How “True” Free-Range Chicken Eggs Are Produced
Dr. Jeremy Wiseman discuses the basics for picking out the healthiest eggs for you and your family. Hens are raised for egg production in 2 primary ways:
The first is the conventional and most common. It is most common because it is the most profitable for food corporations. This is what is known as Confined Agricultural Feed Operations (CAFOs). This method keeps hens indoors, inside large cages where they are fed a diet of corn and other grains of which they are not designed to eat. Large CAFOs can house up to 80,000 chickens with 1 square foot of space each! Besides the ethical arguments against this treatment, this confinement and dietary approach causes the birds distress, sickness, and shorter lifespans. Multiple studies have shown that the egg production declines and the nutritive value of each egg declines significantly when compared to “true” free-range chicken eggs.
The second method is known as free-range. Under “true” free-range conditions, hens are allowed to roam freely all day as they naturally do in nature and forage on plants, worms, insects, and anything else edible they find. These hens are rarely sick, live longer lives, and produce healthier, more nutritive eggs. When compared to conventionally produced eggs the yolk is a bright orange and the eggs are higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, while lower in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and Omega 6 fatty acids. Now here is where it gets a bit more complicated. Many farmers can use the “free-range” label by only giving their hens “access” to the outside for part of the day. Since the door is usually very small and often closed, these chickens stay inside and are not really free-range at all. These free-range chickens are often fed the same synthetic diets as conventional grown eggs and are often debeaked at an early age. Other natural phrases are similarly misleading. “Cage-free”, though legally meaning they can not be caged, are confined under crowded, unsanitary conditions and are also fed corn based diets. Lastly, “organic” eggs are produced by chickens that are fed organic diets with no antibiotics or growth hormones being used in the process. This diet, though organic, is still unnatural and this label says nothing of the other components such as meaningful access to sunlight or open fields. To simplify thing a bit, here are the minimum legal definitions that have to be abided by concerning farmers and food corporation labels:
Free-range chickens – by law this is a very vague definition in the United States, in which the chickens must have “access to the outside”. This access may be as little as 5 minutes daily and most chickens never leave the crowded housing conditions they find themselves in and thus are not free range at all. These chickens by law have to be cage-free but farmers are legally allowed to debeak these chickens, use antibiotics when necessary, and feed them grain based diets.
Cage-free chickens – by law these chickens cannot be caged but they can be housed in insanely overcrowded conditions. These chickens legally can be debeaked, often have little access to the outside or sunlight, get antibiotics when necessary, and fed a grain based diet.
Organic chickens – by law these chickens can have no antibiotics or growth hormone used on them and can not be caged. They must also have an organic grain diet fed to them with no GMOs. These chickens can be debeaked, often have no meaningful access to open fields, and can be forced to live in unsanitary crowded conditions.
As you can see these labels can be misleading if the goal is to ethically produce healthy chickens eggs. The Bottom Line is this: happy hens make healthy eggs. The only happy hens are hens that are “true” free-range chickens that are allowed to forage NATURALLY all day long. This is exactly what you want to look for when searching for your egg source: happy birds, not catch-phrase, misleading labels at our supermarkets created by companies that often don’t address your complete health. Though one should always avoid conventional produced eggs in CAFOs, we should also not completely trust the phrases “free-range”, “cage-free”, and “organic” to define the value of the eggs we eat. Food corporations along with government agencies have become very smart and they will continue to use these definitions with the least amount of effort and quality control. The way to find happy hens is to go to the source. Go to your local farmer’s market (www.localharvest.org) and meet the men and women that raise these chickens. Ask them for pictures or videos of their hen’s living conditions and the farms they represent. Talk with them about their practices and if need be go and visit these farms to see for yourself. Farmers that are doing things right always have open doors for the public and these visits are fun and educational. If eggs are bought off the shelves of your local supermarket try to buy from local suppliers, buy free-range and organic if possible, and Google the company to find their philosophy and pictures of their farms and chickens to see how free-range these chickens really are. Again, this is really about respect. If we respect our food sources, treat them humanely, and allow them to live and grow as Mother Nature designed them, then they will treat us with respect by rewarding us with great health and better well being!
I recently had the privilege of seeing this process first hand at Rock Barn Ranch, a local ranch in Lampasas, TX that raises chickens the right way. Watch the following You Tube to see the process, living conditions, and superior eggs produced with “true” free range chickens!
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This article was written by Dr. Jeremy D. Wiseman at Wiseman Family Practice.
