What “Free Range”, “Cage Free” Chickens Really Look Like

by Sarah Activism, Healthy Living, Healthy Pregnancy, Baby & ChildComments: 76

cage free cartonMeat and eggs labeled as “free range” or “cage free” have become increasingly popular in recent years as consumers try to source higher quality food for their families as well as to vote with their food dollars for humane and “green” conditions for the chickens themselves.

When most people think of free range, cage free chickens, they get a picture in their mind of happy chickens outdoors in the open air, completely free to express their chicken-ness by clucking around and pecking in the dirt for grubs and insects.

The truth of the matter is something else entirely. In fact, one of the more popular posts on the Healthy Home Economist Facebook page recently was a picture of the actual living conditions of free range, cage free chickens.

After seeing this Facebook post, Susan O. a reader who rescues “free range” chickens from commercial operations, sent me a series of shocking photos. Here are the photos along with her description of what these poor chickens endured, which turns out to be not much better than regular battery hens in cages.

Susan’s own words describing the 3 rescued “free range” hens – at only 1 year old:

free range hens1 free range hens2 free range hens3 free range hens4 free range hens5 free range hens6 We “rescued” 3 hens from a commercial supplier who had one year old spent hens they wanted to sell. Their breed is Isa Brown.

The eggs were sold as “free-range” and “cage-free”.

We had no direct contact with the main supplier. It was very difficult to get the hens. Another person who purchases mass amounts of the hens from the egg supplier for $1.00 each was tracked down and he agreed to sell them to a group of rescuers for $10.00 each.

We’ve had these hens for a little over a month and they look much better then they used to. These photos were taken last week. When they arrived they were in much worse shape.

They’d never been outside, had no idea how to act like chickens. They wouldn’t roost at night, just pecked and walked around all night long.

I suspect their “house” was kept lit almost 24 hours a day for greater egg production. They pecked EVERYTHING. Trees, plastic, metal.

They were clueless. I had to cut their toenails. They were over an inch long!

One was limping her toenails were so long. They all had hen mites. All have feather loss. The combs on their heads were not the color they are now, but very pale, a sign of anemia and malnourishment.

The red fleshy part near the ear area was white and is still a little white today. Their eggs were without shells, had only a membrane on the outside from extreme calcium deficiency.

Another rescuer said her hen laid an egg and it broke inside her. They’ve also had their beaks cut. These hens will need to be on a special diet. They can’t crack corn or seeds with their beaks or pick up regular feed that’s not crumbled.

It’s like removing a human’s four front teeth and telling them to eat. They’ve learned to become very efficient at grabbing worms out of our compost bin. They are very gentle animals. We can pick all of them up and pet them.

People need to understand that the meat industry sees an animal as simply a product, to be used until they’re spent, then discarded like trash. The last thing the industry is worried about is our health and providing us with nutritious food.

We have a small homestead and do raise chickens and rabbits for meat, but these rescued ladies have a “free pass” to enjoy being chickens for as long as they live.

When friends shake their head and say “I couldn’t do it ” when I tell them about raising animals for meat, I draw the comparison between my healthy hens and these poor rescue hens.

If these “cage-free” hens were in this bad of shape at only one year old, I shiver to think how bad a typical battery hen would be. And no doubt, the gentleman gave us the better looking hens. Not everyone can afford pastured meat (but we manage, even on a budget 200% of the federal poverty guidelines and without taking any government assistance ), but pastured eggs can be afforded by most.

What Does a Healthy Chicken Actually Look Like?

free range hens7This is a photo of one of Susan’s long-time yard hens. She’s a comparable breed to the Isa Brown. She’s been truly free range since the day she was born.

Note the tremendous difference between the two, “cage free” store label hen vs truly free range hen. No missing beak, feathers, white spots or mite infestation. The happy chicken is focused on the ground, pecking for insects and grubs instead of the pathetic, sad, vacant stare that signifies the horrifying animal abuse endured by chickens whose meat and eggs are labeled “free range” at the store.

In order not to be fooled into thinking your chicken and eggs come from happy birds like this one to the right when they actually come from beakless, anemic, mite ridden animals that have been so abused they can’t even peck in the dirt or crack corn, resolve to buy local!

When you buy from a neighbor or small scale local farmer who raises chickens, you can see them for yourself and note their health by the living conditions.

Abdicating responsibility for knowing exactly where your food comes from by trusting meaningless food labels in a store that proclaim eggs or meat as “free range” or “cage free” is not helping to secure quality food for your family nor is it helping to promote the cause of humane conditions for farm animals.


Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Comments (76)

  • Harold Oppenlander

    Free Range is important but we must not forget the other half of the equasion, “organic”. In our area there are several local farmers selling free range eggs and they are truly free ranging chickens doing in pastures what chickens do best. However, these are small farmers and there is not always enough “natural” food so their food is supplemented with chicken feed. The farmers I have personally talked to use chicken regular off the shelf chicken feed from the local feed store. As one told me they use “whatever is cheap” because feeding the chickens gets expensive.

    What that says to me is that the chickens are being fed GMO corn, soy and lots of other chemical laden grains. Not an appitizing thought.

    Solution: Look for eggs labeld Free Range, Organic and with a statement on the carton that they are “collected from small farms” or something to that affect (indicating they are not from an single source ‘egg factory’). We find such eggs in several stores and they come from either PA or CA. No their not as fresh as local eggs but they are a lot healthier.

