Organic vs. Free-Range: What’s the Difference?

The egg section at the grocery store can be overwhelming. Grade AA, A, or B, size Jumbo, XL, Large, Medium, Small, Peewee, organic, vegetarian, free-range, brown, white? What does it all mean, and what eggs are the best?

We’ve talked before about the difference between white and brown, and the sizes are pretty self-explanatory. As for grade, the USDA grades each egg by measuring the appearance and quality of the three parts: the eggshell, the yolk and the egg white. AA is the highest quality; B is the lowest.

Organic and free-range require a little more explanation.

  • Organic eggs: Organic eggs have the most stipulations for meeting the USDA organic egg requirements and are, in our opinion, the best eggs.
    • Organic feed: The chickens can only be fed an organic feed. This means no pesticides, no chemicals and no animal by-products.
    • No antibiotics: The chickens are also only allowed to receive antibiotics when they are sick, versus commercial chickens who are given antibiotics regularly.
    • No hormones: Obviously, no growth hormones or any other kinds of drugs may be used on the chickens to help them produce more eggs.
    • Molting: Only natural molting may be used. Commercial farmers often induce molting so the hens have a longer laying life, but this isn’t allowed in organic foods.
    • Outdoor space: The chickens must be cage-free and have plenty of access to the outdoors. Pens are allowed, but used only to protect the chickens from natural predators.
  • Free-range eggs: Free-range eggs are not the same as organic. Free-range eggs must come from chickens that have access to a small patch of cement, but many times this area is not used. There are also no restrictions on the feed and they can be given antibiotics and other hormones.

Eggs come in many different shapes and sizes. If you have any questions about the types of eggs we sell at Chino Valley Ranchers, give us a call and we’d be happy to tell you about our happy organic chickens!