Free-range eggs

By definition, free-range eggs are those obtained from hens who are free to roam. Correct husbandry is important for the quality of the eggs. A hygienic environment and sufficient room to move promote better egg production. Free-range eggs are marked to show they come from hens farmed according to free-range husbandry standards. 

Living conditions

Ensuring the hens are well cared for has a major influence on the quality of the eggs. By international comparison, Swiss poultry farming has very high animal welfare standards and the strictest animal welfare regulations in the world.

Switzerland was also the first country in the world to ban cage farming from 27 May 1981. In the EU, the ban was introduced 30 years later. In many countries, this type of husbandry is still practised.

All chickens in Switzerland have at least one protected outdoor climate area that they can visit daily.

The aviaries are adapted to the birds‘ natural habitat and behaviour. The hens have perches where they spend the night. In nature they also sleep on elevated positions as protection against enemies. The aviaries have adequate food and water areas. There are also scratching areas on the ground and places where they can retreat. Each laying house is equipped with laying nests.

As hens prefer sleeping places as high up as possible, perches in barns should be placed at the same height, if possible, to avoid constant fights to compete for the best sleeping place. The grain feed is also spread over a wide area so that birds lower in the pecking order do not miss out.

Before the aviaries receive final approval for sale in Switzerland, they must undergo practical testing by the Federal Office for Agriculture and Veterinary Affairs. If the aviary is not suitable, it may not be sold. This ensures that all the hens' natural needs are covered.

Current methods for keeping hens in Switzerland

Barn Production
When birds are kept on the floor of a chicken shed, the animals have sufficient space in the barn. The barn has daylight, feeding and watering places and resting areas. Bedding and a spacious sheltered outdoor space ensure sufficient exercise and offer the opportunity to scratch and peck.

Free range
With free-range poultry farming, the birds also have outside access. The pastures offer shade and green areas as well as sand or dust baths. The natural environment offers plenty of freedom of movement and space for the individual animals.

Organic farming
For organic farming, different guidelines apply again. Here, a maximum stock size of 2,000 hens is allowed. Other regulations also apply to animal feed (must be organic) and space requirements in the barn.

From the egg to the chicken

When faced with the old conundrum of which came first, the chicken or the egg, the chicken would seem to be the most logical answer. But that's not quite right. In fact, the egg came into existence long before the chicken. Research has shown that its development may have begun several billion years ago, although not in the form that we are familiar with from modern-day hens. A brief look at the history of our domesticated hen may help to shed a little light on the egg and chicken conundrum.

The ancestors of our familiar chicken were egg-laying raptors that were also fairly dangerous creatures. The changes over time from the extremely heavy, two-legged lizards from the line of raptors, to the present-day chicken that can almost fly, was a very long evolutionary process. The reptiles exchanged their scales for feathers 150 million years ago. Only the scales on modern chickens' feet still bear witness to their ancestors – along with the clutch of eggs they lay!

So this brings us back to our egg, which in terms of evolutionary development was definitely there before the chicken, but in the contemporary version has a hard calcareous shell. So, the journey from a prehistoric creature, the feathered dinosaur, to our domestic chicken was a very long one. The red comb-chicken is regarded historically as a progenitor of our domestic chicken. Previous studies show that almost 8,000 years ago people in Asia reared the first domesticated chicken from the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), as bone finds from the Neolithic period prove.

At that time, humans developed away from hunters and gatherers into settled farmers. In Central Europe, the first evidence of humans keeping chickens can be found in the early Iron Age. Back then they were always kept in hen houses, as they tended to wander off and could also fly. In Spain it was the Phoenicians who domesticated chickens in the 1st millennium B.C., while findings in Switzerland from the 5th / 4th century B.C. suggest that chickens were farmed for food. In Ancient Greece, chickens were reared mainly for cock fights and less for consumption.

From Swiss farms

Eggs are an essential part of many people's daily diet. They are an important source of nutrition, not only as an ingredient in many foods but served on their own, and prepared in different ways: fried, boiled, scrambled, poached and many other variations. 

Eggs are good for you

There is an old saying: "One egg a day, and sometimes two on Sundays". A British study came to the conclusion that eggs should definitely be included as part of a healthy diet. Amongst other things, the researchers dispelled the myth that eggs are unhealthy because they contain cholesterol – in fact their positive health benefits outweigh any potential negatives.*

Egg protein has the highest biological value of any natural food and is therefore particularly suited to building up the body's own protein. In addition, protein is the nutrient that best satisfies the body. This is why eggs can actually help lose weight as part of a diet, as recent studies show. Eggs also provide valuable vitamins, minerals and other important ingredients.

A hen's egg consists of 74% water, 13% protein, 11% fat and 1% each of carbohydrates and minerals. An average egg has an energy value of approximately 96 kcal (402 kJoules). Egg yolk is also particularly valuable because of its high protein content.

All these properties make eggs particularly beneficial as a source of nutrition for humans.

Eggs contain significant amounts of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E as well as the water-soluble vitamins of the B complex B2, B6, B12, biotin, niacin and folic acid. The B vitamins are needed for all metabolic functions in our body cells. There they are involved in the breakdown and conversion of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The lipid lecithin plays a key role as an emulsifier in the digestion of fat in the small intestine. Choline, a component of lecithin, is important for protein metabolism.

But healthy people do not need to worry about the relatively high cholesterol content in eggs. High cholesterol intake from food reduces the body's own cholesterol production. In addition, the ratio of "bad" LDL cholesterol to "good" HDL cholesterol in the human body remains unchanged. The LDL-HDL ratio is an important factor in assessing cholesterol levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Eggs are therefore anything but a "threat" to health. On the contrary, they provide a multitude of important substances that make them high-quality foods from a nutritional viewpoint. So, you can enjoy "One egg a day, and sometimes two on Sundays" with a clear conscience.

* see C.H.S. Ruxton, E. Derbyshire, S.A. Gibson (2010), “The Nutritional Properties and Health Benefits of Eggs", Nutrition & Food Science Journal, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 263 – 279.

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