    June 13th, 2015 7:12 am Reply
  • Malia Reghi via Facebook

    I’m scared to look.

    October 3rd, 2014 3:41 am Reply
  • Dorothee Rund via Facebook

    My landlords rescued ten hens who were also kept “cage free” . They look much worse, very pale, thin and naked. They are better now but I´m afraid they will never fully recover.

    October 2nd, 2014 2:38 pm Reply
  • Anna B DeFord via Facebook

    This is why we are raising our own “egg” chickens…you even have to be careful when you buy “meat” chickens as chicks…they are genetically modified no matter what you feed them. (I’m learning way too much up here

    October 2nd, 2014 12:53 pm Reply
  • Louisa Enright via Facebook

    ALL commercial eggs in the grocery store come from bad conditions and poor food. Most are 45 days old when you get them. Find a local source for your eggs. They keep for a long time, so you can buy a month’s supply at the time. They don’t need to be refrigerated–just kept cool. Also, there is now commercial soy-free food for chickens, so ask about that as well. An egg is, literally, a miracle, if the hen is healthy. It has the perfect balance of fat to protein, lots of good choline (needed for brain development for babies), etc., etc. Eggs are an extremely important food.

    October 2nd, 2014 10:39 am Reply
  • Dusty Copeland via Facebook

    We are ranchers who have been ranching in our community for over 130 years as a family. We began a farm share program just so families can SEE how their meals are being raised/fed. We are warning everyone to take a drive, find a farmer who has chickens running free all over, grass in the pastures that he manages and drive in the yard and talk to him. The truth is the small family farmer is being run out of business. We can no longer hire help or ship or products, so we get help from those who buy their food from us. We teach them how to milk the cows, collect eggs, build fences to keep the goats in, irrigate etc. Many hands make light work.

    October 2nd, 2014 10:33 am Reply
  • Sharon Hill-Walker via Facebook

    Another great article and another reason to support your local farmer! Thanks, Sarah.

    October 2nd, 2014 6:26 am Reply
  • Jamie Kosmicki via Facebook

    I recently purchased 3 6-month-old laying hens from a local “farmer” on Craigslist. $5 each. When I got there I found a dirty, stinky “farm” that was really a few trailers with outbuildings. Thousands of chickens were kept under one hoop house fenced in at the ends. There was one roost that I could see. All had pale combs & wattles and were missing all feathers on their butts. When I got them home, I discovered they also had mites and possibly worms. They didn’t lay for weeks except for one membranous egg – no shell. Now 2 of 3 lay regularly.
    The farmhand told me it was a free-range egg operation and I couldn’t help thinking about all the poor malnourished chickens and the people being duped at the local farmers market :(

    October 2nd, 2014 6:17 am Reply
  • Jessika Manning via Facebook

    Noooo! This is depressing. I have wasted my extra dollars with images of happy hens frolicking in grassy hills. Buying local is the way to go.

    October 2nd, 2014 12:47 am Reply
  • Sheri Puckette via Facebook

    I am an omnivore, but really, we need to not support methods of animal raising that treats them like this. Even animals raised for food need to be respected as the living beings with feelings that they are.

    October 1st, 2014 11:45 pm Reply
  • Daniel

    To produce top quality eggs and meat, chicken need lots of room and a varied landscape of pasture, brush and woodland. They need plenty of exercise and copious amounts of worms, bugs, grass, seeds, and fruit. They need to be out in the sunshine. They need endless opportunities to explore and enjoy the outdoors. They do best with acres of space. Give them plenty of space and there are no problems with pecking. If they are pecking each other, they are too confined. They also need the time to grow into mature birds to reach full flavor and have a decent meat texture. None of this comes cheap, and the powers that be have decided that the only thing people should eat is inexpensive, low quality chicken raised in deplorable conditions. Chicken doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve specialize in mother-hatched, mother-raised chicken, and the eggs and meat from my flock is nothing like the eggs and chicken sold in any store. Sadly, there is almost no one raising chicken this way, and just a tiny, tiny percentage of consumers ever get to experience how wonderful eggs and chicken can be. http://amanandhishoe.com

    December 28th, 2013 1:52 pm Reply
  • Kate Mills


    November 14th, 2013 10:59 pm Reply
    • Christel Krahe

      ur totes means too Kate Millsas

      November 14th, 2013 11:00 pm Reply
      • Kate Mills

        da flng is mtrl

        November 14th, 2013 11:04 pm Reply

          STOP!!! HAMMERTIME $$$

          November 14th, 2013 11:17 pm Reply
  • Kate Mills

    yo r totes mean cristel krayHE!

    November 14th, 2013 10:57 pm Reply
  • Kate Mills

    why wnt yo reply toh meh

    November 14th, 2013 10:56 pm Reply
  • Kate Mills


    November 14th, 2013 10:55 pm Reply
  • Kate Mills

    This is like totes sad! D:

    November 14th, 2013 10:54 pm Reply
  • Christel Krahe

    This is all well and good but most us would have to drive miles even if we could find a place to buy them. Please dont judge us for not doing it!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 8th, 2013 7:34 pm Reply
  • GlamazonAmazon

    The USDA regulations to qualify as “free ranging” only requires that the chicken have 12 inches by 12 inches to walk around in. The chicken can spend it’s entire life indoors except the last 9 weeks of it’s life and that is called “free ranging”. These rules also apply to USDA organic standards for “cage free” chickens.


