Organic eggs from pasture-fed chickens are nutritional powerhouses. While the National Egg Board and those who believe in their claims will tell you that there is no difference in the quality of eggs from free-range versus caged chickens, studies have shown the exact opposite.
These studies show that organic eggs from hens raised on pasture offer better nutrition than typical supermarket eggs. Eggs from free-range, grass-fed chickens contain more nutrients than caged birds. In fact, free-range eggs contain:
- four to six times more vitamin D
- one third less cholesterol
- one quarter less saturated fat
- two-thirds more vitamin A
- double the amount of omega-3 fatty acids
- three times more vitamin E
- seven times more beta carotene
These numbers are related to a comparison done by Mother Earth News between commercial eggs and eggs from fourteen flocks of free-range chickens from around the country.
Mother Earth is not the first to find differences. In 1988, Artemis Simopoulos, co-author of The Omega Diet, found that organic eggs from pastured hens in Greece contained 13 times more omega-3 fatty acids than commercial eggs from the United States.
In 1974, a British study found that eggs from pastured hens had 50 percent more folic acid and 70 percent more vitamin B12 than eggs from factory-farmed hens.
In 1997, a study in Animal Feed Science and Technology found eggs from free-range chickens had higher levels of both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E than those from hens maintained in cages and fed commercial diets.
Most recently, in 2003, Pennsylvania State University researchers reported that birds kept on pasture produced three times more omega-3s in their eggs than birds raised in cages on a commercial diet. They also found twice as much vitamin E and 40 percent more vitamin A in the yolks of the pastured birds.
In addition to being less nutritious, it’s no secret that eggs from commercially raised, confined chickens contain antibiotic residues. In Modern Livestock and Poultry Production, a book by James Gillespie, there’s a chart of the number of antibiotics added to chicken feed in confinement operations. I counted no less than eleven different antibiotics listed that are added to the feed given confined chickens.
It’s quite logical to conclude that without these antibiotics, the eggs and meat from these confined chickens would have much higher amounts of salmonella and other bacteria counts.
Real Life Experiences with Fresh Eggs
We have 14 chickens, which stay outside all day long, scratching and scavenging as they like. We feed them scraps from our kitchen, plus some commercial feed, a practice necessary here in Wyoming where green grass and bugs are sparse for most of the year.
Chickens are scavengers and omnivores, and they need protein in addition to plant foods. Bugs, grubs, and worms provide this protein and contribute to the chicken’s optimal state of health.
If allowed, they will spend a great deal of their time scratching and scavenging over wide areas, looking for food.
I’ve read on other websites the claim that chickens will stay close to feeders, but anyone who says this has obviously never owned chickens.
When we let our chickens range freely over the entire yard, they will spend all day ranging the length and breadth of at least 4 acres around the house and never once go back to the fenced-in area where the feeders are located. Only at dusk, do they file back into the fenced area, so they can get to their roosts for the night.
The fresh eggs from these chickens, in my experience, look and taste different than commercial eggs. Our fresh organic eggs have bright orange yolks. The orange color, I think, related to grass, vegetation, and bugs that the chickens eat. Both the yolk and egg whites stand up high when cracked into a skillet. The shells of both our white and brown eggs are extremely strong, and I sometimes have a hard time breaking them open.
The taste of fresh egg yolks is stronger and richer, and indeed the entire egg just tastes fresher than a commercial egg. We have made homemade eggnog and ice cream from our fresh eggs, and both were outstanding in flavor and texture.
Where to Find Fresh Organic Eggs from Pasture-Fed Chickens
Resources for Further Reading
- Including Egg Consumption within a Carb Restricted Diet Reduces Body Inflammation, a study from Dr. Jeff Volek et al.
- A. Tolan et al, “Studies on the Composition of Food, The chemical composition of eggs produced under the battery, deep litter, and free-range conditions.” Br. J. Nutrition, (1974) 31:185.
- Greener Eggs and Ham, a paper from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Food and environment Program.
- Feeding Chickens for Best Health and Performance
- Eggs distinctly modulate plasma carotenoid and lipoprotein subclasses in adult men following a carbohydrate-restricted diet A study which shows egg consumption increases good cholesterol blood markers.
- Dietary cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients: a review of the Harvard Egg Study and other data.