health

What it actually means when your eggs are 'free-range.'

Sunny Queen Farms
Thanks to our brand partner, Sunny Queen Farms

I love eggs. During the dark days of the 90s when there was some kind of ridiculous speculation that eggs had bad cholesterol or something, I was bereft.

Now we know that eggs are basically an adorable nutritional package sent from above, full of protein, vitamins, omega-3 fats, and antioxidants.

I really can’t recommend the egg enough, and in my enthusiasm, suggested to my long-suffering partner that we invest in a chicken coop in the shared backyard of our rented city flat to ensure a never-ending supply of happy and delicious eggs.

I was cruelly rebuffed and so have returned to the supermarket aisles to fuel my habit. Now, I always purchase free-range eggs. Apart from any moral concerns for the welfare of our chooks, they also just seem to taste better.

Not all eggs are created equal, though. At the moment, eggs labelled “free-range” in Australia don’t have to adhere to a national standard, so while you may envision chickens basking in sunlight and pecking around wide open spaces, the reality may be considerably less idyllic.

Managing Director of Sunny Queen Australia, John O’Hara, gave me some pointers on what to look out for.

“For consumers, the important thing to do is to read the labels on the eggs that they’re purchasing. Check out the credentials of the farm they are purchasing from — like Sunny Queen Farms — are they ECA accredited, HACCP accredited, are they independently audited? Do they comply with the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals?” he said.

free-range eggs
“For consumers, the important thing to do is to read the labels on the eggs that they’re purchasing.” Image: supplied.

“The other important thing to look out for is stocking density. All our Sunny Queen Farms free-range eggs are laid on farms with a maximum outdoor density of 1500 hens per hectare. And for people who don’t quite understand what that means, basically, 1500 hens per hectare equates to every chook having more space outside than a king size bed, so they have plenty of space to roam around.”

ADVERTISEMENT

So now I get what free-range entails — or should entail — but what about all those other labels, such as barn-laid, organic or vegetarian. What’s that about?

“There are a number of production systems to look out for, you’ve got ‘barn laid’ for instance, which is sometimes called cage-free. Basically, this means that all the girls are housed inside the barn, they don’t go outside,” O’Hara explained. I love that he calls chickens “girls”.

As for “organic” eggs O’Hara said, “Organic production is similar to free-range, the main difference is that the farm is free from chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and the hens are also fed a diet of certified organic feed. All Sunny Queen Organic farms are certified by Australian Certified Organic, the largest independent Organic Certifier in Australia.”

free-range eggs
The “girls.” Image: supplied.

And I finally figured out how an egg can be vegetarian — if the chicken it came from was fed a vegetarian diet, that’s a vegetarian egg. An egg can never be vegan, though. Sorry guys. You’ll have to alleviate your anaemia some other way.

There are a hell of a lot of labels on eggs in the supermarket, and it really helps to know what they all mean so you’re getting what you pay for. Sunny Queen Farms free-range eggs are just that — and if you really want proof, go watch their chicken cam. It’s less adorable than panda cam, but most informative. Go to chooktracker.com.au.

Now that we all know what makes a great free-range egg, here are some traditional ways I enjoy eating them: poached, fried, scrambled, flipped into a cheesy omelette.

Here are some less traditional ways you should consider eating eggs: boiled and in a bowl of ramen noodles; poached and oozing over a bowl of pasta; cooked right into the middle of a pizza.

Thank me later.

Do you buy ‘free-range’ eggs?