    If you really want pastured eggs you need to buy them DIRECT from the chicken rancher. The best way is a CSA produce box and buy some eggs as an add on item. Authentic pastured top quality eggs do NOT feed their chickens soy. I pay around $7.00 for a dozen non-soy pastured eggs that are genuine free ranging. Yeah, it’s expensive but it breaks down to only 58 cents an egg. 2 eggs is enough protein for one meal and at $1.16 for the protein portion of my meal that is a bargain. I get my pastured soy free eggs from a local organic farmer who does farmers markets and CSA boxes. She feeds her hens sprouted chia, sprouted flax, seaweed powder and sprouted barley grass. There is some other stuff in her feed for nutrition but NO SOY and NO CORN. There is a lot of low quality so called organic animal protein that I don’t think is sustainable. Cows are ruminants – they have several stomachs – most organic dairy and livestock is feed organic corn and soy. Soy is an endrocrine disruptor and should be FERMENTED. I don’t eat tofu, don’t eat soymilk – if I eat soy it is always fermented – like miso, tamari, tempeh, natto. It isn’t healthy for humans to drink soymilk out of a box that’s been sitting on a shelf six months and it isn’t healthy for livestock to eat soy. A little bit of organic corn is ok for chicken feed – but they really need to eat sprouted flax/chia and sprouted wheatgrass, barley grass, etc.

    All this “greenwashing” with the phrase free range is along the lines of people who think “Natural Gas” is eco-friendly and sustainable – natural gas is a fossil fuel and not renewable energy – the same way egg labels stating “cage free” don’t mean anything. Cage free can only give the chicken 12 inches to walk around in! Electric hybrid cars are only slightly better than gasoline cars, but are touted as “green” and eco-friendly.

    It makes me very sad there is so much BALONEY touted as organic, eco-friendly when in reality it is just greenwashing.

    June 25th, 2013 5:36 am Reply
    • Raven

      Natural gas is a great environmental way to power things because it is already there and does not need to be produced, and serves no purpose so if it ever did run out then AFTER that we can switch to something that’s not as good and there are no negative effects from running out of it.

      Flax is worse then soy. It has all of the bad antinutrients that are in soy only in higher quantities. Do NOT eat (or feed animals that you will eat from) flax!

      April 16th, 2014 1:49 pm Reply
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  • Jenn

    Please don’t ignore the fact that male chicks are pretty much useless to the egg industry. Male chicks are ground up alive at birth or stuffed in bags to suffocate. They are the ignored side of the egg industry.

    May 28th, 2013 12:20 pm Reply
    • Daniel

      If you look around, you can find farmers who don’t destroy male chicks at birth. I specialize in mother-hatched, mother-raised chicken. About half of the chicks which hatch are roosters, but they grow up to be great meat birds between five and seven months of age. They do become problematic as they near one year of age, and start fighting with other roosters for dominance. But this can be kept to a minimum by carefully selecting the most gentle roosters to keep around, and culling the others for the table. They make great roasters and after they are a year old, they are better canned or pressure cooked. The result is a very tender, duck-like meat which is so good I’m surprised more farmers don’t raise them. http://amanandhishoe.com

      December 28th, 2013 1:59 pm Reply
  • Apple

    I’m torn between vegetarian chicken feed and non-vegetarian chicken feed. I don’t have chickens in my life yet but I’d like some people’s opinions the matter. I know chickens are not vegetarians but I’ve noticed that a lot of non-vegetarian chicken feed has animal by-product in it. Do you buy a specific brand that doesn’t have animal by-product? I’m torn because I neither want my future chickens to eat unhealthy vegetarian food but I also don’t want them to eat animal by-product as this is also not in their nature. Just looking for some opinions and clarification.

    May 17th, 2013 6:04 pm Reply
    • chicknlil

      a chicken will eat any kind of meat it can, (including other chickens) naturally.
      it depends what sort of chickens you are raising, how you would feed them. if you have fully grown, freely roaming hens, then I suggest you feed oyster shell and scratch grains along with your kitchen scraps. The meat in the scraps should make up for any short comings, along with insects the birds catch.
      If you are raising meat birds, they must have complete feed. My suggestion would be an organic feed, the protein will probably be soy. You could also look for a feed that uses fish meal as the protein source, but it is going to be expensive. The birds should get plenty of grass and insects. You have to feed a growing animal enough protein to grow their frame.
      If you are starting chicks that will become your future hens, feed them similar to the meat birds. They need good feed so that they can be effective layers later on. When they have finished growing, switch them to scratch and oyster shell.
      My main concern would be getting the birds out on pasture.

      May 18th, 2013 3:46 pm Reply
  • Lisa

    While I agree with the premise of this article and am doing my best to raise hens for eggs for our family as healthily as I can, there are a few details in the article that possibly incorrectly put a negative slant on everything. One commenter mentioned one of the things, but no one seems to have noticed.

    All hens after one year of age will go through a molt and replace all their feathers. At that point, they stop laying until they get all the new feathers in. That’s the point when the ‘industry’ gets rid of them because it doesn’t pay to feed them through it. Every hen varies in how they molt and what they look like through it. Some just blow a ton of feathers all at once and look a lot like the one that is pictured. But they generally recover more quickly and start laying again. Others just lose feathers a few at a time and can take 4 to 6 months to start laying again.

