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Organic Eggs? Free Range Eggs? Cage Free? Which Should You Choose?

Organic Eggs? Free Range Eggs? Cage Free? Which Should You Choose?

If you’ve become interested in improving the kinds of foods you eat, eggs are probably one of the foods you’ve taken a good look at. There are options out there for those who want better eggs. The hard part is figuring out what “better” really is.

Now my personal favorite eggs are the ones I get from my sister once in a while. She doesn’t live close enough that we get them often, but she has backyard chickens. They roam the yard during the day, eating what they find, plus the scraps the family gives them and the chicken feed my sister uses. I don’t know all the details. I do know the shells are much stronger than the shells on grocery store eggs, and there is a visible color difference in the yolks.

But not everyone has access to backyard chicken eggs even part of the time. It’s worth looking at your options and really knowing what all the terminology really means, because it’s not necessarily what you think.

Note that the color of the eggshell really doesn’t matter. My sister’s chickens product brown or green eggs, depending on the breed, but there’s no difference in the quality of the eggs due to their coloration.

Cage Free Eggs

Cage free chickens have things just a little better than your standard caged chicken. They’re usually in a building full of chickens, crowded, but they can at least walk and stretch their wings. They probably don’t go outside, however. They probably do get treated with antibiotics. It’s an improvement but not much of one.

Free Range Eggs

This one doesn’t usually mean what you think it means. Take your cage free chickens and give them a little access to the outdoors. This does not mean they have access to pasture where they can eat grass and bugs. There are no rules about how long each chicken gets outside.

Organic Eggs

Organic chickens can usually go outside some, and they cannot be treated with antibiotics. They are also give organic feed. The facilities are inspected annually by an agency with USDA accreditation.

Pasture Raised Eggs

Pasture raised chickens lead the kind of life you’d think free range means. They have free access to come and go from their coop, and can eat grass and bugs as they find them. They are usually given organic feed and not treated with antibiotics. This is as close as you can get to raising your own chickens in the backyard.

Should You Raise Backyard Chickens?

I got a treat from my younger sister recently. A bunch of fresh eggs from her backyard chickens. They started raising them a while ago, and generally have excess eggs to give away to family. I don’t live close enough to get these often, so when I do it’s a real treat.

I’m not in a situation to even think about getting them for my family. We’re renting in a house that doesn’t allow pets, and I’m pretty sure the Homeowner’s Association would flip if they caught us at it, even with chickens just in the back yard. Beyond that, we’d like to move back closer to family within the year (ideally), which really wouldn’t be fair to any pets. Too much stress.

So backyard chickens are on my “someday” list. Doesn’t mean you have to wait.

Advantages of Raising Backyard Chickens

Fresh eggs are the big advantage most people think of with backyard chickens. Lots of fresh eggs from chickens that are eating as chickens ought to, with bright, healthy yolks and a taste that grocery store eggs just can’t beat. But there are more advantages.

Chickens eat bugs. They’re a very natural pest control.

Chickens eat bugs. They’re a very natural pest control. Just give them some time to roam freely in your yard and they’ll cut down your bug population for you.

Chickens also eat weeds. Other plants too, no doubt. They love vegetable scraps from your kitchen.

Chicken poop makes great fertilizer, so long as you’re careful. It’s powerful stuff that can burn your plants if you use too much or too soon. Let it break down a while.

Many kids love chickens. They make fair pets. I’ve seen how my nieces sometimes carry the chickens around, and the chickens are pretty tolerant of it.

Backyard chickens also help kids to learn where food comes from. You may or may not choose to kill and eat your own chickens as they get older, but letting the kids see where eggs come from is a good lesson.

Disadvantages of Backyard Chickens

As with any other animal, backyard chickens need to be cared for. You need to provide some sort of coop for them so they have shelter from predators and weather. When you go on a trip, you will need someone to come over and feed the chickens, pick up eggs and so forth.

Not all neighbors appreciate chickens. This is particularly true if you have a rooster, but hens make some noise too.

Not all neighbors appreciate chickens.

It may be difficult to get around city ordinances in order to have chickens. You usually have to be able to keep your chickens a certain distance from your home, your neighbors’ homes and property lines. If that’s not possible, you may be out of luck. Some areas ban chickens completely.

You have to clean up after chickens, which can be a smelly job. You’ll want to wear gloves and wash up after cleaning up after chickens, as their poop can carry diseases.

Chickens love to eat plants in general. It’s nice when they eat your weeds, but rather less convenient when they go at your lawn, the young plants in your garden and so forth. You may need to limit their range. They also scratch up the ground quite a bit in their search for bugs.

Getting started isn’t cheap. It’s not just buying the chickens. It’s buying or building the coop, buying their food, and the other supplies you’ll need to keep your chickens happy and healthy.

The Chicken Coop

Even if your plan is to mostly let your chickens roam your yard, they must have a coop. This is a place where they can be cool in the heat of the day, dry when it rains, and mostly safe from predators.

You’ll have to consider what you can spend on a chicken coop. This is often the biggest part of your initial investment in raising chickens. The birds themselves probably won’t cost too much.

You’ll have to consider what you can spend on a chicken coop.

You can buy a premade chicken coop if you like – there are a lot of chicken coops available on eBay.

You can also buy instructions on how to build a chicken coop. Chicken DIY Guide is a great resource for this. It includes instructions on how to build your own chicken coop (much cheaper than buying one!), including small, medium, large and portable chicken coops. It includes a guide on city chicken ordinances. It includes a video library on caring for chickens. Plus a lot of other material to help you get off to a great start with your chickens.

Raising backyard chickens is not for everyone. It’s work. It costs money to get started. But it’s a great way to bring some pretty amazing eggs into your home and give your children still more appreciation for where food comes from.