As we've started to finish up our chicken coop (Yes, we're STILL working on it....) I've started to think about what we're going to do with all of our eggs. Plenty of omelettes, frittatas and baking are in our future, but I would also like to sell them at our local farmers market. That got me wondering what kind of regulations Indiana has for sellers and how I would label my eggs. There are so many different terms out there on egg labels that it can get confusing as to what they actually mean, so I did a little research and thought I'd share.
Cage-Free simply means that the chickens are not kept in cages. This does not mean that chickens are allowed to range outside. Usually, cage-free means that they are kept indoors in a crowded building with no outdoor access and their diet is strictly feed. You may also see the term "free-roaming" to describe this living environment.
This was a little confusing for me. Didn't I just talk about free-range? Nope. Free-range and free-roaming are not the same. Free-range means that chickens have outdoor access. This could mean access to grass for foraging or access to a concrete pad. Free-range does not imply anything as to what the chickens are fed. They could be fed all grain or could also eat grass and bugs if they have access to them.
Certified organic chickens are required outdoor access just like free-range chickens. Again, this could mean access to grass or just a concrete pad outside. They are typically fed a diet of predominately organic feed with some grass and bugs.
Pastured-raised chickens spend most of their days foraging out in the open grass. They are provided indoor nesting boxes for laying and are supplemented with feed, but their diet consists predominately of grass, seeds and bugs that they find outside. The label of pasture-raised is most like the idyllic farm scene of chickens running around a farm yard, free to just be chickens, that most of us envision when we hear all of these terms.
The phrases "natural" and "farm-fresh" mean absolutely nothing. The USDA defines all shell eggs as natural. Many small, local farmers use the term "farm-fresh" for their eggs, and that may mean something to you if you are from the area and know the farm. On the commercial scale, like at Target and Walmart, all eggs are farm-fresh and natural, and these terms are used to improve sales or justify higher costs.
This was eye-opening for me! Our chickens are going to be a mix of pasture-raised and free-range. We will have a run, but plan on letting them out in the pasture for at least a few hours every day. I hope this helps you, as a consumer, to make the best decision when shopping. Don't pay extra for that word "natural!"