    Also, while a hen is actively laying, she puts all her energy into egg production, so the shanks of her legs and her comb lose their color. That is one way to tell that they are laying. Since the hen pictured lost so many feathers and THEN started to get the color back in her comb, I would highly suspect she is molting and not currently laying any or very few eggs. That’s not because of any deplorable conditions she was raised in. Its totally part of the process.

    Yes, she had her beak trimmed and no I don’t do that, but its an industry practice that keeps them from injuring each other. The term “hen-pecked” comes with good reason from years of domesticated chickens. There is always a hierarchy, and the top hen/s can get pretty nasty to the others. Yes, its worse in crowded conditions, but even free range/pastured birds in the best sense of the word, sometimes will pick on the bottom hen.

    One last comment about the white behind the ear. Not sure exactly what was being referred to in the article, but ear lobe color on a hen determines the color of the egg they lay. It will never really change on an individual hen.

    Sensationalism may create increased circulation, but in the end doesn’t help the issue. Please check all your facts when you read things like this.

    May 15th, 2013 10:48 am Reply
    • Susan O.


      These are my hens and I just wanted to take a second and reply to you.
      The hens are not molting, they actually had hen mites. They do lay eggs. Our existing hens are free-range ladies and lay eggs daily and I’ve never seen a paleness in comb on any of them. In fact, as our pullets mature and are ready to lay, their comb darken into a deep red. The only time I’ve seen a pale comb was when we had a rooster injured by a dog, his beak was broken and he almost died of starvation before I figured it out. And the one time when we raised cornish cross for meat birds, and that’s another sad story.

      My understanding is the cutting of the beak is to prevent them from injuring each other, like you said. However, we’ve not had one incidence of them pecking anyone since they’ve come here. Thankfully, I’ve yet to experience the hierarchy you speak of. Perhaps because my flock is smaller. we’re around 25-30 chickens now. In my opinion, the cutting is done specifically so they can pack as many hens into a building as possible. Not really presented in a negative slant, it’s just the way it is.

      The color near the lobe did indeed change. These ladies are brown layers and this area was white.

      They get better everyday and I was delighted to hear one of them cluck like a normal hen the other day!

      May 29th, 2013 12:09 pm Reply
      • Rhonda

        While I do respect your point – and agree with a lot of it, I do also agree with Lisa.
        While the molting on that particular hen may have been caused by mites it is NOT unusual for a hen to look like that while going through a molt. I’ve seen it many times on perfectly healthy hens.
        And while you personally may have not seen your hens pecking each other and settling the pecking order I can guarantee you they did it – you just didn’t see it. They may have not been as aggressive about it as some hens, but it happens. Otherwise there would be no hierarchy. It begins happening when they are just little things.

        October 1st, 2014 10:29 pm Reply
        • Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

          My chickens have never looked that bad in a molt!

          October 2nd, 2014 8:05 am Reply
  • Jessica

    Horrifying! I am lucky to have just found a local source of pastured eggs (not to mention raw milk and cream, all at the same store!). They are pricey, but after reading this, so very worht it.

    May 14th, 2013 7:00 pm Reply
  • chicknlil

    I think it’s great that you’ve shared this article. We all need to be reminded why it is important to patronize our farmer neighbors. I raise quite a few chickens and turkeys to sell and would like to add from my experience.
    Pasture Raised- Joel Salatin type system (what I use). This can be for hens, turkeys, or meat birds. The birds are on pasture and moved very frequently to fresh grass. There is an enclosure of some sort, a fence or shelter. This is to provide predator protection! We love to eat chicken and so does every wild animal you can imagine (: The birds receive feed. This is to complement the grass that they are eating. You must have warm, pleasant weather to raise chickens this way– no winter chickens. The hens are moved inside for the winter and supplemented with hay, ground alfalfa (legume), or greens.

    Free roaming- This is a backyard model. The birds have a house they nest in at night. They may wander anywhere they please during the day. This is a great way to keep a few birds for your family. However, predation is a big concern. Most farmers who sell eggs and meat must try to exclude predators to protect their flocks.

    Free Range- Think of it as, “free to range”. There is a door on the hen house that goes outside. However it may lead to a dirt lot or the birds may not use the door. I use this term to describe my pastured birds because they are on range and it conjures a certain image in the mind that folks easily understand. However, corporations often exploit the term.

    Cage free- Commercial term that applies to egg layers, meat birds have always been cage free. The chickens are loose in a building. They are not housed in battery cages. This doesn’t imply any access to grass, just that they are not in cages.

    Everyone is correct, vegetarian chickens are a joke. Please tell your friends, many people are confused with this one.

    I hope this helps. Most farmers, even the ones that run confinement operations, want to do right by their animals. It’s the economics of farming that drive some folks to put up huge buildings or feedlots and endenture themselves to corporations. Also, for the past 60 years, we’ve been fed the lie of cheap food. Many consumers only care about price. With the rising price of farm ground it is harder and harder to cash flow raising chickens or hogs outside. That is why it is soooo important to support local farmers who farm in a way that aligns with your values.

