Grass or Grain, Beef is Beef

cows in field staring at camera

Some nutritionists argue that grass-fed beef contains more omega-3 fatty acids, less saturated fat, and fewer calories than grain-fed beef. Environmentalists argue that grass-fed cattle are better for the environment and do not have any microbial diseases. But how much of this is based on research and how much is based on speculation? While we want to think of cattle as happily roaming the range, we need to look at the facts.

What is a grass-fed cow?

Grass-fed cattle on a Wyoming ranch

Almost all cattle live the first weeks of their life drinking their mother’s milk when kept in the pasture. After about eight to nine weeks, the calves are developed enough to forage for grass with the herd. Once the calf weighs approximately 700 pounds, 99% are sold to feedlots to fatten up to about 1,450 pounds. Here they gain about three pounds a day before they are generally harvested around 18 months. The other 1% are fed grass their entire life. Grass-fed cattle tend to live eight months longer to 26 months longer because they gain only about one and a half to two pounds per day on their grass diet. They also have the opportunity to walk around more so have less fat, more muscle and burn off their food. 

All cattle are grass-fed to some degree. The difference lies in whether they are grass finished.

Only about 1% of beef sales today are “grass finished”. However, the grass-fed market is growing by roughly 20% a year.

Is there a nutritional advantage to eating grass-fed beef?

The primary nutritional difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef lies in the saturated and unsaturated fat content. You may remember from our previous post, Fat: Our New Friend, we should get approximately 27% of our daily calories from fat. Fat protects our brain, maintains our cell membranes, and helps us absorb vitamins.

Our bodies are able to synthesize (or create) fatty acids from the fatty acids we consume. There are two healthy fatty acids that are an exception to this rule:  omega-3 (alpha-linolenic) and omega–6 (linoleic acid).  Grass-fed beef has 3-5x more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef.

Why?  Because grass has high levels of alpha-linolenic acid and corn has very little

Omega-3 fatty acids may help lower your risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and arthritis.  But, let’s put everything into perspective. Does this mean you should use beef as your source of omega-3s? 

Well, you would certainly have to eat a lot of beef!  Comparatively, salmon has 35x more omega-3’s than grass-fed beef.  Other fatty fish, such as anchovies, herring, mackerel. trout, and tuna are also a great way to provide your body with a high dose of omega-3.  Even a tablespoon of canola oil, say in your salad dressing, would meet your omega-3 daily requirement of 1.1 grams for women and reach 87% of the 1.6 grams for men.

As far as the other nutritional comparisons go, Texas A&M and Texas Tech universities completed independent studies comparing omega-3, oleic acid, and total saturated fat from grass-fed and conventionally grain-fed cattle.  Their analysis concluded that “there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that ground beef from grass-fed cattle is a healthier alternative to ground beef from conventionally raised, grain-fed cattle.” In addition, the basic nutritional components of amino acids, B vitamins, zinc, iron, and phosphorus are all the same in both meat options.


Source: Texas A&M University, Department of Animal Science

If you, like us at Dirt-to-Dinner, love a good steak or hamburger, you can get some of your important saturated fats, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat from any kind of beef.

If you prefer grass-fed beef, the most potent cattle (in our opinion), are those that eat grass in the high country because the growing season is so short the grass grows with higher amounts of linoleic acid.  As a result, there is plenty of omega-3s in the cattle’s beef.  Their cardiovascular system gets the benefit of exercise in high altitude – thus they are leaner than most.

While nutritionally there is not much difference, grass-fed versus grain-fed beef can vary in flavor. Depending on your taste preference, you may find you do not enjoy grass-fed beef as much as grain-fed.  Some people like the soft marble feel of a grain-fed cow, while others prefer the leaner taste of grass-fed.  One Wyoming rancher told us that grass-fed cattle tastes “wild” and digests as quickly as broccoli!  She felt that you didn’t feel as satiated after eating her grass-fed cows. 

Fun Facts:

NFL footballs are made of cowhide.  About 3,000 cowhides are required to make footballs for one season.

Beef Tongue is a Japanese delicacy.  About 50% of US cattle tongues are shipped to Japan every year.  Try one – thinly sliced and grilled!

Disneyland sells over 4 million hamburgers each year and McDonald’s sells approximately 75 hamburgers a second – 225 million burghers worldwide every year.

