You've Got to Give the Girls Some Room

Ever wonder where your eggs come from? You might not like the answer. From hens being housed in itty-bitty cages to hens not ever seeing the light of day their entire lives, there's all kinds of animal mistreatment in the egg industry. Even if you're buying "organic" eggs in the store, the label could be deceiving you. We'll give you the rundown on egg industry specifications and what they mean for you and your grocery experience.

Caged: Unless the carton says differently, this is what you're buying. Hens are housed in tiny 8.5" by 8.5" cages and rarely, if ever, let out of those cages. It's like sitting in a crowded elevator your whole life. Not cool.

caged chicken hen

Cage-Free: All this means is that the hens aren't kept in cages. They are usually kept in a building and again, rarely, if ever, see the light of day.

cage free hens
(Photo: NPR)

>> Read more: Save the Eggs! 10 Things That Affect Your Fertility

Free Range: Finally! Hens have access to the outdoors! But wait — don't celebrate too quickly. They may have access, but usually that means a tiny hole leading to a concrete slab that many of the hens don't even use.

free range hens
(Photo: St. Ewe Free Range Eggs)

Here we come to a bit more raised standards — these are industry specifications for certified eggs.

Certified Humane Raised & Handled: If you're at the grocery store and you see a label boasting "Certified Humane Raised & Handled," that just means that the egg farms meets the industry's standard of minimum outdoor space of two square feet and that the hens have unlimited outdoor access. There's no specified minimal outdoor temperature for these birds, however.

Note: Those are the standards for Free Range egg producers. Certified Humane has a different set of standards for Cage Free egg producers.

certified humane raised and handled

USDA Organic: The "organic" refers only to the feed given to the hens. Again, the minimum outdoor space is two square feet per bird. This time, the outdoor temperature must be greater than 50º Fahrenheit, and the guidelines allow for the hens to be housed indoors during inclement weather. The hens only have very limited access to the outdoors, and it usually consists of only a porch.

USDA organic

USDA Pastured: Here, hens have 108 square feet per bird. However, that space is rotation-based, and only 20 percent of that 108 square feet (21.5 square feet) is available at any given time. And while a minimum temperature is not required, the birds can be brought indoors for protection during bad weather or at night.

>> Read more: Eggs 7 Ways

American Humane Certified Free Range: Minimum space per bird comes to 21.5 square feet per bird, and no minimum temperature is required. And while 21.5 square feet doesn't sound all that bad, only 85 percent of audit compliance is needed in order to meet those standards.

american humane certified happy egg co

Certified Happy Free Range: Here we come to the first and only commercial egg producer in the United States to be granted humane certification from American Humane Association in the category “Layer Hens: Free-Range and Pasture-raised.” Hens at the happy egg co. go outside, which is a big deal! The "girls" have daily unlimited access to roam outdoors and exhibit natural behavior like dust-bathing, foraging, perching, running and flapping their wings. It's so simple: the happy egg co. just lets chickens be chickens. Their farms are all in the Mid-West; therefore, the year-round climate allows the chickens to roam outside every single day.

If you're looking for the eggs that have the best value, happy egg co. eggs are what you should buy. Certified Happy standards are the highest free range standards, as the "girls" have daily access to 21.8 square feet per bird. All in all, that's equal to eight acres — or six football fields! The hens are engaged all day with "play kits" and pecking toys, and the deep golden yolks come from a diet of all-natural corn and soy, supplemented by foraging outdoors on pasture.

Certified Happy Logo

Even if all the info above means nothing to you, know that better cared for hens produce more nutritious eggs. In fact, free range eggs produce:

  • twice as much omega-3 fatty acids
  • three times more vitamin E
  • seven times more pro-vitamin A beta-carotene
  • a quarter less saturated fat
  • a third less cholesterol.

Next time you're at the grocery store, keep an eye on the labels you're purchasing. To see if the happy egg co. distributes near you, click here!

>> Read more: 7 Ways to Use Hard-Boiled Eggs