W&N watercolours on Bockingford 300gsm - some of my chickens' eggs
From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.
~M. Frida Hartley
Free-range eggs are laid by happy hens that roam freely around outdoors in the day and snuggle up in their barn at night. They are fed a vegetarian diet of grains and pulses with no animal by-products or fish meal. You can buy them in large, extra-large and jumbo sizes.
Organic free-range eggs are produced in conditions regularly inspected by Ecocert, an international monitoring body, to ensure that organic farming practices are followed. These hens feed freely on an organically certified wheat-based vegetarian diet that contains no animal by-products or fish meal. The yolks of organic eggs are naturally paler due to the wheat-based diet.
In the battery cage system (the dominant form of egg farming in the world), the hens are confined in cages with a sloping floor so that their eggs roll away in order to prevent faecal contamination of the eggs.
The cages are normally stacked on top of each other in houses with no access to natural
light. The houses use various automated conveyor belt systems to bring the hens food, capture their waste and take away their eggs.
Because of the cramped conditions (sometimes less than an A4 sheet of paper per hen – for life!), alternative farming methods for eggs have increased in popularity. These include barn, free-range and organic (also free range, but with the additional requirement of organically produced feed).
“Freedom to behave naturally” (one of the 5 freedoms that all animals should receive according to the Farm Animal Welfare Council in the UK) is one of the greatest welfare concerns for the world’s egg laying chickens.
Research has shown that hens have a strong preference for laying their eggs in a nest and are highly motivated to perform nesting behaviour. Hens also show a strong preference for a littered floor both for pecking and scratching and for dust-bathing, and a preference to perch, especially at night.
Battery caging prevents all of this as the hens are kept in barren cages without perches or litter, and are so confined for most of their lives that they cannot even flap their wings.
Barn chickens are kept loose in huge warehouses. These chickens have the freedom to move about inside the barn on littered floors, and are provided with perches and nests. However space is usually quite limited. Free range systems allow hens to express natural behaviours to a much greater extent. Free range chickens have daily access to large outdoor areas. This enables them to dust bath, forage for food, flap their wings and move freely.
Organic systems are similar to free range systems but in addition the hens are fed on organic feed (grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides).
Free-range egg production in South Africa is regulated by the Agricultural Product Standards Act. Woolworths free-range egg supplier farmers are fully compliant with the regulatory requirements and the requirements for free-range production as stipulated by the South African Poultry Association.
Info from "Woolworths TasteMag"
(Here's a question arising from Kate's comment below : are 'organic' eggs different to 'free-range' eggs...? My free-range hens' egg yolks are bright orange.... I have also found this website that states Egg yolk colour is not a good guide).