    May 14th, 2013 10:25 am Reply
  • Donna

    I think the point of the article is to buy local because when that box of eggs at the store say cage free (such as the supposed organic eggs at my store) doesn’t mean the chickens are out on green grass. Nor does it mean the chickens have been treated humanely … as the pictures are clear evidence. I can ALWAYS tell the difference in the eggs when I purchase even the most expensive ($5.00 a dozen) eggs at the grocery store. The yolks don’t even come close in color to my girls. Therefore I know for a fact those eggs do not come from chickens that are free to roam the yard that is covered in grass, weeds and other things.

    The funny thing is growing up in the city our only choice was to purchase eggs at the grocery store. Yolks were pale yellow and had no taste at all, that was normal for me. After moving to the country 13 years ago I got my first chickens and opened their eggs they were so orange that I thought they were bad. LOL!

    May 14th, 2013 9:02 am Reply
  • Apple

    The terms “free run” and “free range” as I understand them, are not interchangeable. Free range is what pasteured chickens are, but doesn’t denote organic fed. While I whole heartedly agree with the entire premise of this article, I think your term usage is a bit confusing. I feel like you are trying to compare cage-free and free run chickens to free range and pasteured chickens. But the wording of your article makes it sound like free range and cage free are the same thing. Can you clarify?

    May 14th, 2013 2:44 am Reply
    • Raven

      There is no such label as “free run” and “free range” and “cage free” are the exact same thing except that 10 or so of the 10,000 chickens in the barn might have access to a tiny concrete porch once in a while if it says “free range”. The only label you should look for on a chicken is PASTURED, HERITAGE, and ANIMAL WELFARE APPROVED (not “certified humane” which does not require humane conditions).

      April 16th, 2014 1:36 pm Reply
  • Tiffany

    This is just so sad and so cruel. Mostly all the “free range” and cage free eggs here in Vancouver, BC Canada claims that their chickens are vegeterian fed. I do avoid purchasing these eggs. Instead, I buy eggs from a local farmer that raises chickens. The eggs are from pasture raised chickens but they are also fed. They feed them whole grain layer pellets (ingredients list: whole grain wheat, peas, suncured alfalfa, canola meal, limestone, dicalcium phosphate, oyster shell, salt, canola oil, lysine, methionine, treonine, xylanases &/or phytase enzyme, biomos, yeasaac, vitamins a d e & b12, copper sulfate, zinc oxide, etc.) So my question is if these eggs are still good and healthy to eat? The whole grain layer pellets do contain canola oil and wheat so I was wondering if that will affect the eggs?

    May 13th, 2013 7:29 pm Reply
    • Donna

      Anything the chickens eat will obviously affect the eggs. I would say chicken eggs on layer feed and pasture are still better than any store purchased eggs. Most people around where I live will feed layer pellets or scratch grains to their chickens. We personally do not feed our chickens anything unless it it garden or cooking scraps.

      May 14th, 2013 7:56 am Reply
    • chicknlil

      just by looking at the label. canola meal is listed in front of limestone (there won’t be over 10% limestone). the peas and alfalfa are providing most of the protein in the ration. there won’t be much canola in the mix. the canola oil is probably there to make the pellets stick together. if you’re pleased with the eggs otherwise, I wouldn’t change. however, you may make a gentle suggestion that you’d pay more for a non-canola diet. this may be the only feed available where you live. where I’m at, I have to drive 2 hours and spend twice as much for organic feed and most customers aren’t willing to spend the extra money for an organic bird. but, I always want to know what my customers are thinking and do my best to accommodate them.

      May 14th, 2013 10:35 am Reply
    • Raven

      What?! Of course not! Did you even read that ingredient list?!

      April 16th, 2014 1:32 pm Reply
  • Melissa

    We raise chickens for our own eggs. It is important to note when checking out your local farmers for healthy chickens that all chickens molt (lose their feathers in patches) at least once a year. Molting is not a sign of an unhealthy bird.

    May 13th, 2013 6:32 pm Reply
  • vivian

    Chickens are generally pretty “trainable”. To the one who rescues, try putting the girls on their perch every night until they “get it”. It should only take about a week. They just might be able to return to their chicken ness.

    May 13th, 2013 3:51 pm Reply
  • Melissa

    Our chickens are a part of our family. I call them my “feathery babies”, and we have 21. Chickens are so easy to care for, too! I have a friend who lives on a city lot who keeps 4 chickens in her backyard! Research your local laws on chickens and see if you can keep your own… it’s well worth the effort, and you’ll know exactly what your eggs are made of :)

    May 13th, 2013 2:36 pm Reply
  • Georgene Lockwood

    I just started keeping backyard chickens and it’s really not that hard. Now I know exactly where my eggs come from and exactly what they’re eating. Between them, the compost and the worm bin, we have practically no waste and the eggs are just wonderful.

    May 13th, 2013 2:25 pm Reply
  • Sue

    Sarah, this is off topic, but are you going to have any more posts from Konstantin? I haven’t seen anything for a few weeks. I always look forward to his guest post on your site.

    Love this post about “cage free” hens. This is why my family will always buy eggs from our local farmers! In fact, my son immediately notices if I have to occasionally supplement with “free range” eggs from our local health food store. He can tell the difference in the flavor and the color!

    May 13th, 2013 1:15 pm Reply
  • Christy

    We used to buy bulk organic eggs from Costco, and recently stopped because we wanted to buy local and super fresh. QUESTION: If the carton or label says organic, are you safe? Or are there misconceptions with the raising and quality of those eggs too?

