Thursday, February 9, 2012

Common misconceptions about farm fresh eggs

Photo courtesy of: EAWB
Let's get a few things straight about the eggs we eat. A lot of people give me the stink eye when I suggest they try farm fresh eggs instead of conventional store bought eggs and the conversation that follows is annoyingly predictable at this point. There is this assumption that store bought eggs are somehow not connected to chickens at all. We as a society have went ahead and eliminated the chicken from the process all together. So there's your answer, the egg came before the chicken, the egg and chicken now live separate lives, one moved on to KFC and you recognize it only in fried form, and the other lives in the refrigerator section of your local market or super Walmart, comfortably resting in a bomb proof carton.

I hope you're sitting down because here's the truth; the chicken still lays the eggs. *GASP* Yes, the chicken is the one laying the eggs you are buying at the supermarket, only this chicken is housed in some sort of large warehouse type of establishment with minimal room to move around, if any, its eggs are collected, sterilized and shipped to you hopefully within 30 days or so.

Some other things you need to take into consideration before offering the stink eye:

Nutrition in supermarket eggs vs hens raised on pasture:

Mother Earth News conducted a study testing the nutritional levels of eggs from 14 different flocks around the country, had an accredited laboratory in Portland, OR test the results and compared their findings with the official U.S. Department of Agriculture's nutrient data for commercial eggs.
Eggs from hens allowed to peck on pasture are a heck of a lot better than those from chickens raised in cages! Most of the eggs currently sold in supermarkets are nutritionally inferior to eggs produced by hens raised on pasture. That’s the conclusion we have reached following completion of the 2007 Mother Earth News egg testing project. Our testing has found that, compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain: 
  • 1⁄3 less cholesterol
  • 1⁄4 less saturated fat
  • 2⁄3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene 
  • 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D 
Information provided by Mother Earth News
Aren't supermarket eggs safer?

The summer of 2010 over 550 million eggs were recalled due to salmonella. 550 million. How can you produce and ship out over 550 million eggs before you realize they are tainted? Because with the practice of industrial farming days can pass before the farmer even realizes a hen is even dead in its cage. Because an industrial farmer cannot evaluate the health conditions of 100,000 hens each and every day. Because the level of fecal dust within the 'warehouse' is so high the farmer wears a mask when he enters and if a case of salmonella does arise its spread is rampant. Rodents are often a main suspect in the lineup when a salmonella outbreak surfaces, with such a large farm it is nearly impossible to keep rodent feces out of the hens feed and cages.

The outside of a commercial egg is sanitized to remove any dirt or fecal matter that may be present. This generally removes any salmonella on the shell of the egg. However, salmonella bacteria can be inside the egg if the chicken is infected. It is always important to fully cook eggs to kill any of this bacteria and wash your hands after handling any eggs, commercial or free range.

Though it is possible, a small backyard flock rarely contracts salmonella because it is easier to maintain a clean environment and regularly evaluate the health of the flock. It is also easier to keep their feed and cages free from rodents and any contamination from their feces. With a small flock it is also possible to analyze the health of any new hens before integrating them with the current flock to ensure disease isn't spread if present.

Which egg would you trust? 

I'm scared that the yolk is orange...

The healthy orange of an egg yolk is a good indicator of a pasture fed hen.

Free-range eggs may have more of an orange color to their yolks because of the grasses and insects in their diet. This deep color is a good sign that the hen which produced your egg was given the opportunity to free range on pasture as it was intended to do, not serve its life in a cage eating a specific ration of powdered feed. However, feed additives can also be added to the feed to change the color of a caged hens eggs; don't be fooled by eggs in the supermarket that are orange but are not labeled as pasture raised or certified free range.


But the package says it has omegas, and yours doesn't have a package...

Well, isn't 'omega' the buzz word of the year! Yes, all eggs have healthy omega-3s in them and that is one reason why eggs are good for us. Some companies are smart enough to put that word on the package to entice shoppers to buy theirs over the competitors. And some companies add additional omegas to the feed so they can advertise that their hens are fed a diet 'rich with heart healthy omegas,' oh boy, that sounds like it will cure all my ailments!