Where are grass-fed cows raised? 

The one billion cattle grown globally give us approximately 59 million tons of meat.  That is enough to give the world’s 7.4 billion people 18 pounds of beef a year. The major beef producing countries are the United States 18%, from Brazil 12%, from China 8%, and from Argentina 4%.  (FAOSTAT).

Typical Feedlot

The United States is awash in corn, so it is easy to feed and grow our cattle in feedlots.  States like Wyoming, Montana, Kansas, and western Nebraska have thousands of grassy acres to support their cattle in the summer but of course not in the winter. In the fall, all those cows either head to the feedlots or have to be given feed rations to keep increasing their weight growing through the wintertime. 

Thus, grass-fed beef is harder to grow in the U.S.  Australia and Uruguay, on the other hand, have acres of land which can support grass-fed cattle throughout the year making their grass-fed farming more cost effective.

Do grass-fed cattle have a happier life?

According to Dr. Temple Grandin, the animal welfare expert of cattle,

“It doesn’t matter whether a cow is in a feedlot or on the ‘range’. What is important is whether the animal has shelter, proper drainage for the rain, consistent food, and is not put in stressful situations.”

Sure, it is nice to think of a cow having access to a beautiful grassy field, but keep in mind, not all pastures are grassy! Some are dry, some have no water, and some are terribly arid. Some farmers claim that their cows are fed only grass – but they are contained in a feedlot and fed grass pellets! All feedlot owners are not the same either. Some feedlot owners pay attention to every single cow and some do not. What the cattle are fed or their ability to roam are not the determining factors for good animal welfare. What really matters is the quality of care and attention given by the farmer, and each farmer is different.

Are grass fed cattle better for the environment?

One can say that cattle are the perfect “crop” for those grassy areas that don’t have great soil for grains and oilseeds.  Their hooves aerate and their manure fertilizes the soil which enables the grass to grow better than it would otherwise.  For example, parts of western Nebraska have 50,000-acre ranches which are perfect for the grass-fed cattle.

However, when most people think of the environment, with respect to cattle, they think of methane emissions.  And, in fact, cattle are often blamed for global warming!  Yes, the media and Hollywood have convinced people that cows produce more pollution than cars or trucks – check out Cowspiracy. This is based on the UN Food and Agriculture Organizations 2006 report, Livestock’s Long Shadow.

While there is a difference in cow methane production in the developed world versus the developing world, Dr. Frank Mitloehner, Associate Professor and air quality extension specialist at the University of California, Davis, disputes the FAO report and explains that the difference is in the animal’s nutrition.  In the developed world, we have very good veterinary care, excellent cow nutrition, and strong genetics. This combination plus a well-managed ranch reduces the parasites that compete for nutrients in the cows’ digestive system. The better the digestion – which you have when the cattle eat a good diet full of nutrients – the less the greenhouse gas production.  In fact, because grass-fed cows live eight months longer – combined with their grassy diet – their emissions are higher.

According to the EPA, in the United States, agriculture as a whole contributes 9% to greenhouse gas emissions compared to electricity which weighs in at 30%. Animal agriculture, which has increased its meat production by almost 50% since 1990, has remained constant at about 3% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that emissions from U.S. animal agriculture have remained relatively constant while protein production has increased dramatically reflects improved feed efficiencies, better manure management strategies, and efficient use of cropland.

Air quality is just one piece of the environmental discussion concerning cattle. It is important to consider water quality, land usage, composting, birds, and wildlife diversity.  Sustainable farming is a multi-faceted approach to all aspects of the environment, not just one.  It is not whether cattle are grass-fed or grain0fed that gives us sustainability – it is the overall environmental responsibility of each individual farmer or country. The North American Meat Institute provides informative fact sheets on meat production.

What about E. coli and mad cow disease?

