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(Disclaimer: I am not an animal welfare researcher or expert. I got all of my information from publicly-available certification standards, farm websites, and emailing individual farms.)

I'm not a vegan, but I've long felt troubled by the fact that eggs have such a high suffering-to-calorie ratio — higher, by some calculations, than beef[1] . I like eating eggs, and it seems possible to raise laying hens in a humane and low-suffering way, so I looked into whether I could purchase eggs from brands that treat their chickens well (or at least, less badly). 

TL;DR: See here for egg brands I recommend that are sold in the Bay Area. If you're not based in the Bay Area, I recommend Cornucopia's Egg Scorecard tool and the Animal Welfare Approved store locator to find low-suffering eggs in your market area.

What does "lower-suffering" mean? 

I don't know how to tell whether a hen's life is "overall happy" or "net-positive" (or if that's even a coherent way to think about this question). Instead, I looked into common industry practices that are harmful to laying hens, and tried to find brands that avoid those practices. To do this, I used the qualifying criteria for A Greener World's Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) certification, which I've personally heard animal welfare researchers speak highly of. 

Unfortunately, very few egg brands (and none available in my current city) have an AWA certification, so rather than relying on certification status, I evaluated each brand on a per-criteria basis.

Based on the AWA standards for laying hens, my criteria included:

  • No physical mutilation. This includes debeaking (removing the whole beak), beak trimming (removing the sharp tip of the beak that the hen uses to forage and groom), toe-trimming (removing the hen's claws), etc. The AWA certification forbids all physical alterations. 
  • No forced-molting. This involves starving hens for 1-2 weeks, which forces them into a molt (losing feathers), resetting their reproductive cycle so that they can restart egg production with higher yields. AWA forbids this.
  • Access to outdoor space and foraging. AWA mandates that outdoor foraging is accessible for at least 50% of daylight hours, and that housing is designed to encourage birds to forage outdoors during the day. The outdoor space must be an actual nice place to forage, with food and vegetation to provide cover from predators, and not just a dirt field. Indoor confinement is prohibited.
  • Age of outdoor access for pullets (young hens). Many farms keep pullets indoors for their safety even if adult hens forage outdoors. If you keep pullets indoors for too long, it seems that they became scared to go outside. AWA's standard is 4 weeks; many standard farms don't allow outdoor access until >12 weeks (if outdoor access is provided at all).
  • Indoor space. The hens' indoor housing or shelter must have at least 1.8 square feet per bird, unless they only return to their indoor housing to lay and sleep and spend the rest of the time outdoors.
  • Smaller flock size. AWA has no strict requirements here, but recommends a flock size of <500 birds, and notes that the birds must have a stable group size and be monitored to minimize fighting. This is much smaller than standard farms, which often have flock sizes of 10,000+ hens.

(The AWA certification has a ton more requirements than just this, but I limited my criteria to ones that I could easily check using online materials).

Is this enough?

I'm not sure. I've sometimes thought that avoiding industry-standard factory farms is like avoiding using prisons that violate the Geneva Convention: it prevents the worst atrocities, but by no means guarantees a good life. At other times, I read about the hens at the farms I buy from and think they sound like they're having a pretty good time. The standards mentioned above, while fairly minimal, are already very different from industry standard practice, and my guess is that if a farm is willing to implement them, they're probably much more likely to care about their birds' wellbeing. Some of the top brands I mention below go above and beyond the minimal criteria listed above.

Edited to add: Some criteria that I would like to use when comparing farms, but couldn't find enough data on:

  • Whether the farm uses heritage breeds: my understanding is that heritage breeds lay fewer eggs, but have healthier genetics and fewer chronic health issues.
  • How the farm handles male chicks: I'm pretty sure that male chicks are always killed (or sold to be killed), but I don't know if some farms do this more humanely than others. Even AWA does not forbid male chick culling, sadly, so it's probably the default practice until the US adopts in-ovo sexing.
  • How well the farm cares for the health of its hens: Farm chickens face many common diseases and health issues, such as bone fractures from insufficient calcium (eggshell production requires a lot of calcium, leaving less for healthy bone growth). I don't have the expertise to evaluate how well a farm mitigates this, or how well they care for injured or sick hens.

