Demystifying the egg aisle

Why is a food with only one ingredient so confusing to buy? Many egg cartons show pictures of hens outside in lush green fields next to quaint red barns. But that’s rarely the reality. In fact, between 90-95% of eggs produced in the U.S. come from hens that spend their lives in battery cages. At the happy egg co., hen welfare is our top priority, and happy hens produce happy eggs. 78% of Americans agree that the way hens are raised is important. Read on to crack the code for this perplexing part of the grocery store.

Happy Eggs Free Range

Let’s just say the hens have found their happy place.

Acres and acres of green pasture, leafy trees and wooden play structures for the hens to perch on, plus sand pits for dust-bathing. They sleep in their barn, but every morning the doors are opened and it’s off to the races.

Our barn doors aren’t piddly little affairs, either. The entire side of the barn is lined with 6’ openings called “pop holes.” This allows the girls to pop in and out at will. Plus, our hens enjoy 14 square feet per bird, the equivalent of four football fields of space, every day.

Free Range

In this set-up, the hens have access to the outdoors.

Which sounds great. But all too often, that “access” is in the form of a teeny little door inside a crowded barn that few hens will actually use. And when they do, there’s no guarantee that they’ll have pasture outside. A concrete slab still counts as “outdoor access.” But still, it’s an improvement over cage-free and the very-not-nice battery cages. Unfortunately, over 40% of Americans incorrectly associate “cage-free” with the free range category.

Cage-free

Here’s where things get tricky.

Cage-free means just that: the hens aren’t kept in wire cages. This doesn’t mean they go outside. In fact, they live their whole lives inside of a building. Sure, it’s a heck of a lot better than a battery-cage system, but it’s not the cheerful, pastoral scene that you see printed on cage-free cartons. And that really ruffles our feathers. Over 170 million Americans don’t know what the term “cage-free” indicates, further adding to the confusion.

Caged

aka: Battery or Enriched Cages, Conventional, Factory Farmed

If the carton doesn’t say otherwise, this is what you’re buying. Caged hens get around 8.5” by 8.5” of space per hen – for a bird with a 30” wingspan. That’s smaller than a piece of letter-sized paper! Conventional “battery” or “barren” cages, as they’re called, have been banned in the European Union, which we wholly endorse, since the hens can’t engage in any natural behaviors. Imagine being trapped in a crowded elevator just for a few minutes. Now imagine staying there your whole life. Simply put, it’s pretty bleak.

Additional terms

Organic

These hens are given organic feed – that is, grown without GMOs or pesticides per the USDA standards. And despite the label’s all-natural, wholesome image, most organic hens don’t go outside (see “Cage-free,” above). Use of the term organic applies exclusively to the feed, and has no bearing on the lifestyle provided to the hens.

Omega-3

Whether caged or cage-free, these chickens are given an omega-3 additive (usually from flax seeds). Our belief is that when birds are raised well, their eggs are perfect just as nature intended, so there’s no need to put anything extra in their feed. Plus, eggs from free range hens that peck at pasture naturally have twice as much omega-3 fatty acids as those from caged birds. Omega-3 may be a trendy buzzword, but it says nothing about living conditions for the hens.

Fertilized

When a hen loves a rooster very, very much...well, you know the rest. But seriously, this means the hen has spent some “quality time” with a rooster. And, if allowed to hatch, is where baby chicks come from. Our eggs aren’t fertilized, by the way – we think our girls are quite happy enough!

Antibiotics / Hormones

At the happy egg co. we never give our hens antibiotics or hormones. This is the standard in the U.S. for most egg-laying hens.

Natural

This doesn’t mean much, to be honest. “Natural” eggs contain no artificial ingredients and are “minimally processed.” That applies to 99% of all eggs on the market. If this is all you see on the label, it’s a good bet the eggs come from caged hens.

Farm Fresh

Sounds good, right? Usually accompanied by a pretty picture of eggs in a basket and a smiling farmer. But the reality is that these mostly come from caged hens, which is about as far from a quaint, pastoral farm as we can think of. See “Caged,” above.

Meet the goddesses of grub

The Grub Gals demonstrate the proper way to poach an egg, teach us not to fear a souffle and give deviled eggs a makeover. Read on for a bevy of signature recipes from these award-winning chefs.

The egg-tionary

Shopping in the egg aisle has never been more confusing. Cage-free, free range, organic, farm fresh: what do they all mean? Read on to find out.

Free range fun for everyone

Click on through for a generous serving of egg jokes and more. Download our Free Ranger app and roam around the virtual farm, or even make your own board game.

What makes our hens happy?

Acres of green pasture, trees and play structures for perching. Plus a place to roll around in the dust.