Some of the grass-fed marketing efforts try to tell the consumer that there is no risk of mad cow disease or E. coli O157: H7. Let’s separate these issues for a moment.  E. coli lives in the cow’s digestive system and is excreted in its manure. Cows have manure on their hide before they go to the processing plant – thus there is the risk of E. coli on the hide.  This is why it is considered best practices for beef processing plants to wash and sterilize the hide with best practices before the cows are processed. They basically go through a car wash for cows.  There are approximately 6,200 processing plants in the United States that include about 8,000 federal inspectors on-site making sure our meat is safe.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or more commonly known as “mad cow disease”, on the other hand, is an illness that results in brain degeneration. The significant cause is when cows are fed feed containing other mammalian protein – a practice that is now against the law. (The real mad cow disease started with sheep byproduct being fed to live sheep.)  When the spinal cord or brains of these cattle are eaten, there is a chance the disease can be spread to humans. 

Today, all cattle are carefully processed without any brain or spinal tissue. In addition, they are all harvested well before 36 months, the incubation period for the disease.

What are the certifications for grass-fed beef?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that labeling beef as grass-fed means that these cattle can only eat grass after they are weaned from their mother.  The Animal Welfare Approved Standards (AWA),  the American Grassfed Association, and Food Alliance are certifications you can find on your beef that ensures that they are grass-fed their entire life.

Produce Variety Helps Diet Variety!

broccoli, carrots, radish, tomatoes and peppers -fresh vegetables

Our choices and varieties of fruits and vegetables have expanded.

Early in the 20th century, what people ate in the U.S. primarily depended on their heritage and traditions, where they lived, what they could grow, and how much money they had. Fruits such as oranges and bananas were a special treat compared to the role of “lunchbox staple” that they play in our diets today.

The average American diet is no longer restricted by local or seasonal produce. Because of our expanded choices, the fresh produce Americans eat today is not the same as it was 100 years ago. There has been a considerable change in the commodities we enjoy year-round. Prior to the turn of the century, many produce items were primarily available only in season – i.e., blueberries, kiwi, papaya, persimmons, pineapples, raspberries, and miscellaneous tropical fruits. Other commodities such as mizuna and kohlrabi, although common outside the U.S., were virtually unheard of until recent years!

We still enjoy the same fruits and vegetables as we did in 1970!

While we have integrated new produce into our diet regimen, it is safe to say, old habits die hard. In 1970, three vegetables – lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes – were the most consumed fresh vegetables in the US.

Per capita fresh vegetable consumption, 1970 and 2013

Food Availability Data

The latest USDA statistics for 2013 show that these same three commodities are still the leading fresh vegetables consumed in the U.S. However, we have expanded the diversity of these three popular veggies. Between 1970 and 2013, there were changes in the number of potatoes and the different types of lettuce available, as well as an increased variety of other vegetables incorporated into the average American diet.

For example, after a peak in the late 80s/early 90s, by 2013 head lettuce consumption declined by 51% while romaine and leaf lettuce consumption increased by 69%. U.S. consumers also ate more broccoli, cucumbers, onions, and peppers during this same time frame. Still, even with our preference for new lettuce types and increased consumption of other vegetables, our preference for lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes stayed relatively consistent.

We have retained a strong preference for certain fruits.

In 2013, American’s fruits of choice were bananas, melons, apples, and oranges. Our fruit preferences were the same in 1970. In the 43-year time span, consumption of avocados, bananas, cantaloupes, grapes, pineapples, and strawberries increased while consumption of apples, cranberries, peaches, and plums declined. In recent years, robust demand for avocados, blueberries, cherries, lemons, limes, mangoes, papayas, and pineapples has been driving growth in fresh fruit commodities. USDA analysts attribute this growth in fruit used to the preparation of traditional dishes by a more ethnically diverse population as well as heightened interest in a healthy diet.

There are various interactive graphs illustrating the changing American diet from 1970 to 2012/2013.  See the’s website and articles in  Scientific American and Time magazine’s articles.

Not only have there been changes in the diversity of what Americans eat, but there has also been an even greater change in when we eat fresh produce. Prior to the turn of the century, the majority of the U.S. population was eating strawberries for one, two, or if you were lucky, maybe three months of the year. Now eating fresh strawberries year-round is commonplace, as is noted by a 320% increase in per capita consumption from 1970 to 2010. And it is just not strawberries – the same is true for blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, pineapples, cantaloupe, and a litany of other fruits and vegetables.

So why the increasing diversity in our produce?

To help meet the growing demand for fruits and vegetables, plant breeding has resulted in new varieties of popular produce items with increased yields, extended growing seasons, improved product quality fruit, and enhanced shelf-life. Tomatoes and strawberries are two prime examples of fruits where year-round availability is a direct result of breeding new varieties.

