back to article Clucking hell! Farcical free-range egg standard pecked apart by app

It’s often said that you can’t fight City Hall: the concentration of power and politics makes even the most open of political systems fight change tooth and nail. You have to work within the system, it’s said, or the system will fight you - and win. That’s a story the system puts out about itself - far better for all concerned …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Though I admit it didn't take long to work it out for myself. 10,000 chickens per hectare is one per square metre.

    Which makes it easier to see how loose the definition of free range in their regulations is.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: omitted

      Just as bad over here (UK). The birds only need to have 'access' to the outdoors to count as free range. That could just be a small door the birds never use.

      Not sure about density per hectare, but it works out at about 1 bird per area the size of A4 paper.

      There is talk of increasing the density allowed - EU wants to harmonise which just means bringing everyone down to the lowest standard across the EU.

      Then the NFU starts talking about 'low carbon farming'. That's just means intensive as it needs less energy to keep lots of animals in a smaller area.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: omitted

        > Not sure about density per hectare, but it works out at about 1 bird per area the size of A4 paper.

        A sheet of A4 paper is exactly 1/16th of a square metre (A0 = 1sqm). If true, that would be 160,000 birds per hectare.

        1. Mycho Silver badge

          Re: omitted

          Around 4,000 per football pitch.

          1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

            Re: omitted

            In the UK the regs say free range is about 2500 birds per hectare (which they should have free access to). That's 4square meters per bird ... if your A4 is that size I pity your photocopier budget!

        2. matchbx

          Re: omitted

          according to google a Hectare is 107,639 square feet. That would be 10.7639 Square Feet per bird ( about a square meter....not the size of an A4 Sheet of paper.

          1. Bilby

            Re: omitted

            matchbx, I admire your commitment to imperial measures; but converting Hectares to sq ft, doing the division by 10,000, and then approximating the sq ft result back to sq m. is rather unnecessary; 1 hectare is *by definition* 10,000 sq m, so 10,000 chook/hectare is EXACTLY 1 chook/sq m.

      2. Gruezi

        Re: omitted

        Okay I admit I googled it briefly AND i just took what Google told me, but according to EU regs (and I think UK is still in the EU) there are regulations for the roosting space and state, and then also:


        In addition to these requirements, free-range systems must also provide the following:

        One hectare of outdoor range for every 2,500 hens (equivalent to 4 m2 per hen; at least 2.5 m2 per hen must be available at any one time if rotation of the outdoor range is practiced)

        Continuous access during the day to this open-air range, which must be “mainly covered with vegetation”

        Several popholes extending along the entire length of the building, providing at least 2 m of opening for every 1,000 hens.[6]


    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: omitted

      That is not the trick.

      The trick is to put some sprinklers in the "free range" portion. The chickins do not like rain, so while "legally" free range, they stay inside and fatten up (or egg lay at caged hen rate).

      So on paper (and on your app), you can have a chickin per whatever number of square meters you want. In reality, they are all sitting inside the shed at near-caged-hen density.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: omitted

        I was talking to the farmer who supplies my eggs (extra large and not really wanted by the supermarkets) and he found that going free frange actually increases the number of eggs laid (and their working life) by his hens. his birds are let out in the morning. If the weather is good the come out. If it is not then the stay inside and keep warm. Sensible birds them hens. A cold wet chicken is no use to him or anyone.

        Even if the birds never go outside, they are free to roam around inside. They have to have purches at different heights. That life must be better than caged layers (IMHO).

        1. Andrew Moore Silver badge

          Re: omitted

          my chickens always love to wander around the garden, they've even dug themselves a favourite spot/dirt bath under one of the fir trees. Yes, they do not like the rain, and a wet chicken produces less eggs. I average 5-6 eggs a week each from my two...

          1. AMBxx Silver badge

            160,000 birds per hectare.

            How many birds would that be per Wales?

            1. Alister Silver badge

              Re: 160,000 birds per hectare.

