When you buy eggs, what is the difference between a box that simply says ‘eggs,’ one that says, ‘barn eggs’ and another that says ‘free range eggs’ or ‘organic free range eggs’?
A box of eggs that simply says, ‘eggs,’ usually packaged in a plastic box, is from a battery farm – one that holds caged layers. These birds live their lives in a single cage typically housing five birds averaging only 40 x 55 cm in size (a minimum floor area of just 550 square cm per bird). Sheds of battery hens usually contain on average, around 30,000 birds.
Barn eggs are produced by poultry that have access to perches with provision made for each bird to have access to at least 15cm perch space per bird. The birds may move around freely although stocking densities of 9 birds per square metre of floor space tends to limit movement somewhat. The eggs are laid in nest boxes with one nest box provided for every seven birds and then transported by conveyor belt to a collecting station to be boxed.
Free range eggs are produced by birds that are housed as described in the barn system above. In addition birds must have continuous daytime access to open runs which are mainly covered with vegetation and with a maximum stocking density of 2,500 birds per hectare. Barn and free range flock sizes are typically in the range of 15,000 birds.
Organic eggs are similar to that of free range but have more stringent requirements with regard to floor space and feed supply. Birds must have a minimum of two square feet per bird floor space and all feed must be certified as organically produced. Birds must have been organically reared since hatching. In addition, meat by-products and antibiotic use in feed is prohibited.