Updated: Nov 23, 2022
Eggs get a bad wrap in some circles. And no wonder! There are many different dietary needs where eggs may or may not be a good choice, different ways chickens and eggs are raised, and a thousand different ways to prepare an egg. Thinking about all these issues, I thought I could share a little blitz-research by examining the egg source: how a chicken is treated, raised and fed.
It begins with the idea that we are what we eat. Studies abound on the fact that eggs can be an excellent source of protein, iron, folate, and B Complex. Key phrase: ‘can be’. If I am focusing on my eating habits to become a healthier and happier person, then I need to find food sources that are also healthy and happy. Eggs from chickens that are healthy and happy are not hard to find, but you typically will not find them in a grocery store. It’s my opinion, based on my experience, that truly happy chickens are raised on small farms. Below is a comparison between how a commercial egg producer raises chickens for eggs compared to how small farmers, like us, raise chickens.
How a Hen Spends Her Day Matters
First, an ugly truth about chickens: they peck everything. It’s how they survive. A chicken will peck at bumps in the dirt and movement in the grass to find those delicious insects, larvae, and worms that make their egg yolks richly orange and firm. That also means that if another chicken has a feather out of place, it will be pecked. Those beaks are sharp and chicken skin is not thick. You’ve heard the term “hen pecked”? It’s a real thing. On our farm, the chickens do this occasionally; it cannot be completely prevented in a humane way, but it can be avoided to a certain extent with proper space allowance for the birds to wander.
Commercially-raised chickens are raised in barns in one of two different arrangements. There are cage-free arrangements which means that the birds are not in cages. They are, however, packed into a barn with limited space, no grass, and no sunshine. Another arrangement is free-range, which means that the chickens do have access to the outside. But the question remains of how much access, how clean is the outside area, and is there any grass and sunshine? In both of these situations, the birds are packed together. Imagine those feathery bodies bumping into each other, literally ruffling each other’s feathers. Pecking is inevitable. The pecking can be so horrible, it can end in death. In order to prevent this, commercial chicken farmers clip the beaks. How can a bird eat properly with a clipped beak? That environment (close quarters where the birds can hardly move around without grass and sunshine) and a clipped beak (that inhibits how they can eat) are not ingredients to raising happy chickens. And the eggs reveal that. Grocery store egg yolks are pale and flat, with less iron, folate and Vitamin B.
But what about Organic eggs? Commercially, they are raised either cage-free or range-free and fed organic feed. That is the only difference. The living conditions are the same. (If you want more information on commercially raised chickens, visit: https://animalplace.org/the-truth-about-chicken-farming/)
On our farm, as with many other small farmers, chickens have free access to our entire property. We do have coops with laying boxes, but the door to the coop is always open. As such, we spend time every day searching the barns hay bales, under the tractor, in the goat pen, under the cow hay stand–everywhere!--for eggs. When you crack one of our eggs open, the yolk is bright orange and stands thick. The taste is far superior over store-bought eggs. You can see the difference in the picture.
What should you do? Get out your phone, your computer and search for a local farmer. Ask at the local feed store to see who they can recommend as a source for Happy Eggs. When you do, if the desire to witness the life of a happy chicken has been stirred in your heart, ask to visit their farm and see the difference for yourself. Pay a little extra for the eggs and you will see and taste the difference in your meals.