Difference Between Cage-Free and Free-Range (With Table)

While buying something off the counter as a consumer, our interest lies in reading the description on the carton. Rarely do we think beyond the carton message. It is time we pause and ponder the question about the origin of the source of our food.

We as citizens need to play the role of brand ambassadors to save our Earth and every living creature on this planet. Protein is essential to each one of us and, it is a part of our everyday diet.

A carton of eggs is part of our grocery bag. We need to be conscious customers by broadening our knowledge of the source of the eggs. Cage-free and free-range are different types of breeding of the hen, and they impact our lives too.

Cage-free vs Free-range

The difference between cage-free and free-range is that the cage-free label in the carton implies hen laying eggs in an outdoor limited access place and not in a confined space. On the other hand, the free-range tag in the carton mentions that the hen laying eggs has ample outdoor space.

Cage-free, a term regulated by USDA, means the eggs come from hens, not caged. They roam freely in an enclosed area with access to fresh water and food. Cage-free hens are healthier and active. They can move around freely in the space available. They exhibit natural behavior that caged hens do not express.

In free-range, traditional farming methods enhance the production of eggs. Hens do not get exposed to any antibiotics or growth hormones. During the night, hens are in a confined space for protection. In free-range, hens have access to greener pasture and freshwater. The hen has enough floor space to nest perch, even dust bathe.

Comparison Table Between Cage-free and Freerange

Parameter of comparisonCage-FreeFree-Range
HousingThey stay in large pens.No cage, they have a lot of space.
Outdoor spaceMay have access to outdoor space.A lot of outdoor space to move around.
FeedThe feed may have antibiotics.The feed is antibiotic-free.
HealthCage-free remain active and healthy.Free-range hens have ample space to move, they are not obese.
Natural HabitatThey do have space to move. They have limited access to sunlight. Water and feed is provided in regular places.Free-range hens have access to sunlight, freshwater, and pasture.

What is Cage-free?

A cage-free stamp on the carton means not raising the hen in a caged environment. Earlier in the US, they had enough space to stand, ironically no room to turn or even stretch their wings. To be accurate, the area given is equal to the size of paper!

The hen house confined hens in small cages was the preferred method the egg industry followed since 1960. The industry-standard space allotted was 8 inches by 8 inches.

Cage-free is a term regulated by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) that implies the hens are not caged. They roam freely in an enclosed area with ample access to fresh food and water.

It is a better option than the conventional cages. In cage-free, the hens get the opportunity to move vertically and horizontally. They may have access to outdoor space.

Farmers ensure to feed them the best diet and, the hens can manifest their natural behavior like nesting, roosting and, foraging. There is no clear definition of a cage-free environment.

It implies a comfortable space for the bird to exhibit natural behavior. According to ‘The United Egg Production’ (UEP) definition of cage-free means that the hens freely move horizontally or vertically, at least 1 square foot of space and, access to outdoor space is optional.

What is Free-range?

The term free-range refers to food from animals who have access to outdoor space and graze freely for fresh produce. According to a layman, free-range implies ample open space with natural produce and bright sunlight.

There is no US regulation on the term free-range. It is the producers to be specific about the terminology free-range. The food raised organically qualifies as free-range, but not all the free-range products are organic.

Food Alliance certified define free-range eggs come from birds who have access to natural vegetation, sunlight for a minimum of eight hours. They do not live in cages.

Each bird has at least 1.23 square feet of floor space. According to the Certified Humane Program, the free-range hens must have a minimum of 2 square feet of outdoor space for a minimum of 6 hours a day.

Hens in a free-range environment enjoy a better quality of life. They benefit from their natural behavior like dust-bathing, walking and, foraging. The hens are healthy with a lot of exposure to fresh air and pasture. The safety and health of the hens are of topmost priority.

Main Differences Between Cage-free and Free-range

  1. In cage-free, there is no cage, but the hens are in large pens. In free-range, there are no cages. Hens live in ample space.
  2. In cage-free, there may be no access to outdoor space. In free-range, there is access to ample fresh pasture.
  3. In cage-free, the feed may not be organic and contain antibiotics. In free-range, the food is free from antibiotics.
  4. In cage-free, the chicken remains healthy and active. In free-range, the chicken is more prone to be unhealthy.
  5. In cage-free, the chicken may be able to move freely. In free-range, the chicken has access to the outdoors and can spread its wings and enjoy its natural habitat.


Eggs are a healthy protein option in our diet. To buy a carton of eggs over the counter can be overwhelming with the different labels. It leads to a lot of confusion over health and sometimes ethical issues. Choosing between Cage-free, free-range, or even organic can be misleading. The debate is between cage-free and free-range.

Cage-free implies not staying in confined spaces. They can move vertically and horizontally. In some farms, they do get access to limited outside space with fresh water and pasture. In free-range, the hens roam freely with ample access to water and food. They live in their natural habitat.

The reasonable carton of eggs is usually from the conventional cages. As a consumer, we may not be aware of the policy followed by the farmer. It is not about labeling the eggs and, we need to realize a hen is not an egg-laying machine. It deserves fair treatment from humans.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1056617119305951
  2. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s10806-017-9699-y.pdf
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