YouTube Video Transcript:
[“True” Free-Range Chicken Eggs with Wiseman Family Practice]
[Wiseman Family Practice Integrative Medicine and Total Wellness]
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Hey, guys. Jeremy Wiseman here with Wiseman Family
Practice. I’m really excited about today. I’m here in Lampasas, Texas, 60 miles north
of Austin, Texas. I’m here at Rock Barn Ranch. And what we’re going to do today is
look at the process of “true” free-range chicken rearing and, of course, the products
which are their eggs.
This is important because a lot of these terms/labels—free range, free roaming,
organic—these labels (and even the eggs that you can get at Whole Foods) are a
little bit misleading in that government organizations and the food corporations
really use the minimum criteria in order to have these products labeled this way.
So what we’re going to do today is we’re going to look at the process of again, “true”
free-range chicken rearing. We’re going to look at the chickens: how they hunt, how
they forage, how they interact with each other and then at the end we’re going to
look at the products, which are the eggs. Then we’ll compare these eggs with
conventionally grown eggs and other quote unquote free-range or free-roaming
Let’s go meet the owner of this ranch. His name is Jonny Arnold. They’ve been
here— his family’s been here— since 1960 participating in sustainable farming and
sustainable animal husbandry. So let’s go meet him and he’ll introduce us to the
chickens. Let’s get started, thanks.
>> Johnny: Hey, Jeremy.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Hey, Johnny. How’re you doing?
>> Johnny: Good. How are you doing? Welcome to the ranch!
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Yeah, good to see you. What are you doing?
>> Johnny: Just putting up the eggs that we gathered up.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Yeah, so explain to the viewers what you guys do out here.
>> Johnny: What we do out here is we have 67 acres of ranchland. We raise cattle,
we raise pigs, we raise goats.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: You do it all.
>> Jonny: We raise chicken for our eggs. We have four separate garden areas that we
raise different things in the garden for the different times of the year.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Sure. As far as the chickens—and that’s actually why we’re
here today, looking at true free-range chicken eggs—explain to me the process.
>> Johnny: You know, we get up pretty early on the ranch, as most ranchers do. We
get a good start for the day. And the chickens—we normally open up the coops right
about daybreak. We let them out, give them fresh water, and throw out a little feed
for them. For the rest of the day, they’re out scratching for the worms, for the bugs.
They control the grasshopper population really well. And they’re just out foraging.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Just by themselves, doing whatever they want?
>> Johnny: All day long, until nightfall.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Well, let’s go out and check out the chickens.
>> Johnny: Will do.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: So, Johnny, these are the adults, right?
>> Johnny: Yeah, these are the adult chickens. They range from anywhere, from
right now, from one year to two years old right now.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: OK. And again, they can forage, hunt, and interact in,
obviously, this area. But how far do they go?
>> Johnny: They have the full range of the 67 acres, if they want, but normally tend
to stay within a 10- to 15-acre area.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: OK, so up there, down with the hogs?
>> Johnny: They go clean up after—whatever the hogs don’t finish off they’ll finish
off for them. They take care of the goats right here. They’ll take care of the cattle
stuff. They’ll skirt through the hay bales and see if there’s anything in there for them.
They’re hunters. That’s what they do.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: And this is the hen house?
>> Johnny: Yeah, this is the hen house. We refurbished this. This had been
abandoned for about three years, and we, basically, brought it back to life.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: That’s great.
>> Johnny: We put in some laying quarters for them and some hay.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: That’s where they go. That’s where you pick the eggs.
>> Johnny: That’s where we gather the eggs every day.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Great. One last question here: what do they eat? I mean,
obviously, there are a lot of bushes here. A lot of stuff is invisible.
>> Johnny: Right.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: What do they eat on a day-to-day basis?
>> Johnny: What you’ll find is, though, the grasshoppers will just come through,
because the grasshoppers go everywhere. So they’re almost laying and waiting for
the grasshoppers to come through and they’ll clean them up. Of course, they’ll
scratch for worms, they’ll look for any kind of an insect—just any and everything
that looks like food to them. As you see, there’s one over there scratching the ground
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: OK.
>> Johnny: That is an Ameraucana. If you’ll notice, we have a few varieties of
chickens here. We have some Red Rocks. We have some Leghorns and, of course, the
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Yeah, there are a few different colors over there.
>> Johnny: Right, we have some Plymouth Rock. And for one thing is you’ll notice
about our eggs is they’re multi-colored. The different varieties of chickens lay
different color shells [eggs].
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Sure.
>> Johnny: Of course, the eggs are all the same on the inside.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: So the eggs are not all white, basically?
