Meet Real Free-Range Eggs

A recent MOTHER EARTH NEWS study found that compared to conventional American eggs, real free-range eggs have less cholesterol and saturated fat, plus more vitamins A and E, beta carotene and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids.

| October/November 2007

Left to their own devices, chickens prefer to hang out in lush, green pastures rather than cramped, steel cages (these are from Skagit River Ranch of Washington).

Left to their own devices, chickens prefer to hang out in lush, green pastures rather than cramped, steel cages (these are from Skagit River Ranch of Washington).

Photo by George and Eiko Vojkovich

The new results are in: Free-range eggs from hens allowed to peck on pasture are a heck of a lot better than those from chickens raised in cages!

Free-Range Eggs

Most of the eggs currently sold in supermarkets are nutritionally inferior to eggs produced by hens raised on pasture. That’s the conclusion we have reached following completion of the 2007 Mother Earth News egg testing project. Our testing has found that, compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:

• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

These amazing results come from 14 flocks around the country that range freely on pasture or are housed in moveable pens that are rotated frequently to maximize access to fresh pasture and protect the birds from predators. We had six eggs from each of the 14 pastured flocks tested by an accredited laboratory in Portland, Ore. The chart at the end of this article shows the average nutrient content of the samples, compared with the official egg nutrient data from the USDA for “conventional” (i.e. from confined hens) eggs. The chart lists the individual results from each flock.

The 2007 results are similar to those from 2005, when we tested eggs from four flocks all managed as truly free range. But our tests are not the first to show that pastured eggs are more nutritious — see “Mounting Evidence” below for a summary of six studies that all indicated that pastured eggs are richer in nutrients than typical supermarket eggs.

We think these dramatically differing nutrient levels are most likely the result of the different diets of birds that produce these two types of eggs. True free-range birds eat a chicken’s natural diet — all kinds of seeds, green plants, insects and worms, usually along with grain or laying mash. Factory farm birds never even see the outdoors, let alone get to forage for their natural diet. Instead they are fed the cheapest possible mixture of corn, soy and/or cottonseed meals, with all kinds of additives — see “The Caged Hen’s Diet” below.

10/7/2017 5:46:49 PM

We have a lot of eagles in my area so I’m a little concerned about letting them free range

9/19/2015 4:54:55 PM

fabulistic , I like eggs more than any other food Every morning I should eat 10 to 12 eggs !!!!! _________________

8/25/2014 11:50:59 AM

Well when I open the run up each morning my hens take off across our acre of back yard and really seem to enjoy the hunting and pecking.... They go back and get drinks and lay eggs but all of my chickens really enjoy the free range. And my family and neighbors like the taste of the eggs they produce.

7/21/2014 11:37:00 PM

Where can I buy eggs like these today?

7/21/2014 11:23:00 PM

what's the difference between these eggs and the ordinary eggs in grocery stores?

7/15/2014 12:06:37 AM

This is just perfect for this season.

7/14/2014 11:55:20 PM

Is there any place here in Florida where I can buy this type of eggs?

7/14/2014 11:48:50 PM

Where was the picture taken by the way?

7/14/2014 11:42:54 PM

nice thoughts about free-range eggs here. thanks for the post.

5/10/2014 7:07:30 AM wow this good but ,I like your post and good pics may be any peoples not like because defrent mind all poeple ,

7/2/2013 12:29:09 PM

We wrote this article in 2007 and do not have access now to the materials we used.  Most of the articles we listed in the "Mounting Evidence" sidebar should be available online if you paste our sentences into Google. And at least one citation has been posted in the comments below. --Mother

7/1/2013 7:31:52 PM

can you all provide citations for or links to the articles in the "mounting evidence" section? i'd like to see the methods and statistical analyses the original researchers used. thanks!

robyn tipling
2/4/2013 9:20:34 PM

I would like to thank you for the information on nutrition from pasture eggs versus supposed free chooks arefree range in theback yard and the taste and colour is superb compared to shop bought eggs...very popular with neighbours!!!! There is nothing more relaxing than starting a day with a cuppa on the back verandah and watching my girls feed that also includes my ducks..great wat to start the day..each of them are named and each have their own personalities..they are a joy!!!

anne seccombe
12/16/2012 11:48:29 AM

The "1999 study by Barb Gorski of Pennsylvania State University" is frequently mentioned, however, I can't find the actual article. Any chance you could provide a proper citation for it? many thanks, Anne

becky hoppe
11/10/2012 4:41:02 AM

We have a small pasture for our chickens, they are happier this way. I watch them run around, chase each other, find prime bug and greens spots. One of their favorite greens is clover. It has to be good for them, I ran out of eggs one time, after selling them all off mistakenly leaving us with none. So had to crawl into the store and get a dozen. Cracked those eggs and the yolks were just a light yellow. Next day did a side by side comparrison to one of our fresh laid eggs and our yolks were a vivid orange, not even yellow compared to store bought. I cannot make a "white" cake with them, they turn it yellow! The taste alone tells us all we need to know, they taste better, but we know they are much better for us, and we are putting that many less caged birds out of the equation.

