Truly Free-Range

Eggs from “cage-free” hens are not what most consumers think. The hens might not be in wire crates, but they are still inside, in very crowded conditions. “Free to roam” means just as little. “Access to the outdoors” usually means that there’s a door to a small screened area (the size of a porch on your own home) for 50,000 birds. That small door is not always open.

This photo shows what “free-range” should mean. The birds are truly on the range (“range” being a term for wide open spaces on grass). This is a flock of White Leghorn laying hens. Can you imagine 1,200 chickens, just like my Twiggy, running hither and yon on pasture? That I’d like to see!




  1. I would love to experience that many chickens running about like that!
    There’s a farm “just down the road” from us that free-ranges their chickens. They have a coop that provides shelter from the elements, supplemental food and water, a place to roost, and a place to lay eggs. Their protection from predators comes in the form of a great big furry LGD, who is very people-friendly, but apparently is very protective of his girls. There are only 80 (!) red hens there though, so standing in their midst is not quite the same as being surrounded by 1200 leghorns.

  2. I’m glad you wrote the comments about the meaninglessness of “free range” on those egg cartons. Now that it is illegal to photograph or film the agribusiness cruelty, we need to keep anyone within range informed. I’m not an activist by any stretch, Terry. Just a bit sensitive I guess. When we drive through Maryland going up to Chincoteague, we see far, far off the road those long narrow chicken houses. They are placed so consistently away from public access, it clearly is not by random chance. I was disappointed to see one in the background of a picture of an Amish farm operation – an Amish chicken used to mean an incredible, yellow bird that made incredible soup (we are talking 50 years ago.)

    There is an old farm around here that has 3 little buildings like those in your picture. I always wonder if they were coops.

  3. I feel very lucky that I am able to truly free-range my hens. I only have 7, but it is still a beautiful sight to see them happily cruising all over our almost 1/2 acre(that is cleared), property. We have lived here close to 40 years, and have a well established garden that is fenced, so it is as safe as can be for the chickens. There is plenty of hiding places under huge shrubs, so the Hawks don`t even try to attack. Our Jack Russell thinks she is one of the flock and our old cat totally ignores them. All other dogs are unable to access our yard unless invited. I realize that there might come a day that a careless neighbour or friend might visit without properly closing the gate, but I will not let that possibility stop me from giving our Hens their huge ranging area. They all happily head to their coop to lay(most of the time..ha ha), to eat and drink, and at dusk to settle for the night. That is when I lock them in until the next a.m. This has worked for us for a year now, and with any luck will continue to do so.

  4. I let my girls out of thier run for 1 to 2 hours, they love it, they scratch, dig, bathe in the plant pots, just do chicken stuff, im always near, I would be afraid to let them out all day, definitly not predator proof enough, but the time they do have out is happy chicken time.

  5. That reminds me when I was young my dad and I went to this ladies house for something, don’t remember why. She had a large flock of leghorns that were truly free range. The building she kept them in was probably not even 20 feet from here back door. The thing I remember the most was those where the most “wild” chickens I’ve ever been around. They clucked and squawked to a deafening level. Ran, flew, ran this way and that. I remember the lady opening a huge door to show up the inside and the ones that were in this building completely freaked. A wild bunch they were.

  6. This is my first year with 7 pullets that get let out of their house at daylight and the door is closed at dark. They have full run of the world, but tend to stay in certain areas that have good hiding spaces. First every morning they head over to the goat house and apple tree. Then they wander the woods and different mowed areas chasing up bugs until they head back to the house to lay (some of them), eat, and hang out in the shade. The garden will get protected from them next year as they loved my tomatoes and this week I found 27(!) eggs in a raised bed of overgrown kohlrabi. I am painting their house so I can’t lock them in the yard to reinforce the nest box at the moment. I have been getting 2-4 eggs a day though, so who knew? Thanks for all your stories. I have figured out what to and not to do through your adventures.

  7. Egg cartons are part of my decision to have backyard chickens! Several years ago, I read/saw about the plight of hens in commercial facilities, and made a vow not to support that enterprise, if I could help it. I started examining cartons and buying cage-free, not realizing that was barely better. About the time I figured that out, I became friends with a woman who lives in the country and had her own hens. Several threads in my life pulled together about that time: I no longer work outside my home; I wanted to give my grandson a good experience; I have a nice big acre+ city lot and our area permits backyard chickens; I love animals of all kinds; I wanted to live more simply and be outside more — and many other threads which became woven together in my decision to have chickens. After a few months of considering and trying to study up on the topic, I bought four Buff Orpington pullets. My gals provide me with so much entertainment and about 2 dozen eggs a week! BC (before chickens), I only bought about 18 eggs a month, so in addition to all the fun, I get to share eggs with my friends and family. My sister asked me yesterday if I looked at eggs differently now (yes!) and she said that because of my experience, she does, too. I’ve heard the same from others who have met the girls and gone home with eggs. Being able to share that blessing is an unexpected bonus of backyard chickens.

  8. Why do brown eggs cost more than white eggs? Also I have never seen any blue eggs at the grocery store.
    We have a local Farmers Market where the prices are off the map. A dozen eggs at that market is $4.00. They claim to be organic. Will somebody explain why it costs more for eggs that are organic?

    • There’s no difference between the eggs. It’s all consumer preference dating back to a marketing campaign 70+ years ago. It used to be that eggs in New England were brown, laid by Rhode Island Reds, and eggs in the south were laid by white egg laying breeds. If you bought a white egg in New England, you’d know it was old and had traveled far. So, “brown eggs are fresher.” Other regions have other biases. It’s no longer true, of course, but amazing how these tastes persist. As far as the cost of eggs at the farmers’ market – it is much more expensive to raise a small flock on pasture than it is to raise thousands of hens in cages. And good feed is far more expensive.

  9. I try to get my eggs from a place called Cherry Grove Farm in Princeton, where the chickens run around as in the picture, above. You can wave at them :) In the winter, or when I can’t get up there, I use Vital Farms from Whole Foods. I found this brand from a link you posted some time back for the Cornucopia Institute. They were the only “5 egg” brand accessable to me. I have learned my lesson. Only eggs from pasture raised hens for me!

  10. We are lucky to have Eddie Armstrong of Locust Valley, NY who has 500 truly free ranging chickens. He is the last of his kind here in Nassau County.