Pastured Egg vs Organic Egg - Nutritional Difference?

by 18236 · October 25, 2012 at 05:30 AM

So does anyone dispute that there's a nutritional difference between an egg from a chicken raised on a grass pasture vs an egg brand that claims "free roaming and organic", but not "pastured"? Look at the difference in color!

The Contestants:

Sun Harvest Large Organic Free Roaming vs Vital Farms Large Organic Pastured

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17 Replies

1035 · May 10, 2011 at 07:47 PM

I will add my 2 cents worth here. I have a smallish flock of egg-layers, who free-range our property for about 6-10 hours each day depending on the season. The darkest orange yolks are always from my best foragers - meaning my hens who are intense insect-hunters. The lightest yolks are from the weakest foragers. Yet, they ALL eat grass and weeds all day long and there are always plenty of green plants and growing tips of trees, etc. for them to eat. But, the yolk color difference seems to come more the insect diet. My hens eat things like earthworms, flies, larvae, insect eggs, spiders, centipedes, beetles, pill bugs, slugs, crickets, and more critters that are too tiny for me to see. So, yes - someone said that the breed matters - yes, there are differences in foraging aggressiveness which show up in the intensity of our flocks' yolks. My birds always have an organic non-soy, non-corn feed available to them, inside their hen house. Depending upon weather and season they will eat more or less of that feed.

I've played with the idea that a naturally dark yolk comes from the high IRON content of insects. So, I experimented by giving my flock thin strips of raw beef liver each day, for several weeks. They all love it, and yes after several weeks I noticed everyone's egg yolks got even darker, to the point where some of the yolks were almost orange-red.

Commercial egg producers are allowed to use something like marigold petals or some extract (I can't remember the name) in their feed to change the color of their pale yolks. I'll just say this about marigolds- my hens won't touch marigolds, not even the plants. They don't like them. So, yes to more TRUE free-ranged eggs laid by hens who have good quality pasture with plenty of space, weeds, and insects to consume. It's worth the price, even if you have to raise your own.

1959 · May 10, 2011 at 06:50 PM

I've found this organic egg scorecard helpful in the past:

1658 · March 10, 2011 at 02:43 AM

The color is influenced a LOT by what's fed to them. You can get deep color by mixing in marigolds as well as food coloring. The deeper colors DOES NOT necessarily mean more nutritious.

5105 · May 10, 2011 at 06:18 PM

pastured chickens are far more likely to be getting a fair amount of bugs in their diet, which makes them very happy and their eggs delicious. 100% vegetarian feed is not so desirable (neither to us, nor to the chickens!) ... it tends to be corn and other grains, whereas pasture is far closer to an optimal diet for them, even if they are supplemented with feed. Plus they have to hunt for their bugs, which gives them something to do, and makes them happier birds.

Sunshine... as we all know produces lovely Vitamin D in people, I'm sure it will do similarly beneficial things for birds. Fresh air is much better than "cage free" birds' conditions, which are often rank indoor settings they are contantly breathing. All in all, a healthier bird, and therefore, healthier eggs.

another thing to consider aside from color is the thickness and sturdiness of the shells. pastured tend to be a tougher thicker shell.

50 · May 10, 2011 at 06:09 PM

Almost all eggs sold in the United States are produced by the white leghorn. I would doubt there would be much nutritional difference between organic free range and organic pasture raised, the main difference is in the treatment of the animal.

Cage Free means that the chickens are packed into a chicken house, without the ability to go outside. Gross but true, it's important to note that if the floors are not raised, they tend to eat each others' feces, (I'm not sure how much of this would transfer into the egg though).

Free range means that the chickens have the ability to walk outside of the chicken house, unfortunately this is usually to a dirt lot. However, food and water is kept inside the house, therefore chickens spend the majority of their time inside. The same problems apply if the floor is not raised.

Pasture raised means that the chickens literally live outside. Food and water is provided outside because chickens will not get much nutritional value from eating grass, as they are non-ruminants. However, the grass will add a nice color to the egg yolk, (though color is not a good indicator of nutritional value). Pasture raised is by far the most humane method of raising chickens, though these will also be the most expensive.