    May 13th, 2013 12:57 pm Reply
    • Raven

      Organic eggs are only organic, NOT pastures, NOT heritage, NOT having any standards of treatment. A mere “organic” egg could be from the exact same farm that works for Monstanto with the exact same setup only in one 100,000-chicken barn they are given regular GMO corn and soy and in the other barn they are given organic corn and organic soy.

      April 16th, 2014 1:29 pm Reply
  • Magda

    I’m resolved now more than ever to buy local eggs. I just found a great source at a local market: totally free range, no feed at all, the eggs aren’t even washed!! I love this – and as a great bonus, they are very affordable. Most of the eggs at the market are not totally free range and they are prohibitively expensive.

    May 13th, 2013 11:26 am Reply
  • Cheryl

    OMG, that is so awful and so sad. Chickens are the greatest creatures once you raise a few and find that out. So good of you to take a few of them into your flock. I know I would if I could. I have never seen a chicken with it’s beak cut off. I thought that was a birth defect when I first saw it.

    When my chickens were not laying, I had to buy some eggs and there is a huge difference in the color of the yolks, esp in the eggs that are called organic. My yolks are orange-colored compared to the pale yellow egg yolks in the stores, yet I could not sell my eggs as organic. My chickens are loved and outside all day.

    May 13th, 2013 11:17 am Reply
  • Wendy

    We have chickens in our back yard and usually have eggs, but from time to time we’ve had to buy eggs due to natural cycles our hens go through. Whenever I buy I make sure the package DOES NOT say vegetarian diet….chickens are not vegetarians!! They are omnivores/scavengers. They will eat just about anything (grass, bugs, frogs, snakes) and if a chicken is supposedly free range there’s no way you can guarantee vegetarian–that could only be a cooped, controlled chicken.

    And buying local doesn’t have to be farmer’s markets. Ask at your local feed shop–they usually supply chicken feed and sometimes have community bulletin boards advertising things like this or know who’s selling eggs. I’d rather have a true free range chicken fed commercial feed as a supplement than an “organically fed” chicken who’s cooped up all day.

    Just my 2 cents.

    May 13th, 2013 11:02 am Reply
    • Beth

      I agree that buying local doesn’t have to be farmers’ markets and there are some other good options. You still need to talk to the farmer in any case to find out the farming and feeding practices.

      As a reminder, a great way to find out about local family farms that do things the way that is being discussed here (not all do, by the way), is to contact your local Weston Price chapter leader. It’s their job to know this information and connect farmers and consumers. Go to http://www.westonaprice.org/local-chapters/find-local-chapter

      May 13th, 2013 1:22 pm Reply
  • Chelsea N.

    As a member of the agricultural industry your claim that, “People need to understand that the meat industry sees an animal as simply a product, to be used until they’re spent, then discarded like trash. The last thing the industry is worried about is our health and providing us with nutritious food.” concerns me quite a bit.

    I understand that you are concerned about chickens being treated well and I agree that animals shouldn’t get to the point of malnourishment. But I think its comments like this that give agriculture and farmers a bad reputation. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the vast majority of farms in this country (87%) are family farms.

    These farmers don’t just see animals simply as a product and then discard them like trash. Are they used for meat products? Yes. But if they didn’t care for their animals and keep them healthy, they wouldn’t end up with a healthy or nutritious product, which in turn, won’t get sold to distributors.

    Also, I would like to clarify that I’m not saying there aren’t a few instances where improper care happens, but the whole industry shouldn’t get a bad label slapped on them just because of a few bad eggs (no pun intended).

    The farming industry IS concerned with bringing healthy nutritious products to market because they eat those products too. They wouldn’t want their family eating unhealthy food just as much as you or anyone else.

    I appreciate you writing about your topics of concern, I just wanted to send a suggestion to keep in mind that one single statement like this can have a larger affect than originally intended and can cause people who don’t have much connection with farmers, to have bad views of the honest, hard working farmers that this country was built on and still exist today.

    May 13th, 2013 10:46 am Reply
    • Cheryl

      I think with meat that would be the case. With egg laying chickens, that is where the mistreatment issue comes in and dairy cows also. Meat cattle are outside all day eating grass, which makes me wonder why everyone claims grass-fed beef is better when all cattle are grass-fed. At the end they bring the cattle in to grain feed, right before taking them to auction, to fatten them up.

      Although I cringe every time I see a semi-load of chickens being carried to the slaughterhouse.

      May 13th, 2013 11:25 am Reply
      • Amy Love @ Real Food Whole Health

        Cheryl, they are grassfed until about 4 months before slaughter, at which point they are pumped full of hormones, antibiotics and fed GMO grain that makes them sick and fat. Grassfed beef, on the other hand (100% grassfed) is ALWAYS on grass and they are not treated with hormones and antibiotics (in almost all cases).

        May 13th, 2013 11:38 am Reply
      • Chelsea N.

        Cheryl, true grass-fed beef are on a grass feeding program the whole time. Traditional beef cattle are the ones that eat grain in the finishing stage. This helps create the marbling in the meat that people look for.

