What’s the Difference Between Free-Range, Cage-Free, and Pasture-Raised Chicken & Eggs?

The distinctions between pasture-raised, free-range, and cage-free chickens and eggs will be discussed in this article.

what is cage-free vs free-range vs pasture raised chickens and eggs

Introduction to Chicken Farming and Egg Production

Since they have been domesticated for so long, chickens are the most popular breed of fowl in the world. Many people rely heavily on them as a source of sustenance because they are raised for their meat, eggs, and feathers.

Consumer concern over the circumstances under which hens and their eggs are produced has increased recently, which has prompted the creation of several labeling systems to describe how the birds were treated.

Cage-Free Chickens and Eggs

What does Cage-Free Mean?

In many egg production facilities, laying hens are housed in small, claustrophobic wire cages known as “battery cages.”

cage free chicken farm

The term “cage-free” refers to chickens that are not kept in these traditional battery cages. Although cage-free hens are not obliged to have outside access, they are often housed in spacious barns with plenty of room for movement, perching, and nesting.

Benefits of Cage-Free Chicken Production

Chickens in cage-free systems have more space to walk around and carry out natural behaviors including perching, taking a dust bath, and laying eggs in a nest.

When compared to conventional battery cage arrangements, this may lead to higher animal welfare. Additionally, since the chickens have greater room to avoid one another, cage-free systems frequently lead to fewer cases of illness and injuries.

Drawbacks of Cage-Free Chicken Production

Cage-free systems nevertheless have significant drawbacks while being thought of as an advance over conventional battery cage systems.

Cage-free hens are still housed in sizable barns without access to the outdoors, which prevents them from engaging in other natural behaviors like food foraging and sunbathing in the dust. Furthermore, the enormous number of hens kept in the barn may lead to overpopulation, an increase in sickness, and more accidents and injuries.

Free-Range Chickens and Eggs

What does Free-Range Mean?

Chickens that have access to the outdoors in addition to having space inside to wander around, perch, and nest are referred to as “free-range.”

Normally housed in sizable barns or coops, free-range hens have a door or other access point that allows them to roam outside.

Different countries have different legal requirements for outdoor space, but in general, it is thought to be a higher standard of wellbeing than cage-free setups.

Benefits of Free-Range Chicken Production

Chickens raised in free-range environments are able to engage in a larger variety of natural behaviors, including foraging for food, taking a sunbath in the dust, and perching. Compared to cage-free and battery cage systems, this may lead to higher animal wellbeing.

Additionally, since the chickens have greater room to avoid one another and access to sunlight and fresh air, free-range systems frequently lead to fewer cases of disease and injuries.

Drawbacks of Free-Range Chicken Production

Compared to cage-free systems, free-range systems provide a better level of welfare, but they still have significant drawbacks. Chickens could not have enough room to engage in all of their natural behaviors due to the limited outside space that may be mandated by legislation.

Furthermore, the enormous number of hens kept in the barn may lead to overpopulation, an increase in sickness, and more accidents and injuries.

Pasture-Raised Chickens and Eggs

What does Pasture-Raised Mean?

Chickens that are housed on pasture land, where they have access to grass, can forage for food, take a dust bath in the sun, and engage in other natural behaviors, are referred to as being “pasture-raised.”

To guarantee that the chickens have access to fresh grass and other fodder, pasture-raised chickens are often kept in mobile coops that are moved throughout the pasture.

The chickens are able to consume a more diversified diet and do not contribute to land deterioration through overgrazing, making this method of production the highest quality of welfare for chickens and frequently the most environmentally friendly.

Benefits of Pasture-Raised Chicken Production

The production of pasture-raised chickens offers chickens the most natural habitat possible, allowing them to engage in a variety of natural activities and eat a varied food.

Eggs that are healthier and more tasty can result from doing this, as well as the highest level of animal welfare. Additionally, because the hens may spread out and avoid one another in pasture-raised systems, sickness and injuries are frequently reduced.

Drawbacks of Pasture-Raised Chicken Production

While pasture-raised systems provide the best level of chicken welfare, they also have certain drawbacks.

Consumers may pay more for this form of production because it is more labor- and land-intensive.

Furthermore, the mobile coops used in pasture-raised systems can be challenging to maintain, and the hens may be exposed to dangers outside the coop, such as predators.


The production of chicken and eggs can take many different forms, from classic battery cage systems to pasture-raised systems.

Consumers must choose the form of production that most closely reflects their values and beliefs because each type of production has advantages and disadvantages of its own.

Making an informed selection when deciding between cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised chickens and eggs requires taking into account aspects including animal welfare, influence on the environment, and flavor.

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.