The search for real eggs at your local market and concern for animal welfare are connected at the root. Find a farm that is concerned about the hens’ daily living conditions and you are well on your way to great-tasting, wholesome eggs. At Bethesda Farm, our guiding principle is “the chicken comes first, then the egg.”
One key to finding real eggs is isolating the difference between “marketing guidelines” and bonafide egg quality and animal welfare standards. If you start with the understanding that, other than the term “organic,” there isn’t much regulation of the terms used to sell eggs.
Cage-Free, Free-Range, Pasture-Raised. Says Who?
As awareness grows about the plight of caged egg-laying birds, there has been a move to “cage-free” eggs. Cage-free birds, as the name implies, aren’t kept in cages; however, as the video “The Story of an Egg” points out, the term “cage-free” doesn’t tell us much else about the living conditions of “cage-free” hens. in fact, terms such as “cage-free”, “free-range” and even “pasture-raised” are essentially marketing descriptions with no actual standards behind them. They tend to create confusion rather than provide easily recognizable systems that provide reliable egg quality and animal welfare conditions.
Living Space Comparisons
Bethesda Farm has been certified as “Mobile Houses on Pasture” according to Whole Foods Egg Standards. Before we look at the requirements for that certification, below is a graphic that visually demonstrates the typically difference in living space for the various “marketing terms” mentioned above.
As you can see, there is a wide discrepancy between “cage-free” hens and “pasture-raised” hens. But the difference is not only in the amount of space that they receive. Cage-free hens, though arguably better off than caged birds, may still never see the sunshine or a blade of grass.
Bethesda Farm Eggs: Beyond Pasture-Raised
However, even eggs labeled “pasture-raised” can vary widely in quality; and that is where egg quality and animal welfare standards and certifications play an important role. The Whole Foods “Mobile Houses on Pasture” standard requires that we provide, among other requirements, a certain condition of pasture (grass coverage), cover (for protection against sun and predatory birds) and roosting space for each hen. Here are some other important benefits of the “mobile houses” certification:
- Hens live outdoors with mobile houses for shelter (“Pasture-Raised” birds live in permanent housing with access to grassland or rangeland throughout the day)
- 75% vegetative cover is maintained on grassland or hens have continuous access to rangeland environments (compared to 50 percent for “Pasture-Raised”)
- Shade and cover must accommodate all birds in the flock (75% shade and cover for “Pasture-Raised”)
- No beak trimming permitted (“Pasture-Raised” permits beak trimming).
At Bethesda Farm, we like to say, “The Chicken Comes First, Then the Egg.” We know that if we want to produce the best-tasting, most nutritious eggs available at local markets, then we simply need to provide the hens at Bethesda Farm with living conditions that let them express themselves as chickens. The hens spend there days in a peaceful, natural setting, outdoors on organic pastures. They eat grass and bugs from the pasture and receive only organic, non-GMO feed. All that goodness, of course, makes its way into Bethesda Farm Eggs: they are great tasting and super healthy, with a naturally higher Omega-3-to-Omega-6 ratio, an important factor in your body’s ability to absorb the essential Omega-3’s.
Have a question or comment about Bethesda Farm Eggs? Use the form in the right column or contact us.
Have a great day!