-hard egg eater like me, any of the next categories are better options!

Cage Free:

Instead of being confined in little cages, the hens are kept in large facilities where they can walk around.  Certainly a step up from conventional practices, but be a little cautious because these facilities are often very crowded and moving around is hard (think Times Square during New Years Eve). This is definitely better than having the hens confined, but there can still be concerns with sanitation and overcrowding.

Free Range:

As we continue up the chain, free range gives us the idea that the hens are raised mainly outside in a large sprawling pasture.  But again, be a little careful, because it can be a bit of a misnomer.  It’s similar to cage-free in the sense that the hens aren’t confined in cages, but as an added bonus, free range hens get a little access to the outdoors.

The US Department of Agriculture defines free range hens as “spending part of the time outside”.  Nice and vague…  This could literally be a small door for 1000 hens that’s open for an hour a day, which the hens may or may not choose to use (hey – they’re creatures of habit, just like us).

Again, it’s certainly another step up from cage free, but I’d encourage you to do some research on what free-range actually means to the company that provides your eggs.  Sometimes it’s many doors open for many hours a day.  Sometimes it’s not.


Labeling eggs as organic is entirely referring to their feed.  As mentioned above, most free-range and cage free hens are fed the cheapest stuff on the commodity scale.  Organic means that the chicken feed comes from certified organic non-GMO grains, and contains no animal by-products.  This is yet another big step up…the better you feed your hens, the better quality (nutritional and taste) the eggs will be.

Ahhh, behold the Pasture-Raised Egg:

Which brings us to the very best of all options: the pasture-raised egg.  In Part 2 of this post, we’ll discuss how pastured hens are raised different than all the other kinds, why they’re better for you, and where you can get your hands on some.

I could dedicate a whole book to the pasture-rasied egg, so trust me, it’s more than worthy of a separate post!

Click here to read Part 2…

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.


11 Comments to “I’m Egg-stremely Confused – Part 1: Free Range, Cage Free, Organic…What’s the Difference?”

  1. [...] best quality stuff you can buy is pasture-raised from small farms (remember those words from our last egg blog?), not from conventional feeding facilities.  For beef, “happy cows” are meant to eat grass, [...]

  2. [...] Related Posts: A Guide to Supporting Local Food Makers A Guide to Mindful Meat Consumption  I’m Egg-stremely Confused – Part 1 [...]

  3. [...] best quality stuff you can buy is pasture-raised from small farms (remember those words from our last egg blog?), not from conventional feeding facilities.  For beef, “happy cows” are meant to eat grass, [...]

  4. [...] read last week about the differences between free range, organic and cage free eggs.  Now that you’ve got your background information down, let’s talk about the very best [...]

  5. Kathleen Poston says:

    Thanks Jill! I’ve been a bit cynical about the ‘cage-free’/'free-range’ label since reading last year that many producers only provide one door to hundreds or thousands of hens. On the other hand I’m not a fan of the standard supermarket system either. Can’t wait for part 2 to learn how to find a better egg!

  6. Wendy says:

    I loooove eggs. Thanks for turning me on to pastured eggs. I wish supermarkets would carry them (at least the ones where I’m from!).

  7. Byron Roe says:

    I think lots of times we’re just conditioned to getting what generations in the past have grabbed at the market. Thanks Jill for opening my eyes to the big Humpty Dumpty debate and making me think hard about what I grab next time!

  8. Patty says:

    There is always an egg debate in our house – can’t wait for the final chapter on this!

  9. David Horton says:

    I think I will try an egg taste off to see if you can taste the difference. Have you seen any data about how much of a difference there is nutritionally? I suspect they are not significantly different. But I’d like to see the numbers one day.

  10. Jill Brandenburg says:

    Very interesting info. Each week i have a battle with my husband not to buy the cheapest eggs at the supermarket. Now i have some knowledge to back up my argument. Thanks

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