ronda flocke
10/19/2012 2:28:48 PM

It's typical for birds to slow down at this age. Optimum laying period is the time b/w 6 mos and 1.5 years. We change our water out every morning and evening. I've heard of chickens ceasing to lay on a high-corn diet. Check out the nutritional content of your feed. We feed a layer feed and high-quality scratch, about 1/2 and 1/2. They get really grouchy and slow down significantly if we run out of scratch and try to get by on layer feed alone until we make it to the feed store, so we learned our lesson and try not to ever let that happen.

gina koenig
10/18/2012 3:40:58 AM

We have 9-2 1/2 yr old chickens in our backyard in a coop, although we try to let them out a couple of days per week. Aside from layered feed, we do give them bread and wild bird seed. They stopped laying, so we have just been giving layered feed thinking they were not getting their nutrition. What do you think is wrong, or is this normal and they are finished laying? Also, how often should we change their water?

8/22/2012 4:17:26 PM

goodmorning freerangers egg lovers and to all you egg farmers thank you for a good egg aka./freerange keep sending egg to market we well be looking for them firsttimer ole in canada

angelo bruno
9/18/2011 12:05:19 AM Seems like the site above agrees with your findings since you wrote this article in 2007.

7/11/2011 5:32:31 PM

For those in need of some peer reviewed bolstering of this article: H.D. Karsten, P.H. Patterson, R. Stout and G. Crews (2010). Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 25, pp 45-54. Accepted for peer-reviewed publication Oct 8, 2009.

farmer's lil wife
12/22/2010 7:42:34 PM

Does anyone know where you would send eggs to have the nutrition content verified like Mother did for the article? I also have pastured poultry and would like to be able to list the nutritional content of the actual eggs produced on our farm.

ken berry
12/18/2010 9:11:08 AM

Very good article! I just cited it in an article I have posted here: Enjoy those eggs!

bob broyles_1
10/21/2010 1:10:49 PM

Another point... folks often write that the act of foraging burns more energy than the birds gain in the process, so you have to supplement their diet with prepared feed. Our newly hatched chicks do receive an organic chick starter, but once they are feathered out enough to stay warm, they are out to pasture with only a once-daily coffee-can of organic grain per 50 birds to keep them tame. Our hens often sneak out and hatch a clutch on their own, and raise the chicks to adult size just fine. They occasionally mooch some of the grain mentioned above, but for the most part, it’s just invertebrates, weed seeds and vegetation.

bob broyles_1
10/21/2010 12:58:44 PM

Fourteen years ago, we were inundated by grasshoppers on our farm. Everywhere we walked, we would literally kick up dozens with each step! The neighbors use conventional agriculture, while we are organic. The grasshoppers, of course, preferred our place because we do not spray. We went to the local swap meet and brought home turkeys, guineas, and chickens. When we brought them home, we were going to wait a while to release them, but they were stretching their necks through the cages trying to get at the grasshoppers, so we turned them loose. Man, they went crazy chasing down all the grasshoppers! It took them an entire summer to accomplish their feat, but they eventually ate most of the 'hoppers. We have had relatively few hoppers ever since, but unfortunately, the poultry also eat the good guys, like preying mantis and spiders.

9/12/2009 2:12:08 PM

Just wanted to let you know that the graphic visually representing the merits of range fed chickens actually has a mathematical error--however, this is actually one that just makes the range-fed chickens look EVEN better when corrected. It says that USDA eggs have 0.22g of the Omega-3 fatty acids and range-fed have 0.66g. The graphic says that this is 2x more omega 3s, but it's actually THREE times more. And just as an FYI, omega-3 fatty acids are about the best thing that "modern medicine" has to reduce very high triglycerides (google Lovasa for the medicine). Glad to know that raising my own poultry will help me keep more of this in my diet. :)

nano's chicks
1/27/2009 11:55:08 PM

I'd like to comment on bugs. We have always had all kinds of bugs in and around our house. We bought the granddaughters baby chicks this year at a grand opening of a new farm store. This is the 1st year we had barely noticed any bugs of any type and that includes spiders that always hang from our oak trees. My sons have complained for years about them, saying we need to spray or something. Well, turned out the chickens were the only something we needed. No grasshoppers, spiders, earwigs, crickets and even my small frogs. I have to be very careful about the frogs. I usually water the yard after dark so the chicks are roosting and the frogs can try and get flying bugs. This is the best way for anyone to control the pests around their homes. Talk about green. Sincerely, Nano in Texas

katy skinner
1/26/2009 12:50:16 PM

I agree with the poster called "Avian" above. -Katy Skinner (

katy skinner
1/26/2009 12:48:54 PM

I author the website . . .