Suppliers have also improved shelf-life and product quality during transportation by modifying harvesting methods. A good example of these improvements can be seen with the banana which bruises easily when it is ripe. Bananas used to be harvested after ripening until growers discovered they could harvest unripe, green bananas and ship them all over the world without damaging the still firm unripe fruit.

Where Do Our Fruits and Vegetables Come From?

fresh fruits and vegetables

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Knowing where your food comes from is a big topic these days – especially for produce. Fruit and vegetable production occurs throughout the U.S., but mostly in concentrated areas of the country.

A Clear Winner in U.S. Produce Production

According to the USDA’s 2012 agricultural census data, California produces the nation’s largest assortment and volume of fruits and vegetables on nearly 4.4 million acres out of a total landmass of 100 million acres. They lead production in broccoli, artichokes, kiwis, plums, celery, garlic, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, lettuce, raspberries, and strawberries.

One-third of California’s farmland is used to grow vegetables. Other major vegetable producing-states are (in order) Idaho, Washington, Wisconsin, Florida, and Minnesota with between 370,000 and 230,000 acres.

In fruit production, California once again leads U.S. production with over 3.1 million acres in orchards and nearly 53,000 acres in berries.

Only 3 other states have more than 200,000 acres in orchards – Florida with 579,068, Washington with 315,456, and Texas with 204,305. Other leaders in berry production are Maine, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, and Wisconsin – all with between 22,000 to 40,000 acres.

In most states, fruit and vegetables are in season for a short period of time – usually measured in weeks of the year. In states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California with mild climates and large fertile, arable land mass, some produce may be grown for longer time periods than in the more temperate U.S. zones. But even in these states, seasonality still limits production for most commodities requiring import of products from the southern hemisphere.

So…how are we eating fresh berries during a snowy winter?

As demand for products such as fresh berries grows, suppliers have found ways to transport products from in-season growing areas in the southern hemisphere to consumers residing in the northern hemisphere during the offseason. The fresh blueberries you enjoy on your yogurt in winter are imported from South America.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. was a net exporter of fruits and vegetables, but today our nation is a net importer. In looking at USDA data, the volume of U.S. fruit and vegetable imports increased 35 and 50%, respectively, from 1999 to 2014 (Figure 1). With cultivation moving from the northern hemisphere to prime summer growing season in the southern hemisphere, U.S. consumers experience the restrictions of seasonality less than ever before – thanks to those imports from Mexico and South and Central America.

Imports from Mexico and South and Central America enable U.S. consumers to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables during the winter months

Figure 1. The volume of U.S. fruit and vegetable imports increased 35 and 50%, respectively, from 1999 to 2014

This next chart (figure 2) illustrates imported produce shipments from 1998 to 2012.

  • During the 15 year span (1998-2012), spring produce shipments more than tripled and fall shipments increased 4.5-fold.
  • Over 90% of imported fruits and vegetables come from Mexico, Central America, and South America.
  • In 1998, 100% of iceberg lettuce was grown domestically, but by 2012, domestic production shrank 5%.

To further explore the origin of produce imported to the U.S., check out the 5,000-mile salad, an interactive Scientific American publication depicting the USDA’s data on where our fruits and vegetables come from.

Figure 2. Fruits and vegetables shipped to U.S. distribution centers in April and September 1998, 2005, 2012. Source: Scientific American

How has the market for fresh/processed/frozen fruits and vegetables changed?

Produce can be categorized in many different ways, but two broad categories are fresh market and processed. Most farmers grow particular produce varieties specifically for either processed or fresh market. Sometimes, fresh market products may be diverted to processing when they do not meet buyer specifications or fresh market USDA grade standards or when an unplanned situation occurs such as a hail storm that causes physical crop damage rendering the crop unfit for the fresh market. But by and large, growers plant their crops knowing where the harvested crop is going – to either fresh market or processing buyers.

According to the USDA, about half of all US-produced vegetables are processed. Processed vegetables can be further broken down into subcategories of canned and frozen. Figure 3 illustrates how since the mid-1980s production of fresh market vegetables has soared surpassing canning in 1981.