              How many birds would that be per Wales?

              According to Wikepedia, Wales is 2 million hectares, so the answer is 320000000000

              or 3.2 × 109

      2. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: omitted

        they stay inside and fatten up (or egg lay at caged hen rate).

        The number of eggs per bird is lower; the number of eggs per dollar spent on infrastructure/management/feed is higher. I have some data from back in the 1950s when battery chooks were a new innovation and barn/free-range were the usual. Maximum yield per bird was from free-range housed in coops holding ~20-24 birds IIRC. The relevant data is on paper in an archive box somewhere so difficult to access. The book I photocopied had a picture of rows of these coops spaced sufficiently far apart that a tractor and trailer could be driven between rows for egg collection and putting out feed. Egg laying rates were ~300/bird, or nearly double what was usual before WWII.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: omitted



    4. WalterAlter

      Let's let The Man select our priorities for us....

      World coming apart at the seams and we have this decoy slag to keep us from being effective citizens.

  2. Joe Werner

    Cool app!

    I wish we had something like this in both countries I live in. On the other hand, in one place I get my eggs (mostly) from a local farmer. The chickens are free roaming, even into the forest, and when passing on my bike I have to take care to avoid them. Pretty hard to measure density in that case...

    Icon because we have no happy chicken ;)

    You know, once we were mocking "duh, you know, there is an app for that" - and now there are some that are actually helpful.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. MotionCompensation

      Re: Cool app!

      So now we know: why did the chicken cross the road? Because she's free roaming!

    3. Oh Homer

      Re: "I wish we had something like this"

      I haven't checked, but it seems likely that one of Buycott's many (user generated) campaigns might cover free range eggs. And if it doesn't then, as they say on Wikipedia, it will in five minutes.

      Edit: Here's one relevant to the US.

  3. Oengus Silver badge

    Simple App

    Have an app that tells you that the politician is lying... It only needs to detect movement of the mouth.

    1. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

      Re: Simple App

      > only needs to detect movement of the mouth.

      If their mouth isn't moving then they are probably doubly lying

      a) They'll be lying under their breath

      b) They'll be lying by omission

      1. Kane Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Simple App

        "a) They'll be lying under their breath

        b) They'll be lying by omission"


        c) They'll be thinking about lying.

    2. BurnT'offering

      Re: Simple App

      If politicians were made to lay instead of lie (eggs, that is) they'd be doing something useful

    3. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Up

      Re: Simple App

      Here's a perfect example to test it on: Martin Lews ( ripping George Osborne apart because Gideon stole the title "Living Wage" and redefined it to be something which *isn't* the Living Wage...

    4. Mi Tasol

      Re: Simple App

      "It only needs to detect movement of the mouth" OR fingers/thumbs on a keyboard or screen

  4. Mage Silver badge


    A smart phone app that's not just a locked in alternative to a web site.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Free Range" is simply an arbitrary definition of no real meaning. There's far more to poultry raising than square meters per bird, though it is a good indicator as to how much the farmer cares about the flock; more space, clearly more willing to take special care despite the cost.

    I like the idea of an app allowing consumers to see whether the mark up "Free Range" excuses is actually justified, so long as the data it presents is a full picture (it wasn't clear from the article that this one does. Let's assume that it does). A farmer giving the birds lots of room might be tempted to take short cuts elsewhere if "space per bird" becomes the only market driver consumers pay attention to. We don't want consumers to have misguided eggspectations about what makes a quality ovum.

  6. hplasm Silver badge

    I'll trust farmers-

    When the egg box advertises 'Free Range Rover'.

    1. Gavin King

      Re: I'll trust farmers-

      But I didn't think you were supposed to have the dog off of its lead.

  7. Marshalltown

    Free range ...

