At the grocery store recently, I bought a cartoon of what I thought were free range eggs. When I got home, I noticed that the package said "free run." What is the difference?--Glenda
Eggs can come from hens that are 'free range", "free run" or "battery". The image people are most familiar with is that of "battery hens", crowded into cages with very little room to move. Feed is placed in a trough at the front of the cage and eggs that are laid roll across the sloped floor so that they can be easily gathered.
On the other end of the spectrum is the idyllic thought of hens free to roam about the great outdoors, pecking their food from the ground and nesting where they wish. This is the "free range" chicken.
Between these two is the "free run" hen, which is given the freedom to move about an enclosed barn and provided with nesting boxes in which to lay eggs.
In practice, many free range chickens, while they may have access to the outdoors, still rely on the shelter and safety of the barn and so are more like free run chickens than the mental image suggests. In colder climates, such as Canada*, hens are only able to be free range for part of the year.
While free range and free run eggs come from chickens that are handled in a more humane fashion, they are more difficult to gather and may have been laid in less sanitary conditions, making the labor costs and spoilage factors higher than for battery chickens. This accounts for some portion of the increased price for these eggs.
There is little or no oversight of the industry to make sure that packing claims reflect actual conditions. Nutritionally, the eggs from all three sources are quite similar.
* I have had it pointed out to me a couple of times that in some parts of Canada it is posible to raise free range chickens year round. While I agree for some areas, in others it is not practical in all. In many parts of Canada, chickens are more likely free run than free range, if they are free at all.