Although fresh market production has plateaued in the past decade, vegetables produced for canning and freezing have overall remained stagnant since 1970. With no sign of losing its number one spot, California led the fresh market and processed vegetable production in 2015 followed by Arizona, Georgia, New York, and Washington for fresh market and Wisconsin, Washington, Minnesota, and Michigan for processed vegetables.

Figure 3. How U.S. vegetables are used, 1970-2014 (USDA, ERS)

Most growers plant their crops knowing where the harvested crop is going – to either fresh market or processing buyers.

Fruit availability has also reflected the changes in consumer preference and diets since 1970. Figure 4 shows U.S. Fruit availability, 1970-2012 (in pounds per capita, 3-year averages).

Figure 4. U.S. Fruit availability, 1970-2012 (in pounds per capita, 3-year averages). Source: USDA ERS

From 2010-2012 fresh fruit accounted for 52% of Americans’ per capita consumption, up from 42% in 1970-1972; while processed fruit (canned, juice, frozen, and dried) fell steadily from a peak of 171.3 lbs. per person in 1977 to 113.7 lbs. per person in 2012.

Within the processed category, canned and juice consumption has declined the most from 1970 to 2012. Growth in the frozen fruit category was attributed primarily to the popularity of frozen berries.

Let The Hens Out! Cage Free Eggs

Free range brown chickens

Over the past several years, consumers have voiced their concerns about the way poultry is raised. The traditional method of placing many birds in a cage where it cannot fluff its wings or roam freely seems cruel. So, consumers are demanding farmers let the chickens out of their cages. And subsequently, there has been a cascade of announcements from almost every fast food and restaurant chain, food manufacturer, and meat and egg producer making commitments to improve farm animal confinement standards.

States, too are enacting new regulations on how animals are raised. In 2015, a California statute went into effect that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. For egg laying chickens, this means at least 116 square inches of floor space, compared to the industry standard of 67 square inches in a battery cage. Voters in Massachusetts will consider a similar ballot measure in November 2016, whereby 2022 all eggs sold in the state will be “cage-free” and chickens will be given 216 square inches of space. This can be complicated because different states and different companies have their own definitions of cage-free. Some, like McDonald’s, require the birds to be able to roam around and some, like California, allow cages, albeit big enough for the chicken to fluff her wings.

Either way, these state’s decisions have a ripple effect for producers beyond their borders. Farmers and big agricultural enterprises have responded by converting hen housing systems to cage-free. In fact, the European Union banned the use of conventional battery cage eggs in 2012. The move towards cage-free egg production is effectively underway. But this is no easy feat since most of the eggs today are NOT cage free as it is much easier to control egg production as well as the chicken mortality rate if they are in cages. So now farmers are thinking of innovative strategies on how to sustain chickens and egg production on their farm – while allowing the birds to roam around, happily.

As it turns out, going cage-free requires much more planning, money, and logistical engineering than the seemingly simple notion of setting some hens free would suggest. Ironically, this massive supply chain overhaul stems from consumer demand to return to the egg-producing practices of our pre-industrial past, but without undoing all the positive benefits of scale, affordability, and safety that were achieved through industrialization. It actually took farmers a really long time to figure out how to put the bird in the cage—and it’s going to take a while to figure out how to get it back out.

(Wired Magazine, 2016)

The Conventional System of Egg Production

Conventional Cage System. Photo: Big Dutchman

Ironically, when egg farmers adopted these cages in the 1950s, they considered it progress! The ability to control and monitor the lives of the chickens made the houses and eggs cleaner than before. However, a 2010 nationwide recall of shell eggs following an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis exposed some poorly managed egg farms as having very unsanitary and unfavorable conditions for the chickens and eggs. The Salmonella outbreak did nothing to improve the image of big commercial egg farms, who had already been criticized for squeezing hens into tiny, restrictive cages. In the months following the recall, producers of organic, cage-free, and free-range eggs struggled to keep up with a sudden surge in consumer demand.

So What is A Cage Free Egg?

Cage Free – Aviary System. Photo: Big Dutchman

Presently, 10 percent (fewer than 30 million eggs) of America’s eggs are from cage-free systems such as organic, pasture-raised, or indoor cage-free systems. But, if you think that “cage-free” implies happy chickens pecking at insects and fluffing their feathers outdoors in the countryside, think again! The USDA loosely defines “cage-free,” and interpretations will vary according to the producer.