    There's "free range" - e.g. one bird per square meter ore even one per 100 square meters - and then there is free range, where the birds really do roam free and you only round them up at night to keep the coyotes from eating them. I grew up with the latter and the difference in eggs and meat between true free range birds, who only supplement their diet with chicken feed and birds that can go outside if they want but don't because because they have no reason to do so, and have effectively no access to a natural diet (plants, seeds, grubs, bugs, and even mice) is the difference between day and night that vast majority of so-called "free range" eggs I have had don't measure up. One guarantee that a chicken is not "free range" except perhaps in the area it can move in is the assertion that the bird was fed a "pure vegetarian diet." Chickens are not vegetarians, and "range" means much more than available space to move in.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Free range ...

      Indeed there is a difference.. a tasty one. "Free Range" seems a bit more liberal the ubiquitous "Organic" that I'm seeing here in the States. I'm not sure there really is a thing like "Free Range" or "Organic" in commercial farming anymore.

      I have bought things from a local organic farmer (veggies, pig, cow, etc.) and there's a world of difference between his stuff and the grocers. The problem is, word of mouth... When the sign goes up in the morning for the "harvest of the day", one had better get there early. Beef and pig is under a contract.

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Free range ...

      The big difference I've noticed is that the yolks are much more yellow in properly free range eggs. They'll actually stain your fingers if you're a messy eater.

      That said, my mum's chooks do have a fence around them, but that's to stop them scratching up all the veggies (and to keep neighbourhood dogs away).

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: Free range ...

        The big difference I've noticed is that the yolks are much more yellow in properly free range eggs.

        Unfortunately, cage egg producers can sell you eggs with yolks of any desired shade of yellow. They just add a commercially available dye to the chickens' diet. The yellow of free-range eggs is due to vitamin A and analogues in green feed.

  8. AndrueC Silver badge

    This is eggsactly the right kind of app for the job.

  9. Woza

    As Robin Williams said

    Politicians should be like NASCAR drivers - they should have logos from all their sponsors on the back of their jackets. Then you'd know why they vote the way they do!

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I approved of that the first time I heard him say it - and I still approve of it.

      And that is something that could actually be made legal. Any donation of above a certain amount and on goes a sticker with the name of the donor (or the org, whichever is paying).

      I think that should be mandatory in any country that boasts of being democratic.

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: As Robin Williams said

      Or, if the information is supposed to be subject to publicly inquiry somewhere, you could have an app that would pull in and AR-overlay live sponsoring information over politicians viewed with a smartphone. Now that's an app I'd ACTUALLY download...

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: As Robin Williams said @ Dropbear

        I like that idea! Which of El Reg's finest will be te first to market?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've not bought shop bought eggs for a long time. I have friends that own a farm, yes they are little more expensive (£2 per dozen), not cleaned like shop eggs and vary in size from small to dinosaur but I can highly recommend them. You also don't need a use by date if you have a bowl of water.

    I like the idea of this app but how do you confirm it's accuracy? A farmer could put his chickens in a field when they come and check then put them back in cages when they leave. The same goes for anything it's applied to.

  11. Mephistro Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Free range politicians for sale!!!

    I'd rather cut the middlemen -chickens, in this case- and go straight for an app to evaluate whether politicians are too 'free ranging' (;-), as the article suggests. This is potentially game changing!

    Kudos to Mr. Weiley for the idea and the app, and thanks to Mark and Elreg for bringing this to our attention.

  12. pinkmouse
    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward



  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Curious to know where the data comes from.... and how it differentiates assuming eggs from a single egg supplier can come from multiple farms?

  14. jake Silver badge

    "CluckAR is only possible in a country full of folks rich enough to afford smartphones and mobile broadband"

    And outside of that country, guess what? People keep yard birds, mon.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      "CluckAR is only possible in a country full of folks rich enough to afford smartphones and mobile broadband"

      Yeah I don't get this sentence either. About the only place that doesn't have smart phone support these days are remote, inhospitable areas or countries mired in civil war or a few places in the American Appalachians.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "[...] voters would have some idea whose agenda they were really promoting."

