Is there a difference between the eggs from a free range chicken and the eggs from a commercial egg producer that you would find at the grocery store? What if the package says they are cage free or free range. I hope to show you that if you are buying any egg from the store in Kansas City then you are likely not getting the same quality egg you would be getting by buying eggs from a LOCAL farmer who truly free ranges their hens on open pasture.
As the picture above shows, there is a dramatic visual difference between eggs that come from chickens who have a a natural diet that included a large amount of grasses, bugs and weeds. The two dark orange yolks come from chickens who spent their days wandering around the pasture eating all that nature provided and then supplemented that with grains provided by the farmer. In addition, they are continuously exposed to cleansing sunshine and fresh air. This leads to inordinately healthy and robust chickens – which in turn lay healthy and robust eggs. The yolk on the right was from a store bought egg that had a diet that consisted only of industrialized chicken feed. This includes such yumminess as ground up chicken parts, arsenic and low-grade antibiotics. In addition, chickens living in confined housing are also breathing in and eating an incredible amount of their own feces which is also digested by the hens. The lighter color is simply a visual indicator showing a difference in the diets of the two birds and is not a direct indication of health however.
The real difference is in taste and nutrition. A pasture raised hen lays eggs that have 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, and 7 times more beta carotene than eggs raised from industrial chicken farms. This is according to a study done in 2007. So they are clearly better nutritionally, but why? It is their diet. Nearly every egg bought at the store comes from hens that were fed a nearly identical diet based primarily on corn and soybean and then "enhanced" with things that will keep them alive and laying more eggs. Even store bought eggs that say “Free Range” or Cage Free” are not nutritionally better and you might be surprised how those chickens live. Cage free for example does not mean that the chicken is living its life out on pasture. Instead cage free chickens live their life inside confined houses with as little as 60 square inches of space per bird (for comparison - a piece of paper has 88 square inches of space) and adding free range to the label simply means that the hens have an opening to an outdoor area. On most commercial chicken houses, this is an opening the size of doggie door that goes to a small concrete pad outdoors. A larger space is not needed because few hens ever find that opening in their crowded condition and because there is not food or water on the concrete pad they do not stay long.
So....the moral of the story is find a local farmer and buy eggs from them. Try to find one where their hens have access to as much pasture and outdoor space as possible. You eggs will not only taste better -- they will be better for you.