1/7/2009 4:10:41 PM

I have chickens, and they cover a lot of ground everyday. While I do give them a commercial feed as a suppliment, they eat very little of it per day. So I wold venture that TRUE free- range birds might actually cost LESS since not only do they eat very little feed, they take very little maintenence since they do the majority of their bowel movements spread out over many acres, and I don't need artificial light or heat on them. They know what dark means - it is time to head back home to go to bed. And here is the final rebel thing I do ... I ( heaven forbid) let a HEN set, hatch, brood, and raise a clutch whenever she has a mind to. No incubator, no brooder, the chicks never display any of the vices well - known in brooder raised birds like pecking and even killing each other. The statement : "Finally, there's nothing particularly natural about birds running around in a field hunting bugs and forage as you state they're doing. " Is about the dumbest thing I have ever read!

mark _1
10/17/2008 11:26:40 AM

I remember the day I told my wife, "You finally learned how to cook scrambled eggs like my grandmother." She laughed and said, "Those are the eggs we got from the Kenyon's farm. The chickens are healthier because they get sunshine and fresh air and grasshoppers, and the eggs are just better. Everybody knows farm eggs are better than store eggs." Maybe you need to find a grant to fund a multi-million dollar double-blind, peer-reviewed study to satisfy the skeptics. In the meantime each of us is equipped with a miniature lab to test food quality--it's called the olfactory-gustatory-visual system. The rich color of the egg yolks and and superior taste tells us that eggs from pastured hens are better.

1/1/2008 1:12:56 PM


12/28/2007 9:24:44 AM

What is the shelf life of all eggs? Thank You, Steve.

11/9/2007 7:03:56 AM

Thank you for the information.

10/22/2007 9:16:47 PM

Four months ago, my husband and I bought 6 Barred Plymouth Rock chicks because we wanted laying hens from a heritage breed that would provide wholesome eggs for our diet. We lost one due to a really dumb mishap but the remaining 5 are doing great! Since my husband and I both work, we have a set up that seems to be working okay. He raises rabbits and built a sturdy hutch for them in which their cages are suspended from the roof (yes, these guys are in cages because they're show rabbits). Their wasted food & excrement is channeled out but some drops down below. My husband built the chicken coop with attached pen right next to the rabbit hutch and created a door to let the chickens roam around underneath the rabbit cages. This way, they're all safe from predators, and the chickens have lots of territory to cover. I wasn't sure if this was a good idea though, but if we had a regular farm, the chickens would probably be scratching in all the cow patties and other stuff. Anyway, I have a question about OTHER food. The place where I bought the chicks recommended that I feed them "starter/growth" food for the first 8 months of their life. This stuff is medicated (which I was told was necessary), but I was also told that once they start laying, we should switch them to "layer" food and throw out the first batch of eggs from each hen to cycle out the medication. Hmmm. Being a relative "newbie" to raising my own chickens, this all sounds rather weird. I actually grew up on a farm but most of the chickens & livestock had been sold by the time I was a pre-teen so I really don't know what to feed my "girls". It seems like everyone I've talked to, and every website, has a different recommendation! I've been dutifully purchasing the recommended "starter/growth" crumbles but recently started throwing in a few handfuls of cracked corn and other seed just to see if they'd

brigid skelton
10/20/2007 11:35:22 PM

I agree with Michael. Hens that I know, have commercial food and vegetable scraps, and water available all day, but they spend their time eating fresh grass, and clover, and digging for grubs in the lawn. Chickens are programmed to forage, to scratch, to dust-bathe, to interact and socialize. They don't just stand by the feeder all day. BTW, I agree the study could have been more scientific. Double blind and randomized???

10/20/2007 8:19:59 AM

I own 6 free range chickens than have a roost with no door and they regularly range over our 40 acre property. the eggs (on average 4 per day)that they produce are twice the size of large super market eggs and the yoke is orange not yellow, they taste much better and bind better in cakes etc: I feel that nothing deserves to live in a cage let alone an animal that provides such a tasty food source.

