Nutritional Value Of A Free Range Egg VS. Caged Hen Eggs

“Hello, There are people out there who think a cheap egg from a factory farm is a good deal and no different nutritionally than a free range or organic egg or better yet a free range, organic eggs. Do you know of any data that discusses the superior quality of “real” eggs?

There tends to be a back lash to whatever happens that is good. So, those who have their hens in natural free range situation often face criticism because their eggs aren’t candeled, etc. If you have any information on differences in eggs, it would be appreciated. Thanks” ~ Gail Hickie

Hi Gail,

I’m glad you wrote.

I’ve put a lot of thought into how to answer your question.

My personal experience would tell me that farm fresh eggs from free range chickens are absolutely superior in quality.

But here’s where I hesitate, although these eggs are better in flavor, firmer in consistency and deeper in yolk color, my palate cannot determine whether the difference in taste is caused by the freshness factor or by nutrient superiority.

Now for our second challenge; raising true free range chickens is not typically practiced on a large scale because there is definitely a higher profit margin in battery houses (which I am not in any way advocating).

What that means is that money to form “national egg associations” and for large scale scientific studies, is available within the battery house community.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no associations that band together small “natural” egg farmers and can thereby afford the type of study that would gain widespread attention and credibility.

However, there was a study done by Mother Earth News in 2007 that states…

“Most of the eggs currently sold in supermarkets are nutritionally inferior to eggs produced by hens raised on pasture. That’s the conclusion we have reached following completion of the 2007 Mother Earth News egg testing project. Our testing has found that, compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:

  • 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
  • 7 times more beta carotene

The study was conducted by collecting and analyzing 6 eggs from 14 farms around the United States where the chickens were allowed to range freely or were moved over the pasture in a movable pen.

The eggs were analyzed for Vitamin E, Vitamin A activity, Beta Carotene, Omega 3s, Cholesterol and Saturated Fat and the results were posted from each farm.

The results were then averaged and compared to those posted by the United States Department of Agriculture nutrient values for eggs produced by confined chickens.

Here is the link to the results of the study.

You’ll notice that the lowest amount of Vitamin E for the free range chickens was 1.34mg while the highest was 7.37mg.

In my opinion, that is a vast difference.

By averaging all 14 farm’s eggs, the average Vitamin E was 3.73mg.

If you compare that to the USDA number of 0.97mg, certainly the free range eggs are quite a bit healthier.

However, my concern is that the average of the 14 farms does not accurately reflect the Vitamin E you can expect for a free range egg because there is such a large disparity between farms.

Are you still with me?

I know people’s eyes tend to glaze over when they are given a lot of numbers but hang in there.

I have a few other concerns with this study before we can draw any conclusions.

To be considered valid, a study must be meet certain criteria.

For instance, the testing should also have included caged chicken’s eggs so that the laboratory did not know which eggs they were testing at any given time.

Ideally, this would have been a “double-blind” study.

Also, the typical commercial egg is laid by a white leghorn.

Although a white leghorn and a buckeye both lay eggs, the comparison can be questioned because it doesn’t take into account the difference in breed.

I’m also not completely comfortable with the fact that 7 of the 14 farm’s eggs were not tested for both Vitamin A and Beta Carotene.

With all that said, we can draw some conclusions from this study.

I believe the diet of a chicken, if it is foraging and eating living plants and insects, will have an affect on the nutrition level of the eggs it lays.

This becomes obvious to me, not in comparison to the confined chicken statistics, but in the variations between the 14 farms tested.

It seems that there are variations, in some cases vast variations, in the nutrient values of eggs.

The type of pasture and plants, the prevalence of insects and their type, these do create variations in the nutritional value of the eggs.

I believe an animal is most healthy, and thereby producing superior “products” when it is able to live as it was created to live.

To me that means, when chickens can eat the grass and the weed seeds, when they can scratch for insects and flop down and take dust baths, that is when the eggs are the best.

Just to clarify, this is not to say that you don’t have to supply your flock with either home rations or commercial feed. It is best however, when the chickens can forage for a significant portion of their diet. The amount of feed you supply will depend upon the available forage.

The other conclusion we can draw is that the only way you will know for sure the nutrient values for eggs from your flock would be to have their eggs tested.

Now, with all that scientific stuff out of the way I’ll be very honest with you; if someone were to ask me if free range eggs are more nutritious than commercial eggs, I would not hesitate to say “Yes”.

How much more nutritious will vary.

But if for no other reason, eating eggs that are a few days old versus the commercial eggs in the grocery store that could be 45 days old before you even purchase them, there’s got to be some nutrient depletion that comes from the evaporation that takes place over time.

Hmmmmm… Maybe somebody will do a study on that.

I hope this has been helpful Gail.