Why There Aren’t Any “Real” Free-Range Eggs in the City

I’m sure you’ve noticed that real, grass-fed free-range eggs aren’t available in city supermarkets, and that they’re pretty rare even in the country. Not only that, but the few farmers who produce them rarely expand their operations. At best, they keep the same number of chickens every year.

This has been true for ages. Why?

The answer is that free-range eggs aren’t very profitable. Anyone who can make a buck from free-range eggs can make two bucks doing something else. If this weren’t true, the farmers would be expanding their flocks as fast as they could.

Why isn’t it profitable? Because consumers aren’t willing to pay what it would cost. By my calculations, real grass-fed free-range eggs would need to retail for about $10 per dozen in city supermarkets for the farmers to earn a living equal to the U.S. median family income. Of this $10 per dozen, the farmer would receive about half, while wholesalers and retailers would get the other half. (That’s how it always works.)

Out of the farmer’s half, most goes to expenses — feed, interest, depreciation, equipment, replacement chickens — and only $1.69 per dozen goes to paying the farmer’s wages.

(I’ll post the assumptions and the calculations later, but in this post I want to cut to the chase.)

People can complain about factory farming as much as they like, but until they are willing to pay $10 a dozen for eggs, factory-farmed products are what they’re gonna get. You’ve basically got your choice between factory farms that uses cages and ones that don’t, and factory farms that are organically certified and ones that aren’t.

If you buy ’em in the city, non-factory-farmed eggs are gonna cost you ten bucks. Activism will have no effect on this whatever. Farmers deserve to get paid, and so do the wholesalers and retailers. Real free-range eggs are expensive to raise. Nothing real will happen until enough people put their money where their mouth is. Ten bucks a dozen.

I Publish Books! Norton Creek Press

Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

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Robert Plamondon
Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

5 thoughts on “Why There Aren’t Any “Real” Free-Range Eggs in the City”

  1. There also is a 3rd option – a very logical one… Eliminate eggs (and dairy) from your diet. A plant based diet is healthier for humans, better for the planet and certainly better for the animals. For health & heart – Go Vegan

  2. I can’t even mow my pasture without killing some field mice and leaving others exposed to predators. If I were to plow it up instead so I could plant soybeans, I’d kill far more animals, both directly and through habitat destruction. So the idea that vegetarianism involves less killing doesn’t hold water.

    The amount of killing and habitat destruction involved in farming (even on a small scale) is so obvious that vegetarians weird me out. How can they act as if this isn’t happening?

  3. Why is it that “heart healthy” vegetable oils have practically replaced the old fashioned oils like lard, butter and tropical oils and yet obesity is on the rise in this country? Veganism and vegetarianism is on the rise with a corresponding rise in cancer and digestive disorders. A plant based diet is not healthy for humans as we are omnivores, not herbivores. I guess vegetarians don’t realize that they are made of meat and to replenish the proteins and fat-soluble vitamins that we use up we need animal fats and proteins. Not to mention, veganism is not sustainable. Animals are necessary to grow organic produce and too many animals just defeats the process. Go meat!

  4. It always shocks me to see just how expensive sustainable and healthy food should be. Since I try to produce much of my own, I believe it. It’s a shame, because I used to believe that food could be produced sustainably for less than the alternatives. Alas, it isn’t true (except in the long view).

    Bea, the environmental reality of veganism was made clear to me the day I dug a small garden plot in land that was formerly pasture. There is no comparison. The grazed pasture has more biodiversity, is more robust in face of drought, is less susceptible to erosion, is friendlier to wild-life, and is a whole lot less work to keep productive. The fact that a diet containing some meat can have a smaller environmental foot-print is also interesting. (A recent paper by Cornell researchers found this to be the case.)

    Which isn’t to defend factory farming. Not at all.

  5. Mark,

    100 years ago, the average consumer was spending 50% of his income on food, while now it’s less than 10%. This gives us a rule of thumb that food raised by old-fashioned methods should be 5x more expensive. That’s not the answer anyone wants to hear, but it seems to match reality pretty well.

    It also means that, 100 years ago, you could cut your living expenses in half by raising your own food, but nowadays you can’t.

    I agree about permanent pasture being almost magical from an environmental standpoint. Herding cultures displace part of the native herbivores with domesticated ones, but cause very little environmental change. Ditto hunting cultures if they don’t overhunt. Farming is much more invasive. Not that I have anything against farming, but, like everything else, it’s no panacea.

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