We’ve been referencing this ridiculous chicken coop penthouse from Williams Sonoma for years. These chickens are “living well” on another level.
Sometimes the hardest part of building healthy habits is decoding the damn labels. Shopping for eggs and chicken can be especially confusing since conventional farms raise them in some pretty wild ways. For every food category there are specific keywords that matter most, and for eggs that keyword is “pasture-raised”.
What about “cage free”? While the label is a step in the right direction, it can also allude to a bit of green-washing. “Cage-free” birds may not live behind bars, but they can be stacked on top of each other in unsanitary and highly stress-inducing environments. Not exactly what we’re looking for. Not only are we interested in the welfare of all animals, studies – and a bit of humane logic – show that happier animals produce healthier food.
Unless, like urban chicken mama Nicole Richie, you’re raising chicks at home, here’s what you should know about ‘pasture-raised’ eggs according to Vital Farms…
Pasture-Raised Eggs Are Better For the Hen
Pasture-raised hens (raised to the Certified Humane standards that Vital Farms follows) are outside on pasture all day, year ’round. Each bird gets the equivalent 108 square feet of rotated pasture, ensuring a constant supply of fresh greens and naturally occurring goodies. Free-range chickens, by comparison, get about one square foot, only a small amount of which is outdoors, and with little or no vegetation.
Outdoor living, with fresh air and sunlight, makes for happier, healthier hens – egg lay rates are higher (a good sign of how a hen feels) and flocks do not need to be given a constant supply of antibiotics to keep disease at bay. In fact, we never, ever give our girls antibiotics or hormones.
Living outdoors with so much space means that hens can engage in a full range of natural behaviors – dust bathing (to keep clean and get rid of any unwanted guests), perching, foraging and socializing (chickens are very social birds, but if they are cooped up, this translates into high stress and aggression, which is why caged birds have their beaks cut back). The supplemental diet we provide means that the girls never go hungry, but they’re free to eat whatever takes their fancy from the pastures, and the varied diet of grass and protein is what makes the eggs nutritionally superior.
Pasture-Raised Eggs Are Better For Your Health
Pasture-raised eggs have less of the bad: 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat. They have more of the good stuff: 2/3 more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E, up to six times the vitamin D (this makes pasture-raised eggs one of the best natural sources of vitamin D), and up to seven times more beta carotene.
Eggs are recognized as a great superfood, offering a great balance of protein and nutrients, and pasture-raised eggs are the best by a long way! Pasture-raised eggs have a better nutritional profile and a wider range of proteins (such as lutein, which comes from xanthophylls in the grasses they eat, which is important for eye health).
Pasture-Raised Eggs Are Better for the Farmer + the Environment…
Pasture-raising does require a little more work, but farmers earn a better living from smaller flocks as the eggs are premium priced. Infrastructure costs are lower, so farmers are less debt burdened. This supports smaller, family-owned and-oriented farms in rural communities. Healthier birds make for generally less stressful farming.
No pesticides or herbicides are ever used on the pastures, so there is no polluting runoff harming the environment, and the farms are family-friendly: Many of our farmers’ kids get to enjoy spending time with their feathered friends. The constant rotation of the pastures allows for a long enough fallow period between uses to disrupt any parasite life-cycles. The chickens provide all the fertilizer that’s needed!