Most recommended, but not widely available:

  • Fifth Crow Farm is Animal Welfare Approved, and sells at farmer's markets in SF and the South Bay, as well as via farm pickup. They use heritage breeds, have a limited quantity of eggs available per year, and typically run out by the end of the laying season. They seem to really care about their chickens.

I found several other farms that aren't AWA-approved, but score well on the welfare criteria I mentioned above, and are more widely available at standard grocery stores:

In general, higher-welfare farms seem to be much lower volume, and typically only sell at a few grocery stores. This makes sense since chickens benefit from smaller flock sizes and fewer laying cycles, but it also means that it's harder to find stores that carry these brands. In my experience, Alexandre Kids is the most widely-available of the top brands I recommend. 

If you're not based in the Bay Area, or can't find the above brands at your local grocery store, I recommend using Cornucopia's Egg Scorecard tool to find brands that sell in your market area, or using the Animal Welfare Approved store locator (which is unfortunately a bit janky, but still works).

In researching this, I also found that many farms that brand themselves as humane or "pasture raised" but seem likely to be high-suffering. Here are some humane-looking brands that I don't recommend:

  • Vital Farms permits beak trimming, has large flocks of >20,000 birds, doesn't meet the minimum of 1.8 square feet of indoor space per bird, and doesn't let their pullets outside until 22 weeks.[2]
  • Happy Egg permits beak trimming, has flock sizes of up to 20,000 birds, and doesn't let their pullets outside until 22 weeks.[2]
  • Judy’s Family Farm, Uncle Eddie’s Wild Hens, Rock Island, Petaluma Farms, Organic Valley: in California, these are all different distribution labels for Petaluma Farms, which keeps their hens confined indoors for life. The "Judy's Family Farms" branch of Petaluma is USDA Certified Organic, a certification that typically mandates outdoor access; however, Judy's Family Farms manages to technically meet this requirement by using small caged-in outdoor porches.[3] (Note: The report I learned this from was from 2015; if their standards have improved since then I don’t know about it).
 Fifth Crow FarmsBurroughs Family FarmsAlexandre KidsStueve OrganicSt. John Family Farms ("Outdoor Hens")
Available atVarious farmer’s markets in SF and the South BayWhole Foods locations in BerkeleyMany grocery stores across the west coast, including Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, etc. Easiest to find of all the ones mentioned here.Occasionally Berkeley Bowl Occasionally Berkeley Bowl
CertificationsAnimal Welfare Approved[4]USDA Certified Organic[5], Certified Humane[5],
Cornucopia Top-Rated[2]
Certified Humane[5]
USDA Organic[5]
Cornucopia Top-Rated[2]
USDA Organic[5],
Cornucopia Top-Rated[2]
Beak trimming?No[6]No[2]No[2]No longer allowed, but some flocks still have birds that were beak-trimmed[2]No[7]
Forced molting?No[6]No[2]No[2]No[2]No[7]
Outdoor accessMobile coops with 
easy pasture access[4]
Mobile coops with easy pasture access, ensures all hens utilize outdoor space [2]Mobile coops with easy pasture access, ensures all hens utilize outdoor space [2]Mobile coops with easy pasture access, ensures all hens utilize outdoor space[2]Mobile coops with pasture access[7]
Quality of outdoor pasturePasture with lots of vegetation, rotated to a new forage weekly[4]Pasture with >85% vegetation cover, rotated to new forage frequently[2]Pasture with >85% vegetation cover, rotated to new forage frequently[2]Pasture with >85% vegetation cover, rotated to new forage frequently[2]I don't know
Pullet age at outdoor access<4 weeks[6]12 weeks,[2]  which is later than the AWA requirement of 4 weeks6-10 weeks[2], which is later than the AWA 
requirement of 4 weeks
Around 4 weeks[2]2-4 weeks[7]
Sufficient indoor spaceBirds are only indoors 
to lay and sleep[4]
1.92 sq ft per bird>1.8 sq ft per bird[2]1.6 sq ft per bird, which is less than AWA's requirement of 1.8 sq ft[2]I don't know
Flock size350 hens[4]500 hens[2]<2,500 hens[2]<300 hens[2]1200-1500 hens[7]
Raises own hens from hatching?Yes[4]Purchases chicks to raise on-farm[2]Purchases chicks to raise on-farm[2]70% of flock is hatched on-farm, other hens are purchased as pullets[2]Purchases chicks to raise on-farm[7]

