Oh egg how I love thee, especially if you come from a pasture-raised hen!! Eggs are simply amazing; nutritious, beautiful, long lasting, and versatile, they really are a near perfect food. The incredible color, taste, smell, and nutrient density of an egg when it comes from a pasture-raised hen is remarkable. Golden yolks standing at attention when cracked into a frying pan is something I love to wake up to.
So what's the difference between an egg from a pasture-raised chicken and one that's raised inside? First of all, chickens, my friends, are omnivores. Chickens thrive on a diet loaded with bugs, worms, ticks, grubs, fly larvae, and believe it or not, grass! When a chicken lives inside, it does not have access to little six and eight legged critters, grass, or fresh air. Indoor chickens usually live on a grain only diet which is not what a chicken would eat if left to roam outside. So what about the egg? A chicken that lives primarily on pasture during the growing season will lay an egg that is superior in nutritional density than an egg from a chicken who eats grains alone.
The above chart from Mother Earth News illustrates that eggs from pasture-raised hens are far superior in the good stuff and considerably lower in the bad stuff. The article accompanying this chart also states that eggs from pasture-raised hens contain:
1⁄3 less cholesterol1⁄4 less saturated fat2⁄3 more vitamin A2 times more omega-3 fatty acids3 times more vitamin E7 times more beta carotene4 to 6 times more vitamin D
The research is compelling and definitely makes one think about the money that we spend on our food. The higher price of pasture-raised eggs may be well worth it when we look at the nutritional benefits, the more humane treatment of the animals, and the flavor. It's relatively easy to put a bunch of birds in a very large chicken house and have them fed via machine, (hence the low cost of conventionally raised eggs), but the pasture model is much different and costs more. Pasture-raising any animal takes a lot more physical labor meaning more money spent, but when properly managed, is part of a regenerative type of farming which leads to less runoff, healthier soil, and a happier chicken.