Free Range Eggs Hold Health Benefits Over Commercial Foes

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COLUMBIA - Sometimes our hobbies grow into a passion and Carl Korschgen is no exception.

Korschgen, a former ornithologist with two degrees in zoology, started raising chickens five years ago and now has way more than he can eat.

"We have not bought eggs from the grocery store in five years," he said.

Despite including eggs in at least one meal a day, he and his wife Ann give away dozens of eggs to friends and neighbors every week. These aren't for the average omelets though because their eggs are free-range.

Several studies compiled by National Geographic indicate that free-range eggs have more health benefits than their commercial cousins. Research showed free-range eggs have more vitamin A and vitamin E; both are antioxidants that protects cells from damage. Free-range eggs also had more omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease the risk of some cancers, as well as less fat and cholesterol. The differences stem from the unique diets of free-range and caged chickens.

"There just isn't as much vitamin A or carotenoids in the corn and soybean meal so there's a difference in the carotene in the diets," former chicken farmer Fred Martz said of caged chickens' diets.

According to Martz, who is also a professor emeritus in animal sciences at MU, free-range chickens will get 25 percent of their diet from pasture, which is rich in carotene and contributes to their eggs' orange yolks. Free-range chickens like Korschgen's also get a more diverse diet. Korschgen's chickens enjoy grasshoppers, bugs, frogs, cantaloupe, spinach, grass, tomatoes and berries.

All the perks of free-range eggs come at a price. According to the USDA, the average dozen of eggs cost slightly over one dollar. Korschgen estimates a dozen of free-range eggs costs between three and five dollars. Though the two types of eggs have different make ups, not everyone can distinguish them.

"To be honest with you, I can't taste the difference," Martz said.

The question becomes free-range or commercial eggs? There's an easy answer. Find a Carl Korschgen near you who'd gladly let you see and taste the difference.