Information sources

Much of my information on different farms' practices comes from The Cornucopia Institute, a consumer watchdog nonprofit focused on organic farming which produces publicly-available scorecards for various egg farms [2]. They rate farms based on things I don't care as much about (like organic feed), but lots of things I do care about (break trimming, forced molting, outdoor access, flock size, etc). Cornucopia vets organic farms by asking them to provide documentation and photos related to their practices, and incorporates farm transparency (how well the farm cooperated with requests for information) into their score. 

I also used information from other any certifications that a farm has:

  • Certified Humane prohibits “debeaking” (removing the whole beak) but still permits “beak trimming” (removing the tip of the beak). It prohibits forced-molting.
  • USDA Certified Organic prohibits battery cages and continuous indoor confinement.

(Note: “Certified Humane” should not be confused with “American Humane Certified”, which has very low standards and basically doesn’t mean anything).

In the case of St. John Family Farms, I couldn't find outside information on them, so I emailed them and asked, and hopefully they were honest.

  1. ^

    Per this Vox article: "If you crunch the numbers on amount of harm done per meal, or per calorie consumed, then by far the strongest argument is to cut out chicken, then (non-free range) eggs, then pork. The argument for cutting out beef, and especially the argument for cutting out milk, is much, much weaker."
    Brian Tomasik's 2007 food suffering calculator and foodimpacts.org give similar results.

  2. ^

    Source: Cornucopia’s 2023 egg scorecards here. See an explanation of their standards here.

  3. ^
  4. ^

    Source: Fifth Crow Farm's website.

  5. ^

    The USDA Certified Organic and Certified Humane standards both provide some minimum bars I care about: USDA Certified Organic prohibits continuous indoor confinement, and Certified Humane prohibits forced-molting and debeaking (though not beak trimming). Note: "Certified Humane" should not be confused with "American Humane Certified", which has very low standards and basically doesn't mean anything.

  6. ^
  7. ^

    Source: I emailed St. John Family Farms in 2023 and asked, and hopefully they weren't dishonest.





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I'm french so I have nothing to say directly about your question, but I would like to emphasize that most types of eggs are almost certainly way worse than beef and pig when considering animal suffering.
Using Faunalytics estimates, eating these different dishes creates this quantity of suffering : 

  • chicken : 0,1 animal live et 5,2 days in farm
  • pork : 0,002 animal life and 0,33 days in farm
  • beef : 0,0004 animal life and 0,33 days in farm
  • egg (omelette) : 0,01 animal life and 4,9 days in farm 

And it doesn't account for the relative badness of being a broiler vs a laying hen vs a pig vs a beef. 

Also, the Welfare Footprint project estimates that cage-free hens live better lifes than caged hens, but still painful lifes.


Ya, I'd be concerned about keel bone fractures in egg-laying hens, which generally seem pretty bad, and seem more common in (indoor) cage-free systems than cage ones. Welfare Footprint Project assumed multiple fracture events per hen who has any fracture across (mostly indoor, high production) systems they analyzed. 