    500,000 Californian voters have signed up for the presidential election primaries by ticking "American Independent". Apparently many of them thought they were expressing no affiliation to any party. In fact they have irrevocably hitched their primary vote to a far right party.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      It's high time the US finally overhauls its election system, because as it is now it's beyond broken.

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        The US election system is broken only if you're not rich.

  16. AndrewDu

    @Mr Chriz: yes, my first thought exactly. Does this work by discovering the producer's details and then comparing with some database somewhere? I don't believe the flock density is actually marked on the packaging - or if it is, the bad guys won't be long in removing it - so this is really only going to be effective until the factory farmers realise what's happening.

    Someone will no doubt tell me I am wrong and too cynical...

    1. Mephistro Silver badge

      @ AndrewDu

      Volunteers and NGOs gathering this data would be a good start. Land Registries and similar entities hold most of the data needed, plus volunteers' work inspecting and taking pictures of the premises -probably from the outside- would be enough for this app to work, for now.

      The real stumbling block will come when 'interested parties' and PR outfits start trying to game the system for their benefit, with 'false reviews' and similar crap. Sigh...

      Disclaimer: I'm not Australian, and I don't know if Australian Land Registries allow for this, but I think they can't be too different to other Registries around the world. I might be catastrophically wrong, though. ;-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ AndrewDu

        "Land Registries and similar entities hold most of the data needed, [...]"

        There is not necessarily a correlation between the area of land and whether the chickens have free access to it. Given that it is Australia it could be imagined that there could be an extremely large ranch - with all the chickens confined to a barn.

        1. Mephistro Silver badge

          Re: @ AndrewDu

          Yeah, that's why volunteer work would be needed for this. Drones could be used to watch the premises(legally or otherwise;-). Total number of animals could be deduced from the daily production. ...

          And if a volunteer/drone takes pictures of the area at 11AM and sees the chicken are separated from that big yard by a double electrified fence, then the 'free-rangeness' rating of the brand can be conveniently adjusted.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You can imagine kids borrowing a parent’s smartphone as they head through the supermarket, insisting they only buy the cartons with the happymost chickens because chickens are cute and more is better

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

      Or maybe the teens just like Angry Birds?

  18. Triggerfish


    You're talking about a similar app for Politicians and you come up with PwnedAR, I could think of something more suitable starts wth F ryhmes with CluckAR, also you can have the ratings superimposed with appelations to the AP name when you view the politician in question, you know things like; lying ...., total ..., complete .... .

  19. Andrew Moore Silver badge

    Thus has it ever been...

    One day a small farmer, looking to sell his eggs, hit on the idea of advertising them as "free range eggs". This struck a cord with consumers and soon they were queueing round the block to buy his eggs.

    But this upset his neighbour, Mr Factory Farmed Hens. He was jealous and he went to his paid-for politician and said "The term 'free range' is unregulated. The government need to define it and more importantly define who can use it." And the government granted Mr Factory Farmed Hens a well paid place on their newly setup quango where he quickly set about enacting legislation and licensing which effectively allowed him to call his factory hens and the eggs that they produced "free range". As for the small farmer- the new legislation was so restrictive and the new licensing so expensive, he was banned from ever using the term again.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Thus has it ever been...

      Far too true. I've met a few farmers and the stories they tell of high fuckery is enough to make anyone despair.

  20. td0s

    see what you did there

    "You’d undo all the carefully laid plans of those ministers and their cronies in the agriculture and retail sector."

    very good

  21. imanidiot Silver badge

    Next step

    The "real" free range farmers come up with a new label to mark their eggs as being provided by happy hens. And thus the overgrowth of different labels and "quality brands" begins.

  22. Steve Crook

    And the information is...

    Accurate? Just wait for the lawsuit when the app tells people that Brand A is clucking unhappy, when, in fact, it's clucking cheerful.