According to Medical News Today:
Eggs from chickens fed corn, for instance, have one-tenth the omega-3s in them as eggs from free-range chickens that eat greens and bugs.
This same information was also verified from the extensive study that Mother Earth News conducted. Time and time again studies have proven that animals raised on pasture and in small herds, flocks, gaggles or whatever they're called, are not only happier but also healthier and in turn produce healthier meat and eggs.

Forget you, you charge too much!

I have always considered myself lucky if a farmer is willing to share the culinary pleasure of farm fresh eggs. Three dollars, four dollars or even six dollars for a dozen has never seemed like a high price to pay if I know the eggs I'm buying are quality. The beauty of buying straight from the farmer affords you the luxury of asking about the health of the hens, how often they have access to pasture and what they are fed as a supplement. Can you say the same about the pre-recorded 800 number on the carton you bought from the supermarket?

I am now very fortunate to have 9 hens in my own back yard roaming around and laying eggs for me almost every single day. Farm chores are actually only romantic in theory and most of you would not like to do it yourself. We let our hens out to free range almost daily. Fresh water is provided daily, and sometimes twice a day if it is freezing outside. Feed is always available and vegetable scraps are given as a special treat. The coops are kept clean, dry and well vented and the eggs are collected regularly. At least every other day I watch the hens and evaluate each and every one to make sure they are not showing sickness in any way. I can tell you the breed of each of my hens, where she was hatched and how old she is. I can even describe to you the different personalities of each one of my girls. The coops we built are sturdy and accommodate their needs well, believe me $4 a dozen will never repay the money we have put into having backyard chickens. No one is getting rich here.

So if you would prefer to pay $1.29 for a dozen generic eggs from the supermarket because you don't think the quality matters or the life of the hen is irrelevant, than please do, my eggs are reserved for those who appreciate their exceptional quality and respect the life of the animal.

7 comments:

Kate Thornton said...

I agree - and respect for the lives of the animals that feed us - all of them - is what should be part of our humanity.

I love the eggs my hens give me - but will buy cage-free if I must buy.

All we can do is try to educate the ignorant.

lprofancik said...

Great post! I would rather go without eggs, then buy grocery store ones.

Liz said...

I agree!! I just found your blog and can't wait to read more.

Thank you!
Liz

Bill Calkins said...

I always felt that chickens need to roam, that's the definition of a "pasture" chicken. Keeping a bird in a cage and feeding them medicated/GMO feed is one step higher than the eggs from the store. If you go through the trouble of raising these birds,why not take full advantage and let the birds roam? They keep the yard free of bugs and naturally aerate the ground with their beaks. But, they can cause trouble, especially when they decide to roost on you car. Organic feed is not cheap. Even at $6 per dz, I don't think you recover in dollars and cents, but the qualitative benefits are unmatched.

Admin said...

A chickens natural instinct is to forage for their food, so not only will your eggs be higher in nutrition if you allow your chickens to free range, you will also have happier, more healthy hens. A chicken tractor is a also a great solution for small urban farmers, or for particularly unruly hens who continue to roost in less than ideal places.

Pam Koontz said...

We have six hens. I know which hen lays which egg. If one of my hens gets sick, I'll know which eggs are hers, if she is still laying, and I can toss them if needed. They are allowed outside all day every day (except for that day we got freezing rain) and they eat all the bugs, grass and worms they can scratch up. They wander about in our pasture with the horses. they are healthy and seem happy. We have a rooster and they follow him around and he keeps them together and warns of any predators. We haven't sold many eggs so far, but the $3 a dozen we have charged hardly makes a dent in the expenses. But the eggs are so good! Thanks for a great article!

Unknown said...

I'm sorry. I just ate farm eggs and the quality, though you describe them well enough, just wasn't that much better. And as far as you "respecting" the hen's life, you can't be serious. Wold you imprison a person to eat their children? What silly, self-righteous nonsense.

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