If you raise chickens at home, odds are good that you are a believer in free ranging. By allowing your chickens to free range, you are letting them do what nature intended them to do-wander about eating bugs and other scraps they are able to run across. By giving your chickens a natural environment and natural sources of food, the positive effects are passed back to you when it comes to egg production. Free range eggs not only taste far better than store bought eggs, but also boast less cholesterol, less saturated fat, more vitamin A and E, plus more omega-3 fatty acids and beta-carotene. It seems like a clear choice.
If you are unable to raise your own chickens at this time but still want to reap the benefits of free range or cage free eggs, you can buy them at your local grocer. They cost more than mass produced eggs but are well worth it. However, if you were to raise your own free range eggs, you would notice that it could be done inexpensively, so why the uptick in cost? Commercial chicken/egg farmers tend to go more for quantity over quality. For their maximum product creation, they house as many chickens as possible in the smallest amount of space possible. I would say 'humanely possible' but from the outside looking it, it does not appear humane at all. It goes without saying that sanitation problems and contamination in the small spaces used for commercial chicken production must be horrific.
Laying hens are housed in battery cages that are about 67 square inches. That means the entire space of the box from side to side, end to end, and top to bottom accounts for that square inch total. Inside of a tiny space smaller in width and length than a sheet of copy paper, a hen lives her life, never being able to run and frolic, never feeling grass under her feet. Instead she is confined to a tiny metal box with noisy neighbors and expected to live her life laying eggs. I realize that to some chickens are not pets, but they are life forms that deserve decent care, treatment, and living accommodations regardless of whether you view them as part of the family or a food source. Battery cages hardly seem decent on any level and are more comparable to a prison cell than a home, being too small for a hen to even be able to stand and fully stretch her wings in addition to having an unlevel floor on which she cannot fully sit.
Meat chickens, or broilers, have it somewhat better than battery caged hens but not a whole lot. They are often raised in buildings known as growout houses. This equates to being stuck in a huge room that is approximately 400 x 40 feet in size with about 20,000 of your closest friends...and I do mean close. How much space does a meat chicken have to move about when confined to a room with 20,000 other chickens? Not much at all.
The benefits of free range are many, especially if you prioritize both your health and that of your chickens. By allowing your chickens to move about and eat what is natural to them, they will produce eggs with better taste and more health benefits. If you raise meat chickens, having room to move will translate into tenderness. Even if you have issues with predation and cannot free range as much as you would like, housing your chickens with space to move goes a long way towards their health and welfare.
(Hard to read by the bottom says, "95% of the consumed eggs in the US are derived from caged hens.")
I would like to tell you that outrage over the keeping conditions of commercial chickens has changed things, but it has not. Approximately an hour from my home is a chicken plant, and it is all too common to see trucks coming in and out with thousands of chickens packed into tiny cages. Caring about the welfare of the chickens you consume and the eggs you eat should drive you to make better choices. Educate yourself as to the best means of raising, housing, and feeding your chickens. While this is great for them, in the long run the most benefit is afforded to you and your family, and that is priceless.