Rufener and Makagon (2020) looked at prevalences across (mostly indoor?) systems:

Keel bone fracture prevalence (%) in hens older than 49 wk of age across housing system types used during lay. Colors indicate the assessment method used. Boxplots show medians and interquartile and absolute ranges of raw data plus outliers. The cross and numbers indicate mean prevalence. n indicates the number of entries within one category.
Keel bone fracture prevalence (%) in hens older than 49 wk of age across adult housing system types depending on primary purpose of the facilities (commercial vs. experimental). Boxplots show medians and interquartile and absolute ranges of raw data plus outliers. The cross and numbers indicate mean prevalence. n indicates the number of entries within one category.

I'd guess fracture rates are lower for hens with lower egg production per hen, all else equal.

Yeah, keel bone fractures -- and bone issues in general -- is something I'd love to get more data on. I couldn't find any publicly-available information about this for most of the farms I evaluated, but I know that Fifth Crow Farm uses heritage breeds and specifically calls out that they have healthier genetics because they lay fewer eggs (which means less calcium is spent on eggshells compared to bone growth). 

I couldn't find any information on whether other farms use heritage breeds, and I don't know how much you can minimize the risk of fractures in other ways (providing calcium supplementation, not using e.g. forced-molting to induce extra laying cycles, giving hens plenty of outdoor space so they don't injure themselves in stress). Have you heard anything about ways to mitigate fracture risk?

I think that my message was poorly written. I'm really not a specialist on this question so I don't know if there exists an egg brand that doesn't produce net suffering. 
I just wanted to say that the beginning of your post ("I'm not a vegan, but I've long felt troubled by the fact that eggs have such a high suffering-to-calorie ratio — higher, by some calculations, than beef") seemed inaccurate. 

Wait, I'm confused now. I said in my post that eggs are higher-suffering than beef according to some calculations, and you presented another calculation indicating that eggs are higher-suffering than beef, so I think we just agree?

Yep, we agree. I meant that the degree of certainty of "an egg meal produces more suffering than one beef meal" is much bigger than your formulation implied. ie : "higher, by some calculations"

I totally agree that the average cage-free hen lives a very painful life; I'm trying to figure out if there are any farms that I can buy from where this isn't true. My best guess is that the chickens in some smaller family farms aren't in a lot of pain -- Fifth Crow Farm, which I mention above, raises heritage breed chickens in small flocks and keeps them outside except to lay and sleep. I also currently believe that the other brands I recommend have significantly lower-suffering chickens than the average cage-free organic farm chicken.

I do think that my analysis doesn't take into account all of the things I'd like to, including whether the farm uses heritage breeds (with healthier genetics / less prone to chronic pain), whether the male chicks are killed (I'm pretty sure they always are) and if so how quickly and humanely are they killed, how well the farm cares for the health of its hens in general (I couldn't find any data on this in the evaluation tools I used, and I don't have the expertise to evaluate it myself), and what happens to the hens after they're too old to lay (some of these farms let their hens live out their natural lifespan on the farm; in others the spent hens are "sold live" and I don't know what happens to them next).

Based on this comment, I'll add these limitations to the "is this enough" section of the post.

Thanks so much for this post - I'm going to adjust my buying habits from now on! 

My impression is that e.g. Vital Farms is still substantially better than conventional egg brands, and if I need to buy eggs in a store that doesn't offer these improved options it still probably cuts suffering per egg in half or more relative to a cheaper alternative. Does that seem right to you?

I do expect Vital Farms to be a lot better than an average cheap egg brand with no certifications. I'm not sure how they compare to the average brand that's Certified Humane and USDA Certified Organic (a combination that requires outdoor access*, no debeaking, and no forced-molting), but my guess would be that they're better than that too. Most of my uncertainty comes from lack of knowledge of chicken psychology (is being outdoors but in a large flock of 20k birds a lot less stressful than being indoors in a large dense flock, or about the same? Does beak trimming cause chronic pain or frustration as the hens can't forage as well?)