3576 · March 10, 2011 at 02:44 AM

I'd still prefer free-range over caged. But then I tend to prefer simpler over unnecessarily complex. The more hassle you have to go through to raise food, the more dependent you are on the petroleum economy and that's not going to be around forever.

There is so much more context to food than what nutrients it has in it.

1368 · January 31, 2012 at 12:10 AM

Surprised no one mentioned this one:

Mother Earth (magazine)'s study on pastured vs. commercial eggs found that pastured eggs have...

• 1⁄3 less cholesterol

• 1⁄4 less saturated fat

• 2⁄3 more vitamin A

• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids

• 3 times more vitamin E

• 7 times more beta carotene

4 to 6 times as much Vitamin D

...than conventional eggs. Why I trust these guys: no one's advertising pastured eggs in Mother Earth (and they don't sell eggs themselves) so there's no incentive to fudge figures.

Besides, is it really that hard to believe that eggs from chickens that eat a varied, species-appropriate diet are superior to chickens fed nothing but grains? Here's my take on eggs - if you've got a local source of pastured eggs, the kind where you can stop by and look over the fence and see the chickens grazing on emerald-green grass, you've got it made. The next best is a local-ish brand of pastured eggs that seems like the real deal. Both of those are going to give you superior nutrition and lower Omega-6. But if you have to choose between organic "natural" eggs and conventional eggs, it's not such a big distinction. I wouldn't make eggs a regular in my diet unless I'm confident they're from a good source.

30 · January 30, 2012 at 05:09 PM

Time is tight, but there are so many inaccuracies floating around here that I can’t help but take the time to set the record straight.

The first photo: 1. Free roaming=cage less=still locked in a big house crowded together with thousands of other birds 2. Chickens are not vegetarian, they are omnivores. Depriving them of insect hunting deprives them of a natural behavior that contributes to their health. 3. It is a violation of Federal law to feed poultry or swine growth hormones, and consequently it is also a violation of Federal law to claim that you do not feed those animals hormones unless you specify that it is prohibited by Federal law. This does not preclude broilers or meat birds from being fed growth AGENTS like Roxersone with an active ingredient of arsenic.

The second photo: 1. Vital Farms is a Certified Humane farm. The most stringent requirements come from Animal Welfare Approved. Yes there is a big difference. Go look them both up.

There is more to egg quality than just yolk color, but yolk color is highly indicative of the hens’ diet. Feeding orange food coloring to the birds does NOT make their yolks orange and NO, the orange color does NOT come from insects. That does not mean that insects are not important to the diet. The deeper color comes from carotenes and the big boys have been trying to figure out for ages how to get that orange color in their eggs. You can’t harvest it. They only way is to have the birds grazing living forages. There are no short cuts. Pasture is it. Pasturing is management and labor intensive. It costs more. The same applies to dairy and butter, BUT unlike eggs there is an opportunity to add ingredients during processing. Processed food is NOT the same as “living” food. Vitamins degrade rapidly and are NOT replaced by “fortifying”.

Cage free means no cages. Free range means almost nothing. The term is not regulated by the Federal Government. They may or may not have outdoor access; they may or may not have access to living forage and/or soil. Chicken will not actively eat feces, but the may eat fecal-contaminated feed.

There are typically 2 main parts to any diet including birds. Nutrients and energy. Forage can provide some of both but mainly nutrients including some protein but mostly vitamins and minerals.

The Cornucopia Organic Egg Scorecard is from a highly reputable industry watchdog and they do their home work on the scorecard.

“Nutrition is about the same, free-range usually has more contaminants (its a polluted world nowadays)” What a ridiculous statement and is the kind of excuse that industrial agriculture often falls back on.

If you want humanely raised eggs go to If you want the best eggs make sure they are also certified organic. YES, there is a laboratory proven nutritional difference.

Every step you take helps. Organic does not replace "pastured" nor vice-versa. The best food is food from local, (H)umane, (O)rganic, (P)astured, and sustainable or (E)co-agricultural or HOPE farming.