        May 13th, 2013 12:22 pm Reply
        • Donna

          Just wanted to say that traditional beef that are “finished” off on grain is not for the marbling in the meat, it is for gaining weight. My husband who used to raise a lot of cattle will tell you that the ‘feed lot’ where the cows are finished off is solely for putting more weight on the cow before it goes to slaughter… it has nothing to do with better beef… sad but true.

          May 14th, 2013 7:45 am Reply
    • IC

      Most readers here love and support family farms. We buy directly from them and through this connection we can find real family farms.
      I suspect your definition of a “family farm” is actually more of a subsidiary to a large company. Can the family farms you describe sell directly to the public or are they under contract to sell to a big company? Are these so called family farms small scale or do they raise thousands of animals? Do they even know what is in the feed they are provided? Do they own the animals? In the case of chickens in particular, calling this system a family farm is a lie. The families go into huge debt and are practically enslaved by their contracts to the parent company and their land is ruined. I will never support this system for many reasons and I encourage everyone I know to buy eggs and chickens from small scale farms they can visit themselves. Many people I know (myself included) now keep their own layers and meat birds.
      The meat industry sees the animals – and the small farmers that work for them – as a product that can be discarded like trash.

      May 13th, 2013 12:25 pm Reply
    • Brian Tuor

      Chelsea, I appreciate that some of the farmers do treat their animals better than others, It would be good if you could send some pictures of your operations so that we could see how well they are treated, housed, fed , etc. I am afraid though that the vast majority of the animals are not treated in a manner that would be acceptable to many of us consumers. The agribusiness that buys your products won’t let you raise them humanely. Seeing is believing and I have seen battery hens.

      May 13th, 2013 1:18 pm Reply
      • Chelsea N.

        Brian, thank you for your comment. While I grew up on a farm and around livestock, I don’t currently farm. I do still work in agriculture, but don’t manage animals daily. I do however, visit farms often and studies animal agriculture in college and know that there are a lot of Indiana farmers that are happy to share and talk about their operations. And some are even open to visitors, as long as careful measures are taken not to bring in disease or bacteria. Here is a website that highlights several Indiana Farmers if you’d like to learn more about them. http://www.indianafamilyoffarmers.com/consumer.html

        A good place to go if you’d like to learn more as well and chat with some farmers and ranchers would be to participate in #agchat on Twitter. http://agchat.org/agchat-foodchat

        I hope these help! Please let me know if you have any other questions and I can try to help answer them or get you in contact with a farmer who can answer them!

        May 13th, 2013 1:27 pm Reply
      • IC

        You can smell them before you see them . . .

        May 13th, 2013 4:46 pm Reply
    • Susan O.

      Chelsea N. :

      My statement is directed at factory farms who take an animal out of it’s natural environment and contain in a small, artificial area and feed it substandard feed. An example would be factor feedlot, etc. It would be difficult for someone to convince that a calf standing in a 4′ box in its own waste would be anything other than treating an animal as a product.

      When I used the word “industry”, I was directing it at large corporations that do the above, certainly not family farms. We do raise our own meat : rabbits and chickens. We don’t have room for larger livestock, but we buy those live from local farmers and process together at my friend’s farm. I’m definitely not against the consumption of meat or family farms, or even larger ones where animals are kept in a natural, pastured environment.

      I appreciate you pointing out my statement and certainly understand so how it could be misunderstood. I hope my clarification helps.


      May 13th, 2013 3:06 pm Reply
    • Michael

      There is a difference between an honest hard working mega farmer and an honest hard working farmer who in hands on rather than behind a desk. Less than 2% of people farm in the US. Most are mega farms that have scaled to survive over the last several decades just to survive in the world of cheap main stream food. And while they may care about there animals, they care more about there animals productivity and use that as a gauge for determining animal welfare.

      Also do not assume that safe wholesome food means high animal welfare. The nutritional integrity of an egg as a food is a different than assessing that birds quality of life while laying that egg. Birds on pasture like Vital Farms do produce a distinctly different egg both on appearance and taste when consuming bugs and grasses. Not all eggs will look the same depending on the season and what available to the bird.

      Question; Is a USDA Certified Organic egg produced in a cage (which is not allowed) different from a USDA Certified Organic egg produced in a cage free setting with meaningless outdoor access? ( as is the current standard)

      Answer; From the stand point of food integrity and nutritional value NO. But most all people associate animal welfare into there buying decision of items like milk and eggs and trust the USDA organic shield which has been trumped by many farmers and brands like Vital Farms who provide meaningful welfare and get paid to do it the right way.