Eggs labeled “cage-free” or “from free-roaming hens” are laid by hens that are allowed to roam in a room or open area, which is typically a barn or poultry house.

Cage Free – Enriched Colony System. Photo: Big Dutchman

These hens are generally living in indoor-floor facilities and may have access to a multi-tiered indoor environment called an “aviary.” Hens laying cage-free eggs theoretically are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests. However, mortality rates are generally higher (about 5%) because the hens tend to peck at each other, causing injury. Cage-free systems offer a chicken more freedom of movement to act and behave like a chicken.

In addition to “cage-free” claims, egg producers often participate in additional certification programs with varying claims of improved animal welfare. Here is a chart summarizing some of these marketing claims:


How is Egg Safety Ensured?

Eggs are a relatively safe product and are getting safer. Many farmers vaccinate their chickens against salmonella, and the FDA Egg Safety Rule, (2010) provides specific steps, including requiring producers to maintain a written Salmonella Enteritidis prevention plan and document their compliance aimed at reducing human Salmonella infections caused by eggs. Scientists estimate that, on average across the U.S., only 1 of every 20,000 eggs might contain the bacteria. So, although you should always practice safe food handling, the likelihood that an egg might contain Se is extremely small – 0.005% (five one-thousandths of one percent). At this rate, if you’re an average consumer, you might encounter a contaminated egg once every 84 years. (Incredible Egg)

Many government agencies cooperate to ensure the safety of shell eggs from farm to table. Involved government agencies include USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and State departments of agriculture.

Egg and Poultry Facts

  • There are no nutritional or food safety differences between eggs produced in cage-free or conventional houses. The labels refer to the housing environment where the hens live and produce eggs. When managed properly, all production environments (conventional, enriched cage, cage-free and organic/free range) provide safe, nutritious, quality eggs.
  • Hormones are banned for use in poultry in the U.S. (but that doesn’t stop chicken producers from marketing their birds as hormone-free!)
  • Broilers, those chickens raised for meat, are always raised “cage-free” in poultry houses. Broilers can be free-range or pastured raised as well.

Is cage-free better for the hens?

Yes, if you think a hen should be able to act like a hen. But there are some trade-offs.

However, the first study to analyze different housing arrangements on a commercial scale basis, from a sustainable perspective was published in 2015 from an industry consortium called the Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply. The objective of the Coalition’s research was to evaluate various laying hen housing systems measuring five sustainability factors: food safety, the environment, hen health/well being, worker health/safety, and food affordability. The broad coalition was made up of leading animal welfare scientists, academic institutions, non-government organizations, egg suppliers, and restaurant/food service and food retail companies.

The study examined three different layer housing systems – conventional cages (used as a baseline), cage-free aviary, and enriched colonies (a hybrid of cage and cage-free)

Although the research assessed elements of hen housing and egg production using a single hen breed/strain, in a particular region of the U.S., it found there are positive and negative impacts and trade-offs associated with each of the three hen housing systems relative to each of the five sustainability areas.

Essentially, the results reveal that even though it costs 30%-40 % more to raise birds in the Aviary and Enriched Colony systems, those birds were able to engage in their hen-like behavior of flying, perching, and dust-bathing. These two systems did have more dust and emissions because of the improved freedom of the birds and the challenge of cleaning up the litter. While hen mortality rate was greatest in the Aviary, the hens were able to have more of a “hen-like” life.

Where does this leave us (and the chickens?)

To the elation of animal welfare advocates and consumers who have been lobbying hard for the chickens, the industry is changing. Cage-Free systems ultimately represent progress and a more thoughtful connection between humans and the animals that provide us with food. Major companies have committed to going cage-free, subsequently driving producers to alter their practices. In Europe, the Enriched Colony housing system is emerging as a preferred cage free method as it combines many of the advantages of both the cage and cage-free systems. Fully enriched systems provide hens with many enhancements such as perching, scratching, and foraging areas, as well as secluded nesting areas so she can lay her eggs in private. Egg farmers need to find ways in which to manage more birds in the most efficient manner while using fewer land resources. Economies of scale and improvements in technology and breeding will make a conversion to cage-free systems a reasonable and necessary capital investment for egg producers.