    This has all of the reliability problems of any aggregation interface combined with an additional set presented by its immediacy.

    As for getting involved in politics and showing contributions from businesses to politicians, jeebus.

    Nice idea. but I'd imagine this has lawyers uninvolved in Oracle vs Google or Samsung vs Apple thinking that they might not have missed out after all :-|

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: And the information is...

      Accurate? Just wait for the lawsuit when the app tells people that Brand A is clucking unhappy, when, in fact, it's clucking cheerful.

      The data the App uses is taken from a report produced by Choice, a consumer protection organisation similar to Which?.

      This information is freely available here:

      So it won't be the App developers who get sued no matter what.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: And the information is...

        " won't be the App developers who get sued no matter what."

        You don't have much legal experience, do you?

      2. Mephistro Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: And the information is... (@ Alister)

        Nice link and nice idea!. Wish we had something similar in my country!

  23. ecofeco Silver badge

    As I keep saying...

    The PTB really do not understand how the Internet works.

  24. Pompous Git Silver badge

    Oddly enuf...

    ... when The Git was an organic farmer, his chook-keeping wouldn't have qualified as free range under this new rule. Up until mid-day, the birds were confined to a large open-fronted shed facing the sun and had the laying boxes in the shady rear. The floor was covered with a 6 inch layer of sawdust so the chooks could scratch and dust bathe. Around mid-day, after they had finished laying, they were let out to forage in the sheep paddock. There was also a shelter belt of Canary Island tree lucerne that provided shade and protection when any hawks were in the vicinity. Tree lucerne also sheds high protein seeds constantly from early summer through to early winter. Purchased feed was ad lib wheat and blood'n'bone. I have yet to eat an egg that equals the quality of those we produced back in the 1980s.

  25. Mark Exclamation

    Dear Mark, were you being paid by the word for this article?

  26. Clive Harris

    When my daughters were young, they kept a couple of pet chickens. One year both chickens died just before Christmas. In order to save their Christmas, I had to embark on a frantic search for two new chickens on Christmas eve. The only place open was the local battery farm, so I went there.

    I won't describe what I saw in that place, except to say that it put me off battery eggs for life. I bought the only two hens I could find that still had any feathers on (I think they cost me $10 each).

    At first, these animals were terrified of the outdoors, and spent all their time huddled in a corner of the shed. After a couple of weeks they ventured out and I think they had a happy few years of freedom before a fox got them (digging under the buried netting to get into the shed).

    At a rough calculation, I could have bought another 39998 of those chickens and still still have legally been "free range" (I have a rather big garden), but I don't think the neighbours would have liked it.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      The only place open was the local battery farm, so I went there.

      Must have been a while ago; they don't usually allow blow-ins to see them. While security is tight at the egg "farms", it's even tighter where they breed them.

      My best friend used to purchase ex-battery hens because they were much cheaper than POL. Yes, it took them quite a while to acclimatise to the real world.

  27. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    and to go to the logical extreme ...

    At present in the UK we are giving chickens more and more space whilst, at the the very same time, building houses for humans that are smaller and smaller. Anyone care for a sweepstake as to when the two figures will converge (not including those working for Romanian gang-masters who already live in terrible conditions with 6 square meters or less)?

  28. Herby Silver badge

    Just be thankful...

    ...that they don't have an app for sausage. You just don't want to know!

  29. stringyfloppy

    The article doesn't mention where the app gets its data - where is that publically available?

    Also, don't the egg "companies" use eggs produced by many different chicken farms? So how do they arrive at a rating for an egg company? Some kind of composite of the ratings for each chicken farm?

  30. Adrian Tawse

    That sounds an awful lot but...

    If I had a chicken coup at the bottom of my garden measuring 2 mtrs by 3, in which I put 6 chickens I would not think that overcrowded. A tight, but not cruel.However, 10,000 chickens in afield of 1 hectare would be unmanageable.

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