Animal welfare groups routinely call on the egg industry to improve conditions for hens, yet factory farming remains grim. Male chicks are killed, hens are crammed into tiny cages, and beaks are cut to prevent aggressive pecking. Finding cruelty-free eggs isn’t easy. Grocery stores offer convenience, but if you’re blindly grabbing a carton out of a case cooler, you’re likely buying eggs from a factory farm. Forget the grocery store for now; your best options are outside supermarket walls.
Check Craigslist.org for hobbyists selling extra eggs. You’ll find the cheapest, most humane eggs at small operations. Not everybody advertises online, so if you’re adventurous, take to the road. Many non-farmers in rural areas raise their own chickens for personal use. Not big enough to justify online advertising, they often advertise the old-fashioned way: with a sign at the end of their driveway. This method also enables you to peek at conditions before you make a purchase.
Visit your local farmers' markets for eggs from small-scale, local farms. Talk to the farmers selling the eggs, and ask about laying conditions. Only buy from farms that allow visitors, even if you don’t plan to actually visit. A cruelty-free farm has nothing to hide. Keep in mind that organic eggs are not guaranteed to come from humane conditions. Organic refers to what the chickens are fed, not how they are treated.
Your Own Backyard
Though this method is limited to those with the time and space, chicken farming is not as difficult as you might imagine. You’ll need four square feet of covered space, plus ten square feet of outside space per chicken. Purchase a pre-made coop or build your own. Once you have a coop stocked with hens and the know-how to keep the flock healthy, you will wake up to fresh, cruelty-free eggs every day.
If you'd prefer a nearly hands-free operation, build an automatic chicken watering system that provides fresh clean water year round.
If all else fails, grocery store eggs will do. Start with health food stores as they’re most likely to carry humane eggs, but don’t assume all eggs they carry are cruelty-free. Check the cartons carefully for information about the eggs’ origins. A third-party auditing system ensures farms meet the conditions they advertise. The following labels have no third-party audits: free-range, cage-free, and free-roaming. These labels mean the chickens aren’t kept in cages, but practices such as beak-cutting are still permitted.
Look for eggs marked “Animal Welfare Approved.” This label requires third-party verification, and the requirements for it are strict. The hens must be cage-free and have access to the outdoors at all times. Natural behavior such as dust-bathing, perching, and molting is allowed, while beak-cutting is not. “Certified Humane” is less strict; beak-cutting is allowed, but animals are still verified to be cage-free. Many of the other certifications, such as “American Humane Certified,” are loosely regulated and offer consumers little information about the conditions of the farm.
If you’re unsure about an egg brand, make a note of the name and do the research yourself. Factory farms know consumers like to see happy animals, so don't be fooled by stock photos on fancy websites. Look for third-party verification that a farm is up to your standards before you buy eggs from them.
Finding cruelty-free eggs takes work, but once you find a source for healthy eggs, you’ll feel better about your breakfast. Eggs from humanely treated hens are usually richer and tastier as well. If you end up spending extra time and money to find cruelty-free eggs, feel good about what you’ve done. When you purchase eggs from ethical farms, you encourage the growth of animal-friendly farming.