There have been several times people have told me that they only buy free range eggs and their belief is that if the chickens are free-range, they have a much better life than chickens in cages.
Well in a way they do … heck, anything would have a better life if it’s not cramped up living in a cage. But is a confinement of any sort just as bad?
And, “barn raised” or just “barn” would mean that the hens live in a barn and not out doors.
But it’s when we get to the words “free-range” that the mis-interpretations happen.
Free-range conjures up visions of chickens roaming around lush, green pastures just doing their thing. And yet when questioned, most people have no idea how the farmer collects the eggs from these free-ranging hens. That part, we don’t think about.
The truth is most “free-range” hens actually spend most of their life in barns. Barns that have doors that lead to the outside. Of course, because the barn is full of hens, most of these chickens never reach the doors and therefore live their lives in a barn. But, technically, they are free-range because they have the choice to go outside.
Smaller free-range farmers do let their chickens range in the open, however, they bring them in at night where there are nesting boxes and where the hens can lay their eggs. Other factors that come into play with bringing them in at night, is protecting the hens from the elements (weather) and from other animals that take eggs or kill chickens
I think the best idea I’ve ever seen is a movable nesting box called a “Chicken Caravan” which is made in Australia. The beauty of this is that the farmer is able to move the chickens to fresh paddocks when needed and bring the nesting box at the same time. The hens then are able to lay their eggs when the desire takes them.
Just so you know, a lot of commercial free-range companies are owned by large corporations that also have caged hens. Where does that put you if you buy free-range for ethical reasons?
O.k., you’re happy having “free-range” and you trust the brand on the egg carton because you have researched them. But let me ask you this. Do you know what happens to the chicken at the start of its life and when she no longer can produce eggs?
Remember, this is a commercial operation. This is the farmer’s livelihood. He must get his young chickens from somewhere because he won’t have the room to breed them and he has to get rid of the older hens when they are no longer economically viable.
There’s no let up at the end of the chicken’s laying life. Once she can no longer lay profitably (which is usually around 18 months), she is then crammed inside transport cages along with others and trucked to slaughter never with any food or water on the journey.
The killing process is usually pretty archaic, barbaric and torturous especially in the U.S. – killing which is deemed illegal with cattle or pigs is acceptable for fowl. Even in 2015, it still continues.
If you’ve read this far and still going to eat eggs then check out the photo below. If you think you might try eating less eggs or giving them up altogether there are many ways you can replace the egg with plants. My Vegetarian to Vegan (get it here) book is a big help … plug, plug!!! or you can just type into Google “egg substitute” and you’ll get lots of ideas.
I’m going to leave you with a chart recently put out by SAFE (N.Z. animal welfare group). You’ll find it easy to understand and you’ll have a lot better idea what the labels really mean. Below that is the U.S.A. chart – slightly different as, except for “certified organic,” the U.S. government does not set definitions or requirements for egg carton labels. (If you live in other countries, you’ll probably find that one of these charts will fit your country’s labels).