      May 29th, 2013 8:24 am Reply
    • Salem Thorup

      While 86% of America’s farms may be “family farms”, most of the “food” produced in the U.S. is not healthy or nutritious. We have millions of acres of corn, soy, wheat, etc. and a lot of CAFO’s. I wouldn’t consider a farm quite a family farm if the family running it are just sell outs to Monsanto. It is the small family farms that sell locally that have real integrity. If farmers are concerned about their image (as I know many of them are), then they need to have a more personal relationship with their consumers like Joel Salatin does. I highly recommend you check out his books. Anyone frequenting Sarah’s blog is not going to think that farmers are some heartless group of people. Rather the opposite. We want a relationship with our food and the people who produce it. Just today my husband and I had the hardest time finding some things at the grocery store (we were buying stuff for a friend) because we source much of our food locally directly from the farmer & have become unfamiliar with the set up of the grocery store. Some farmers have a bad attitude about the consumer. They see us as merely fickle people that don’t have a clue about things. Joel Salatin talks about this in his book “You Can Farm”. I’m sure he discusses it in all of his books. While I don’t blame it entirely on the farmers, they certainly had a part in the modern food movement that separated farmers from their end consumers. This divide is what has created so many problems for both farmers and consumers and left all the benefits for the few massive companies that now control most all of our food from seed to package. There are farmers that are trying to raise heritage breeds, grow heirlooms and sell them to local people. They are constantly attacked by government agencies (who are really just pimps for the big ag companies) & it is truly a disgraceful warfare. More farmers need to join the fight & more consumers need to demand that the farmers who produce quality food are allowed to do so without the government meddling. I don’t need my farmer to be regulated by anyone. I visit his farm every week. I see how the animals are raised & I even have the opportunity to see how he processes all his poultry. His customers regulate him. The government is just wasteful bureaucracy. Anyway, I really hope you will check out Joel Salatin’s stuff. I think that being part of the ag industry, you’ll appreciate it. He’s actually pretty funny too. Best wishes.

      June 12th, 2013 12:30 am Reply
  • Hyman

    This is so sad. I am obviously clueless. I thought that buying free range pastured chicken eggs, Vital Farms brand, would be healthy and happy free chickens.

    I want to buy local but here The farmers market is open beginning in May.

    May 13th, 2013 10:44 am Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      The industry goes to great lengths to hide this from consumers. You can’t hide it if you are a local farmer … the customers see it for themselves.

      May 13th, 2013 10:59 am Reply
    • Tijana

      Actually Vital Farms scores quite high on Cornucopia’s egg producers’ score card http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-egg-scorecard/egg_profiles/FarmID_21.html

      Local is still better, but if you can’t get eggs from a local farmer this would be an excellent option.

      May 13th, 2013 11:08 am Reply
      • Dianne

        I went to Whole Foods today (Whole paycheck?) with the intention of buying Vital Farms eggs. They were $7.39 for a dozen!!!!!!

        May 13th, 2013 9:22 pm Reply
    • Amy Love @ Real Food Whole Health

      From my understand, Vital Farms chickens are ON PASTURE, not “cage free”. I do not think they are raised strictly in barns, but actually eat a natural diet, out on pasture.

      May 13th, 2013 11:36 am Reply
      • Beth

        Yes, this is the critical distinction to make with any egg producer or chicken producer:
        make sure they are actually outside on green pasture, getting sunshine and eating grubs and bugs which greatly increases the nutrients and honors the chickenness of the animal.

        There are other criteria to ask about, such as soy-free, GMO-free feed and no antibiotics or added hormones. But whether they are actually outside on pasture (not indoors with “access” through a small unused door, and not confined outside on a small patch of bare dirt) is #1 on my checklist.

        The BEST is outside on green pastures following cattle in a rotational grazing system. Then they get the added benefit of getting nutrient dense grubs from the cow pies and breaking them up so they can replenish the soil. A complete eco-system!

        May 13th, 2013 11:52 am Reply
        • Beth

          Vegetarian Fed is another bogus and detrimental marketing claim since chickens are omnivores and do best eating bugs and grubs in addition to fresh, non-GMO plant foods grown without chemicals and pesticides.

          May 13th, 2013 12:00 pm Reply
          • Rhea

            I think the point they are making with the whole “vegetarian diet” thing is that the chickens weren’t fed ground up “meat products” as part of their feed. They are just making the point in a “lets not gross out the potential buyer of our product” way.

            One of my favorite memories is of my husband cutting up the lower moose legs with an ax into sections for the dogs to enjoy, and pieces of meat and bones were flying everywhere, and the chickens came running over and had the best time picking up all those pieces. They also came and hung out any time we were cleaning fish. Chickens definitely enjoy a bit of meat in their diet, besides bugs that is. :)

            May 22nd, 2013 3:03 pm
        • Cp4056

          Sounds like someone has been reading Salatin! I hope to is visit his farm this summer.

          May 13th, 2013 1:11 pm Reply
    • Deborah

      Yes, the other posters are right. Vital Farms is an excellent store-bought option, the ONLY pastured brand at Whole Foods. Local eggs are plentiful where I live but I’m so grateful they are available when I need eggs in a pinch if I’m out of local eggs. They taste amazing, have deep orange yolks and really hard shells: all the benchmarks of a good egg!

      May 13th, 2013 6:26 pm Reply
    • Raven

      Vital Farms is happy and healthy chickens. The Cornucopia Institute’s egg report shows them to be the best brand in Illinois, and Vital Farms eggs are PASTURED not “free range”. Please keep buying Vital Farms Organic eggs!

      April 16th, 2014 1:17 pm Reply
  • Donald Owen

    Nauseating to read this – but so important to know!
    There is a wealth of information about eggs here: (be sure to click through to all of the pages dealing with eggs – and there’s lots more . . .)


    Thanks for keeping these kinds of issues in our collective face – hopefully someday our food will be safe to eat!

    May 13th, 2013 10:39 am Reply
  • Linda

    Yes. I ran a commercial chicken house for many years. With 27,000 hens and cockerals. They did a wonderful job of producing eggs…and they actually had it pretty good as far a the industry goes. Compared to some. But free range absolutely not.

    May 13th, 2013 10:36 am Reply

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