Egg Carton Labeling – What Do The Different Terms Mean?

Grade AA, A, B. Cage Free. Free Range. Organic. Vegetarian Fed. Pastured.

What does it all mean? Well for those of you that think that cage free and free range eggs means the chickens are frolicking in the meadow, I’ve got some bad news for you. It doesn’t.


Egg Grades

Grade AA, A & B. Your eggs are graded. Grade AA means they aced the algebra exam. Those are some smart eggs! Kidding! Grading doesn’t mean how they did on a test it actually means checking the interior by using the candling method. Candling is using a light to shine inside the egg to examine the egg white, air cell and yolk. You can see below how they’ll qualify for each grade.

egg grading chart

Egg Sizing

There are five different categories for the sizing of eggs. When calculating the sizing the average weight is taken rather than individual egg size. The chart below shows how to size them according to industry standards.

Large, extra large and jumbo eggs are the most popular because everyone enjoys getting more for their money! Duh! When we package our eggs I usually do a mix of large and medium and some jumbo (although they don’t always fit very well in the carton). I mix them mainly because different colored eggs come in different sizes so it’s inevitable when packaging up rainbow eggs.

Standard Eggs

“I’m not picky with my eggs, I just buy the cheapest ones.” If it’s not labeled as anything special and they’re the cheapest eggs you can find in the store, then you can be sure that those chickens lead a very sad life. The picture below shows just how sad. 

caged chickens

These hens live their whole life in a cage only big enough for them to fit. They eat, sleep, poop and lay eggs all while in this cage. So next time you think about saving money on eggs just think of where they came from. It’s an awful life they lead and doesn’t make for very tasty eggs either. This is acceptable according to the government. Yet another reason why I don’t trust when the government says something is good for us, because this picture qualifies and it’s repulsive.

If you ever wondered why most of the eggs in the U.S. are white it’s because the breed they use, white leghorns, lay almost an egg a day which means more money for these chicken farmers. Ever wondered why brown eggs are slightly more expensive? No, it’s not because they are “healthier”. Although my husband would beg to differ since he plays a video game that gives him more health for a brown egg. Go figure. The real reason? It’s actually because the brown eggs layers they use don’t lay quite as often as white leghorns. Less eggs per chicken equals more money you pay.

So, what do all those special labels mean? Alright, let me break it down for you.

Cage Free

So, you want happier chickens that aren’t stuck in a cage their whole life? Then naturally you’ll want cage free eggs, right? Well only if cage free actually meant what you thought it did. So, what does it mean…really?

Cage Free, a USDA term, means that come from hens that are not caged. Sounds good, right? Well depends on where that lack of cage leaves them. Sadly, it’s doesn’t mean roaming the meadows. To qualify for this “cage free” term they must be able to roam freely in an enclosed building with unlimited access to food and water. It is NOT required that they be allowed to roam outside.

Knowing that it’s all a money game I know that this means they are cramming as many chickens in this enclosure as possible. They are all crowded in together and pecking each other too. That’s what chickens do. If they are too close with no way out, I don’t even want to imagine how awful that is for them. At least when they are in a cage, they are by themselves and aren’t being attacked by any other chickens.

As you can see from the picture it’s not a cozy place for a chicken. Remember the term “pecking order”? Well it’s a real thing and chickens have one. With thousands of chickens all in the same building without enough room it’s going to be brutal. Chickens can be extremely savage and even cannibalistic. I don’t have to spell it out for you, do I? Yikes!

Free Range

Free Range, yet another USDA term, means that the hens have POTENTIAL access to the outdoors. Well, what the heck does that mean? It means that a door to the outside exists and that the farmer could potentially open the door for them allowing them outside access but doesn’t necessarily actually open it. Basically, it means the same as cage free, honestly. It’s not a much better situation for them, if at all.

free range chickens

Even if they do have access and are able to go outside the conditions aren’t really enjoyable for them. It’s typically a small patch of concrete and not a nice pasture for them to roam and find bugs and do chicken things. Really, what’s the difference of them being caged or free range?

They still don’t have any freedom. They don’t get to sunbathe, get a nice dust bath, hunt for bugs, scratch in the dirt or any of the other things that chickens instinctively do.

