You’re at the supermarket. Your eyes cast their gaze over cartons of eggs you can’t wait to scramble, poach, bake or fry. The words “free range” are scrawled across a number of those packs (and you’re quite frankly bamboozled about which one to choose).
In that quick moment where you have to be decisive before someone else’s trolley will bump you out of the way, you pick the pack you think looks most ethically sound. Or the one that’s on sale. It says “free range”, but you wonder only once you’ve loaded the groceries into the car… just how free range is it?
As us savvy, ethically minded consumers are coming to realise, “free range” can mean different things. Most of us are not stomping around on chook farms every day, so it’s hard to know that the eggs are genuinely from free range hens who get the ample space to enjoy the great outdoors, and therefore, have a happier life.
So when choosing free range eggs at the shops, there are certain things to look for that can both empower us as consumers, but also in turn support businesses that live up to their free range promise.
What makes my free-range eggs 'free range'?
According to Free Range Egg & Poultry Australia, there are at least 21 standards that should define whether something is "free range" or not. These include factors like how many hens are stocked per square metre, their access to shade and protection, and the continued production of healthy vegetation.
In 2017, the Australian government introduced a free range egg standard to provide an easy measure for us to understand, allowing producers to stock a maximum of 10,000 hens per hectare.
On the other hand, the CSIRO's Model Code of Practice says there should be up to 1500 hens per hectare on an outdoor range.
What should I look for when buying free range eggs?
One way to know if the eggs you're buying are free range, is to look on the labels for the number of hens. If you don't see a number on the carton, you have a right to wonder.
Sunny Queen Farms Free Range eggs are clearly labelled with a big ‘1500’, so you know from the get-go. For Sunny Queen, it's not just about a number - it's the quality of time the hens get outdoors too.
"Our free range hens have access to an outdoor area during daylight hours where they enjoy fresh country air and are free to roam and do all things that chickens naturally do," a representative from Sunny Queen Farms tells Mamamia.
"All of our free range hens have easy access to fresh feed and water. At night, our hens return to their barn, protected from predators and the elements, for a good night’s sleep."
Sunny Queen Farms Free Range hens have access to outdoor ranges for a minimum of eight hours per day during daylight. Their maximum outdoor density of 1500 hens per hectare gives them ample room to move when they're out of the paddock.
"That means each chook has, on average, more space than a king size bed," the representative adds.
How can I check free range egg brands are telling the truth?
If you're still not sure, you can check out the chooks in action. Sunny Queen Farms has a ChookTracker live stream which lets you watch them cluck and peck live and unedited. It's like Big Brother for hens.
Now, if you don't feel like falling into a spiral of chicken watching and you prefer small print, you can check online to see if a producer is independently audited to meet the Australian Eggs' ESA (Egg Standards Assured) Standard. It's a quality assurance program that takes into account food safety, biosecurity, animal welfare and egg labelling.
In addition to meeting this standard, Sunny Queens Farms' representative tells us that "we also visit all of our farms regularly to ensure they are complying with our high standards, not just the minimum requirement, and we have on-site vets to ensure our hens remain healthy and happy".
The demand for free range eggs is only getting higher for brands like Sunny Queen Farms. Just recently, they announced they're investing millions into a new free range farm due to their rise in popularity. According to an ABC report, demand for cage eggs has taken a dive in the past decade from 70 to 55 percent of sales, with free range now up to 40 percent of the eggs we buy.
But it makes perfect sense. With so many of us detached from the source of production of our food, ideas like this can help bring a sense of transparency to what we're choosing to buy.
So, next time you're a little perplexed in the aisles of your local supermarket, take a moment to inspect the pack and see whether your free range brand is putting in that, uh, eggs-tra effort.
Do you buy free range? Tell us below.
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner Sunny Queen Farms.
When you’re next in the egg aisle, remember all Free Range eggs are not the same. Look for the Sunny Queen pack with the ‘1500’ stamp.
For more information about Sunny Queen Farms Free Range Eggs, visit our website.