Medium avatar
39204 · May 10, 2011 at 06:29 PM

I get a range of egg yolk colors in ever dozen pastured eggs I buy, but as a whole they're more orange than organic or conventional. As we move from winter to summer, the orangeness increases.

4232 · October 25, 2012 at 05:30 AM

As a farmer, my experience is that the secret of healthy animals (and as such, their healthy produce for humans) is eating green. Green, green, green. make sure your animals eat plenty of greens and they will not be sick and their produce will be very supportive of health in humans.

15261 · May 10, 2011 at 06:40 PM

My supermarket carries like 5-6 brands of eggs (a little overwhelming really, especially since there are sizes and colors within each brand, maybe 10-15 things to choose from). The brand that has the darkest colored yolks is Land O'Lakes. Being naturally (overly?) skeptical of large agricultural food producers, I worry that the color is not due to a better diet for the chickens, but some additive (flower petals, food coloring, who knows what they might think of) that changes the color but not the nutritional value (and I have no way of verifying this one way or another).

What many chefs look for is not only the color, but the structure of the egg after it has been cracked. An egg actually has three parts, the white is composed of two parts, a runnier part and a firmer part. A particularly fresh egg from a chicken with a healthy diet (including protein from bugs, usually absent from factory farm raised chickens) will "stand up" more than an egg that is either older or from a chicken that has only eaten feed.

The other way you can tell is to taste the yolk, either raw or very slightly cooked. Eggs from a truly pasture raised chicken will taste not only of egg yolk but slightly gamy and grassy, just like grass fed beef has other flavors not found in grain fed beef.

I get eggs from a nearby farm, and unfortunately they don't seem to be any better than those that I get from my supermarket. According to the farmer they are fresh (within a week of being laid), but the yolks are as pale or paler than those from the supermarket, and they don't "stand up" any better.

So in short, in theory pasture-raised eggs should provide better nutrition, the primary factor being the diet of the chicken that laid them, but I have never come across a reliable way to determine/measure this.

130 · October 24, 2012 at 11:29 PM

Old thread I know, but I just learned this: from the Vital Farms website:

" addition to grass and other pasture goodies, our hens get a feed ration made up mainly of organic corn and a small amount of unprocessed organic soybean meal. It's the only way that we can insure that they get enough of the essential amino acid, lysine in their diet, without which, they simply won't lay eggs."

Is this the case with all pastured eggs?

Edit: My bad, I should have done a more thorough search before I resurrected this thread. It has been answered quite well already.

0 · June 21, 2012 at 05:52 AM

Since even the Vital Farms chickens have access to grains, I would love to know if the eggs have been tested for omega 6:3 content?

77340 · May 10, 2011 at 11:48 PM

Are there more egg and butter picture??? I would love to see more brands and their colour related to grassfed pastured or just organic.

423 · May 10, 2011 at 10:23 PM

That scorecard is somewhat disturbing. I haven't been able to find eggs locally quite yet and felt I was doing better by buying "cage free" eggs from Trader Joes. Turns out those are really not much better than any other egg in terms of how the chickens have been treated. We eat a 3-4 dozen eggs per week and I certainly want to eat eggs from the most humanely treated animals possible. Any suggestions?


440 · March 10, 2011 at 03:13 AM

The difference in the picture is clear as day. But like one answer said, color might not mean more nutritious.

I'm always amazed by the growing number of choice for eggs. I stick to "no hormone/antibiotics" organic eggs. It doesn't break my bank and I feel better about what I am eating.

1047 · March 10, 2011 at 02:35 AM

References to recent studies:

Result: Nutrition is about the same, free-range usually has more contaminants (its a polluted world nowadays). Quality was defined as:

Jones and her team conducted a survey of white and brown large-shell eggs with various production and nutritional differences such as traditional, cage-free, free-roaming, pasteurized, nutritionally-enhanced, and fertile. The goal was to determine if physical quality and compositional differences exist among these different eggs.

Among the claims most often addressed on shell egg cartons are: husbandry practices, hen nutrition, enhanced egg nutrition (omega-3), organic and fertile. Pricing for these products is typically at a premium but can vary from market to market.

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