10/19/2007 10:02:39 PM

A response to Avian Biology.... I agree with a number of posters regarding the testing of non-free-range birds as well - an obvious ommission and left the testers wide open to criticism. I won't dare buy into the argument and counter argument and counter-counter-argument about testing methods etc - that's clearly an endless treadmill with the results depending on whichever group is arguing. But regarding the last comment's final para about birds not wanting to forage if food is supplied..... This is clearly nonsense by my own experience and that of numerous other's I know. I have a bunch of chooks (that's Aussie chickens) which have commercial food available at all times (as well as copious volumes of vege scraps, hot bran mash and other goodies), and who also have a very large area to 'free-range' in (a couple of acres). They indeed eat the food provided (which is in a feeder available in their pen at all times) - but then spend the rest of the day ranging far from their pen, pecking, foraging, etc, only returning to their pen to lay, or finally to roost in the evening. You state that 'If their food is provided for them, they can (and will) stay by it and eat until they are satiated". This is not my experience, nor the experience of numerous locals as well, who have similar setups to me. Is it a scientific survey?... well hardly. But I get 9.5 oversize eggs per day from 10 chooks and my customers fight each other to get my eggs, saying they're the best, tastiest eggs they can get hold of. Yes, I'm sure it's true that in a commercial sense this is not the way to go (though I do make more money than I spend) - I wouldn't be able to run a commercial egg business this way. But of course that's not what the argument is about is it? Stick the chickens in cages - that's clearly the best way to make money, otherwise it wouldn't be done. For me - blow the science - I'll let my

10/19/2007 4:11:27 PM

I swear that had paragraphs just a moment ago. So sorry.

10/19/2007 4:09:54 PM

Though you'll probably disregard these comments as Poultry Industry Propaganda, I figured I might as well speak up. Your science, as has been suggested, is deeply flawed. First, you have no actual tangible basis of comparison between the free-range and commercial layers. Never rely on someone else's figures when you can do it yourself! Then, there's no differentiation between nutritional value of commercial free-range and the purported true free-range birds. There is no indication of what a free-range bird is actually eating-- "bugs, worms, and grass" doesn't really indicate the caloric intake, nutritional value, digestibility, etc. You can't tell if all the eggs were from one bird or a series of birds. There is no indication of bird health, condition of eggs, size and comparisons between average free-range birds and their eggs and the commercial counterparts... do I really need to go on? To sum up: The science is BAD. I'm not saying it's not an interesting and potentially informative study. It would be, but you'd have to actually run it like a scientific study. Further, the egg industry is not incorrect in saying that the composition of an egg is similar between breeds. The composition of an egg necessarily cannot deviate out of certain boundaries, because it's being produced to sustain embryonic development. Without all those nutrients, there would be no potential for growth, and the follicle would not develop. No yolk is formed, so there would be no egg. Beyond this, the study was conducted with a variety of breeds that are different than those used in the egg industry (white leghorns). The egg board states that breed differences may cause nutritional differences. Doesn't really sound like "double-speak" to me. Finally, there's nothing particularly natural about birds running around in a field hunting bugs and forage as you state they're doing. Birds peck, hunt, and s

10/19/2007 2:16:20 PM

I teach statistics, this is bad science. A statement such as; "this may happen" contains no information that you can use to make informed decisions. A statistical survey should allow you the ability to say with some measurable certainty whether or not something is likely to be true. For example, "we are 95% confident that smoking causes cancer." I eat free range eggs. I like the fact that the chickens get to play with each other. As for the health factors: I say, everything in moderation.

10/19/2007 10:35:44 AM

My question is: so how can you find out which eggs are actually free range eggs, if most only have the option of going outside? I'm vegan because I don't know how to get any, but I have no moral qualms about actual, true free range eggs, because it doesn't harm the animal. I also think testing conventional eggs would have been a good idea, as well--the nutrients might have even been lower than what the USDA states; I wouldn't have been surprised.

10/19/2007 10:04:58 AM

Given your description of the USDA's qualification of free range, are you suggesting that free range eggs are likely not "true" free range? If this is the case, why are you advocating paying the extra dollar? Or did I misread?

10/19/2007 8:26:29 AM

Very interesting article. We have been eating (true) free range eggs for some time now. One question with regards to your methodology: Why did you not go the extra step and do nutritional analyses on "conventional" eggs? I would think that this would be more telling of the true difference and lend more credibility to your claims. Thanks.

10/19/2007 7:43:05 AM

peer reviewed evidence please? Without this no-one can decide whether your statements are correct, I would have no problem accepting this if the original sources for the information presented were referenced.

10/19/2007 6:53:28 AM

How could you go to all the effort to test 14 flocks of range free chickens and not do the same for caged chickens and just accept the USDA numbers as gospel? Smells more like propaganda than good science.

10/17/2007 4:34:04 PM

We have six hens in our backyard and learned much from Joel Salatin's book "Pastured Poultry Profits," which I highly recommend. In addition to providing us a steady supply of fresh eggs, our hens are excellent little gardeners (they bust up the sod, fertilize the ground, eat weed seeds, and help reduce insect populations) and wonderful, low-maintenance pets.

9/26/2007 11:45:36 AM

Im not sure if you got the first message, please tell me which of these farms are certified organic, thanks Carolyn

9/26/2007 11:42:59 AM

Please tell me which of these farms are certified organic. Thanks Carolyn

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