However, there are humane farms out there that do treat the chickens well and let them “free-range” as they should. These farms care more about the animal rather than barely complying with the law just so they can label as free range and charge more. When buying your free range eggs just do a quick google search to check out the farm and see if they are actually free ranging or just simply in compliance with the law.


Organic can be a tricky label. I heard a comedian once say, “Organic is a grocery term meaning more expensive”. He was right! Eggs sold as organic should be 100% fed organic feed. They can be given water additives and vitamins/minerals but those must be approved according to the FDA requirements.

That being said when I was researching a new chicken feed I spoke to the owner of the company and asked him why his feed wasn’t labeled as organic since it was labeled as non-gmo. The answer I received was shocking to say the least. He told me that he submitted for organic labeling and it went through testing. When he got the tests back, he looked for glyphosate and didn’t see it. He called to inquire about it and they told him that they didn’t test for glyphosate! The dangerous chemical that has been linked to cancer that is found in Roundup isn’t tested for?

How can that be? After that he decided not to further test his product to have it officially labeled as “organic” since he realized it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Vegetarian Fed

Are chickens vegetarians? If they are it’s not by choice! Chickens are omnivores meaning they eat a plant and animal based diet. Many companies these days boast about having eggs from vegetarian-fed chickens. To the uninformed consumer, that may sound great especially if that person is a vegetarian themselves (one who eats eggs of course). If a chicken is on a vegetarian diet they are mostly consuming corn and soybeans. Yummy…NOT!


Maybe you have chickens and this is old news but if you don’t know much about chickens, know this: Chickens eat everything! Bugs, worms, and even small animals. They eat plants and any leftovers you might have! They’re nature’s garbage disposal. LOL.

Putting chickens on a vegetarian based diet is not only cruel but can have disastrous consequences to their health. This kind of diet tends to fall short of an the essential protein-based amino acid known as methionine, and without it, they can get really sick. Another downside is if they’re in a cage free or free range environment it can quickly turn deadly. Chickens have been known to start eating each other in desperate attempts to get the nutrients their body needs.

So, when you see a label that says vegetarian-fed, please don’t think that means it’s healthier or superior. It’s not and if anything is far worse than anything else they could be fed.


Drum Roll Please! Ta-Da! These are the eggs that you thought you’ve been buying when purchasing cage free or free range. These chickens actually get to be real chickens. Scratch and peck the ground, dust bathe, catch bugs, lay eggs comfortably.

Yay for these chickens, right? Look how happy!

pastured chickens

Pasture raised is not a USDA term, because really did those standards meet your own? Nope, mine either. While “pastured” isn’t a term used by any government agency (I tend to trust the term more because it doesn’t!), a non-profit certification organization called Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) has created their own standards for which eggs will qualify as pastured.

Their standards are that adult birds are kept on pasture 12 months of the year,

in an outside area that is mainly covered with living vegetation. The birds have access to the pasture through exits from fixed or mobile houses, and covered verandas if present. They are kept indoors at night for protection from predators, but it is prohibited to keep them continually indoors 24 hours per day without access to pasture for more than 14 consecutive days. The minimum outdoor space requirement is 2.5 acres (1 hectare) per 1000 birds to meet the Animal Care Standards for Pasture Raised.

Cuckoo Farms chickens qualify based on these standards! We haven’t submitted an application but it’s nice to know that we more than comply with their strict standards. Although we have 100 birds on 10 acres so according to their standards I could get another 3900 chickens!


Something to think about…I’ll have to mention that to my husband. 😉

Now that you have a bit more insight on what labeling means it’ll allow you to make a more educated decision on what you’re buying. Not everyone cares what kind of eggs they get. That’s fine. That’s used to be me too. Once I found out the different conditions I realized how we’ve been tricked into false beliefs by tricky labeling. Now, at least, you’ll know what to buy based on clear understanding. Farm fresh eggs will always taste better though because they’re so much fresher than store bought eggs as you’ll remember from a previous post on how old store bought eggs really are.  

So, what kind of eggs do you buy? Drop a comment and let me know!

Happy Homesteading & Stay Cuckoo!

Carton Labeling Terms Defined

One thought on “Egg Carton Labeling – What Do The Different Terms Mean?

  1. Pappas Reply

    Wow! Grew up with chickens and didn’t know all this. Thanks for the info.

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