If you Google "cage-free chickens", you will undoubtedly be faced with photo afternoon photo of chickens running amok, still packed together indoors.
Cage-free doesn't necessarily mean a return to how chickens are supposed to be raised. It means a little less confinement for the birds concerned, but there is still a greater chance for infection to be spread, as well as less access to a chicken's natural diet (insects, vegetation, etc.).
When it comes to making a decision between cage-free and free-range, there are a couple of deciding factors in play:
1. Nutrient Density
It has been proven that chickens raised out in pasture, exposed to regular sunlight and allowed to "scratch" at their leisure, produce higher-quality eggs. Free-range chicken eggs have higher amounts of essential nutrients, such as Vitamin D or Omega-3 fatty acids. Just like humans, chickens need the sunlight in order to produce higher density of Vitamin D, and without this natural way of living, the egg quality suffers.
2. Less chance of disease.
Now, granted, there are caveats to everything. But one thing for certain is that there are still some measures to be taken when it comes to keeping cage-free chickens healthy. With so many birds in one space, larger-scale farms are faced with no other option than to dose with some antibiotics.
With true, free-range chickens, this need is far lower down the list.
3. Healthier, happier birds!
Here at ROCK, we only work with farmers and growers who respect the earth, and give back to their animals. One of the biggest issues out there with raising animals for meat or by-product is the food they are fed. Chicken and turkey in particular don't fare well: much of the grain feed that are given don't meet their natural requirements as omnivores.
When grain-based feed is relied upon (and much of this is corn-based, yikes!), this elevates the level of Omega-6 present, and lowers the Omega-3.