One specific consideration with Vital Farms is that their practices vary by farm: they're a collective of small farms nationwide, and it seems that they have different subgroups of farms that adhere to different standards. Here are the Cornucopia institute's egg scorecards for both their standard and "regenerative organic" lines: standard, regenerative organic. Based on Cornucopia, I think both lines still look pretty good, even compared to other organic farms.

*asterisk on "outdoor access" since apparently USDA Organic counts caged-in porches as outdoor access, which seems bad to me

Thank you so much for this!

Thank you for looking into this!

Did you happen to find out if any egg producers did in ovo sexing, or if they were close to adopting it? If Fifth Crown Farm raised all their own hens from hatchlings, what do they do with the male chicks? I‘m a lot less opposed to macerators than the typical person (who is opposed to them), but traditional chick culling alone is enough to dissuade me from egg consumption, independent of direct effects on hens. When I’d last looked into it for the S Bay I couldn’t find any place that did it (and all the producers using it were from outside the US).

On a related note, did you happen to turn up anything on what the hens were fed? I vaguely remember seeing something about fancier places feeding their hens grubs or insect meal, which is a whole separate can of worms.

More broadly, does anyone know of any chick suppliers who perform in ovo sexing? I’ve been tempted to raise some egg-laying hens as pets with more tightly regulated welfare standards, but have been limited by space and time constraints (Bay Area, amirite). Would be nice to reintroduce eggs into my diet after a decade+ without! When I was a lad I ate one, sometimes two dozen eggs every evening to help me bulk, but now that I’m grown I’ve abstained from all but the most incidental egg consumption.

Unfortunately, I think that there are no US farms yet that use in-ovo sexing (though I'd love to hear about it if I'm wrong about that!) I know it's been implemented in Germany and I think is being adopted more widely in Europe, but I don't think the US has followed suit yet. Even the Animal Welfare Approved certification doesn't have any requirements about what do with male chicks, it simply states that they can be "removed" from the AWA system (meaning, I think, transferred off-farm and then no certification-related requirements apply to them anymore, so they're probably just macerated as usual. :( )

Re: hen feed and insects, I think that the "natural forage" that these farms refers to means that chickens forage for bugs in the ground. I'm not sure to what extent these are wild insects vs grubs raised for chicken feed, but either way, if you're worried about insect suffering, it seems possible that pasture-raised foraging chickens contribute more to that than a corn-fed chicken would (though given the pesticides used to grow the corn, I'm not actually sure).

Executive summary: The author researches egg brands available in the San Francisco Bay Area that treat chickens more humanely based on criteria such as no beak trimming, outdoor access, and small flock sizes. The author recommends Fifth Crow Farm, Alexandre Kids, Burroughs Family Farms, Stueve Organic, and St. John Family Farms as more humane options.

Key points:

  1. The author evaluates egg brands based on criteria drawn from the Animal Welfare Approved certification standards, including no physical mutilation of chickens, no forced molting, outdoor access and foraging, early outdoor access for young chickens, adequate indoor space, and small flock sizes.
  2. Recommended humane egg brands available in the Bay Area are Fifth Crow Farm (most recommended but limited availability), Alexandre Kids (most widely available), Burroughs Family Farms, Stueve Organic, and St. John Family Farms.
  3. Dis-recommended brands that market themselves as humane but likely involve high chicken suffering include Vital Farms, Happy Egg, Judy's Family Farm, Uncle Eddie's Wild Hens, Rock Island, Petaluma Farms, and Organic Valley.
  4. The author draws information about different farms' practices from third-party certifications like Animal Welfare Approved and the Cornucopia Institute's egg scorecards.
  5. If not based in the Bay Area, the author recommends using Cornucopia's egg scorecard tool or Animal Welfare Approved's store locator to find humane eggs.



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This is very valuable to me! Thank you!

Don't live in the bay area, but still found this super useful. Thanks!

This is really helpful, thank you!

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