• Choose organic eggs, not just free range

    By Riverford & Compassion in World Farming

“Organic provides the highest potential standards of animal welfare.”

- Compassion in World Farming

What do you picture when you hear the words ‘free range’?

If bucolic images of small flocks roaming on green pastures spring to mind, you’re not alone. Thanks to some campaigns in recent years, many people are aware of the conditions endured by caged laying hens. Fewer people understand that free range, whilst better than caging, does not guarantee the highest standards of welfare for hens; nor the healthiest options for us.

Organic Free Range Hens in field
Free range hen free to roam in organic field

“Organic farms give hens a more natural and complex environment in which they can explore; roaming widely and foraging for food.”

Compassion in World Farming

Organic means really free range and a whole lot more. It’s not just about avoiding artificial chemicals; organic is a holistic ethos that encompasses a profound respect for our livestock and our land. The Soil Association’s rigorous standards cover not only housing and the amount of space organic hens have, but also the way they’re treated, what they’re fed, and much more.

Organic vs. free range – what’s the difference?

The right to roam

The right to roam - truly free range with access to the outdoors

Organic hens must have continuous and easy daytime access (except in adverse weather) to an outdoor range covered with suitable vegetation. Farmers must provide plenty of exit holes in the shed walls, and introduce chicks to the range from an early age. Free range includes no requirement about the number of exit holes, meaning that many non-organic ‘free range’ hens never get outside at all.

Smaller flocks

Organic, Soil Association-certified laying hens live in smaller flocks

Fewer birds in a flock encourages them to get outdoors more (hens in larger groups often never go outside, even though they technically have access), and makes it easier to manage bird welfare on an individual level.

Organic, Soil Association-certified laying hens live in smaller flocks (max 2,000 and often as few as 500); free range systems impose no limit (or 16,000 for RSPCA assured standard flocks). Organic chickens raised for meat are in flocks of maximum 1000. To put this in perspective, intensively-reared meat birds are often in flocks of up to 30,000 to a shed!

“Riverford believe in farming with maximum respect for animals, people and the environment.

They have been awarded a full suite of Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards for their excellent standards of farm animal welfare.”

Compassion in World Farming

Organic free range eggs laid on grass

Where do Riverford's eggs come from?

Our eggs come from farmers like Jerry Saunders, who all go even further than Soil Association’s rigorous welfare standards to make sure that their hens have the best lives possible.

For example, Jerry’s hens live in small groups, ranging on rich pastures of grass, clover and diverse vegetation; they also have outdoor sand pits and hay bales that provide an interesting, varied environment for them to explore. Their range has plenty of tree cover and shelters to make the hens feel safe and encourage lots of roaming. Inside the sheds, there are varied areas for the hens to scratch around in, plus corn, hay, grit and plenty of our graded out organic veg to forage amongst. Plenty of high up perches allow hens to feel safe by resting above ground level whenever they choose. The result is genuinely happy hens, living in rich, natural environments.

When you choose a Riverford veg box, you choose ethical food you can trust. The freshest, most flavoursome veg from our award-winning farms, plus eggs, meat, dairy, wine, store cupboard staples and more, all delivered to your doorstep with minimal fuss and unbeatable quality. And better still, it’s all 100% organic.

Co-author: Compassion in World Farming, ciwf.org