>> Johnny: Correct. You’re getting a wide variety of colors.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Got it! Well, let’s go to the hen house and check out the
>> Johnny: OK, let’s do it.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: All right, Johnny, so this is the hen house.
>> Johnny: This is the hen house. This is where they lay all the eggs, so we just go
through each one of the nests, like we have here. If you look in here, you’ll see
them—the different colors of eggs that we have.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Yeah, so this is one or a bunch of different chickens?
>> Johnny: Yeah, they’ll all come and start laying on the same nest because they feel
comfortable and secure that somebody else has laid here, so why not me?
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Right, so they tend to use ones that have already been
>> Johnny: Correct.
>> Johnny: Jeremy, let’s go crack some eggs.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Let’s do it!
All right, Johnny, so what I purchased here is—actually, let’s start over here. So
these are the eggs that you picked here at Rock Barn Ranch. And again, as you can
see, they represent each different breed.
>> Johnny: Correct.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: A lot of people aren’t used to seeing multi-colored eggs
outside of, I guess, Easter Sunday.
This is a conventional dozen. This is the way eggs are conventionally produced.
>> Johnny: This is what you see on an everyday basis.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Exactly, this is what I grew up with. Same breed, all white,
factory-farmed, grain fed. A lot of times their beaks are broken or taken off. This is
the standard out there as far as conventional chicken eggs.
Now this one over here, the third one, is what’s just called “organic brown eggs.”
And again, by organic, all that means is they [the chickens] were fed an organic
grain-based diet. And they don’t have any antibiotics or growth hormone, but again,
chickens aren’t supposed to eat grain or corn. They’re, obviously, supposed to eat
what we just saw. The organic label is misleading. And again, all the same color,
which again, you want different colors. A lot like a salad, you want a lot of different
vegetables. You don’t want just one.
>> Johnny: Variety.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Exactly. And again, this is how organic is misleading.
They’re not supposed to eat corn in the first place, whether it’s organic or not.
And then the last one is from a free-range chicken farm under the guidelines of what
the law says, which is very limited. I think it’s as little as five minutes with a small
door with access to the outside, when there can be up to 50,000 birds in the house.
Again, this is the free-range that people will buy out there. I think they are fooled to
believe that this is the healthiest choice out there, which it’s not.
So let’s crack them all and take a peek at the yolks.
So I’ll start with the conventional free-range. [cracks egg] That’s the conventional
[cracks second egg] This is the organic.
[cracks third egg] This is the conventionally grown egg, which we should all avoid
like the plague. Let’s check out this yolk. OK.
And then lastly, these are from Johnny’s ranch, which we just picked. These are the
true free-range, the ones that are foraging and hunting naturally (in a natural
environment) as much as they can.
So the big thing here, which I think is extremely profound, is all three of these [the
conventional eggs] look very similar. The yolk is a light yellow, and this one [true
free-range] is almost a fluorescent orange. Don’t you agree, Johnny?
>> Johnny: I agree. You can just see the protein in that egg [true free-range].
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Yeah, it’s amazing. All of these—the different ones which
we talked about—have that kind of yellow tint, which again I grew up on. I’m used
When I starting eating these [true free-range] eggs . . . and it’s not just your eggs,
again, any farm that does it the right way. That’s what we’re trying to promote here.
Again, a fluorescent yellow and the taste is dramatic. I’ve only been doing this for
about a year now. How long have you been eating [true free-range]?
>> Johnny: For the last three to four years.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Yeah, it’s amazing. The difference in taste is amazing. Of
course, the ethical treatment of the animal is completely different, which is
extremely important. And then the health of the egg: as far as the omega-3s and the
different proteins in it. It really is a more complete meal.
So that about wraps it up. Thanks, guys, for watching. So remember, as far as true
free-range chicken eggs, you have to go to the source. You can’t trust the labels.
Again, ways of doing this: Keeping it local, using local farmers’ markets. You can
Google local farmers’ markets close to you in Austin. There’s a schedule usually on
Saturdays and there are a few on Wednesdays. And again, if/when you’re at these
farmers’ markets, ask the questions. You know, ask for pictures, look at videos, or
even visit the farm. Make sure that these animals are treated ethically and humanely
and that these eggs are produced the right way.
So thanks, Johnny. Thanks for having us out.
>> Johnny: Thanks, Jeremy. I appreciate you being here. You know you’re welcome
back anytime, but I’ve got chores to do.
>> Dr. Jeremy Wiseman: Have fun! Thanks, guys.