Free (to) Range

Free Range EggsBy Jennifer Keirstead, Holistic Nutritionist at Mountain Trek

We all love eggs but did you know that not all eggs are created equal?

You’ve probably heard of “free range” before.  According to Wikipedia, “free range is a method of farming where animals are permitted to freely roam about. This principle allows the animals as much freedom as possible to live in a reasonably natural way.

PETA claims that, “Many animal products labeled free range do allow their livestock access to outdoor areas, but here’s the catch; there’s no provision for how long they spend or how much room they must have outside.” Often times criteria such as environmental quality, size of area, number of animals or space per animal, is not exactly accounted for. It has also been revealed that outdoor conditions can be extremely unsuitable for the animals due to the lack of trees and shade, grass and other vegetation.

Here’s the thing; chickens, like most other birds, are omnivores who love to graze in grasses, forage for worms, grubs and insects and dig for micro flora found in soil. These nutrients are more bio-available than those found in corn and most supplements that commercially-raised chickens are being fed. Chickens will eat grain and pellets but it certainly isn’t their ideal food. The exposure to natural light, as well as the opportunity to stretch their legs and gain predatory stimulation can’t be underestimated for their mental and physical health and well being.

Their living situation has a direct effect on the eggs they produce. Without a doubt, a low stress lifestyle and natural diet contribute to eggs with higher nutrient value, Many notice that some yolks are brightly colored yellow (almost orange), indicating an egg which is loaded with fat-soluble, antioxidant nutrients. Expect to find the more vivid colored yolks in the spring when the grass and bugs are plentiful. Also, bear in mind, variations will be seen due to differences in breed and age of chickens, their exact diet and the season.

Free Range HensSally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, explains that,

“Eggs provide all eight essential protein building amino acids. A large whole, fresh egg offers about six to seven grams of protein and five grams of (healthy) fat. One egg serves up the valuable vitamins A, K, E, D, B-complex and minerals iron, phosphorus, potassium and calcium; as well as choline, a fatty substance found in every living cell and is a major component of our brain.”

Fallon expresses that by, “Subjecting chickens to a strictly vegetarian diet prevents them from achieving their ideal health by denying them the nutrients found through scavenging around the farm, barnyard and pasture. Compared to eggs from conventionally raised, caged hens; eggs produced by free-roaming, pasture-pecking hens, have far more omega-3 fatty acids and all other nutrients.”

So she advises getting “eggs from girls who have true access to the great out of doors.”

In more and more communities, local farmers and even your friendly neighbors are raising free-to-range, happy, healthy chickens. This is good news for the egg-lover. This way, we get to see with our own eyes, hens roaming free in environments in which they favor.

If you’re unable to buy eggs from a local farm or neighbor, the S.P.C.A. has a certified and trusted label; meaning the food products bearing this stamp have been inspected and certified to Canadian S.P.C.A. developed farm animal welfare standards. Battery cages and gestation crates are not allowed under this certified program. The program runs on “5 Freedoms,” which includes, “Freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, freedom from distress and freedom to express behaviors that promote well-being.”

It seems like a win-win to me. Free-to-range chickens are happily left to frolic and forage and therefore, we get nutrient dense eggs full of the nutritional components Mother Nature intended.

Jennifer Keirstead, RHN