There is an overwhelming variety of white and brown eggs, low prices, and lots of clever marketing designed to encourage consumer egg business at the grocery store. Most have heard various catch phrases sparking interest in paying more for “cage free” , “Omega-3 Enriched”, “Vegetarian Fed”, “Organic” , “Free Range”, “All Natural” and “Pasture Raised”. Often it is assumed a brown egg is more nutritious than a white egg even though it is the quality of feed and not the egg shell color that counts.
Conscientious consumers may choose to raise their own flock or visit the farmer's market. It is easy for egg consumers to gain a false confidence that all eggs at the farmer’s market an all organic bags of feed are equal in quality. The reality is chicken care and food consumption impacts taste and nutritious quality. Farmer market eggs will most likely be fresher; however, if fed the same commercial pellets as their factory raised counterparts, the nutritious quality is the same. Typically, local farmers will treat their hens more humane by offering more space than factories.
If you are an organic farmer selling your eggs at a farmer’s market, how can you compete? In this article, I will review the two key factors to help: educating consumers that each egg purchase can be a valuable vote to encourage humane care of hens and how you can feed your flock organic whole food for the less than the cost of commercial pellets.
Conquering the Challenge of Feed Costs - Make your WALLET and your CHICKENS feel good!
The challenge is being able to afford to do the right thing. Many families and farmers are attracted to the low cost commercial pellets that are conveniently sold in 50lb bags for $13. The feed is dry and is usually fed as free choice and can be placed in containers that do not need to be filled very often. There is a risk of mold if the feed is exposed to weather and moisture. Mice are very attracted to this feeding style and will frequent the feeders at night and leave their potentially dangerous droppings behind. Chickens and mice have an interesting relationship. In the day time, a chicken will catch and consume a mouse. At night, the mice will attack the sleeping chickens feet and can cause injuries.
Several read about the importance of organic feed and invest $24 for a 40lb bag of commercial organic pellets. I encourage reading the labels of the organic feed. It is not something I would feed to my girls. Like the other commercial pellets it is still deadly to sheep and other livestock and can cause illnesses in children if consumed.
At first glance our 50 pound bags sold for $40 seems to be the most expensive option. In reality, through fodder, sprouting, and/or fermenting, the whole grains and seeds are a dramatic . Finally, there is a way to feed your hens right and it be easy on the wallet.
Conventional pellet feed costs 26 cents a pound, Organic Pellet costs 58 cents a pound. If you soak our feed in water for 3 days, it will ferment and yield twice as much. This turns 50lbs into 100lbs and lowers the cost to 40 cents a pound. If instead of fermenting, you rinse and drain the seeds 2x a day, for 3-4 days and yield triple. This turns 50lbs into 150lbs and lowers the cost to only 27 cents a pound. If you decide to invest 7-10 days to grow fodder, you will yield 300lbs of feed from a 50lb bag and enjoy spending 13 cents a pound. Not only does feeding in these methods provide a more natural approach to raising your hens, it is safer for toddlers if accidently consumed as it is just like eating a pea from the garden. Since they are fed in the morning and forage throughout the day in the pasture, there is a huge reduction in mice and other rodents.
To lower feed costs more, plant perennial herbs the hens can feast on and they will return each year. There are several that are extremely beneficial to them.
Egg marketing confusion at the grocery store
Cage Free does not guarantee the birds were raised with adequate space or having access to the outdoors. Cage-free simply implies that the birds can engage in nesting and spreading their wings. The practice of beak cutting is allowed and often used to prevent confinement stress pecking. These hens are usually stored in a dark warehouse without any natural lighting. It is industry standard to vaccinated for Marek’s Disease to help reduce the tumors that are caused by the disease which is spread through feather dander. The vaccination does not cure the disease, it simply reduces the symptoms to allow the hen to continue producing eggs despite the disease. They are usually vaccinated for coccidiosis which is a disease spread from eating infected feces.
Grocery store eggs are washed with high pressure giving the appearance of a very clean egg shell. Eggs have porous shells. This means that bacterium that is on the outside of the shell is pressure sprayed into the inside of the shell. This is why grocery store eggs have cautions about salmonella and are required to be cooked fully. In past generations, consuming a raw egg was not of concern. With proper flock management eggs are clean and laid with a protective bloom. Pasture raised eggs typically are not washed until used. They can also be at room temperature for 10 days and refrigerated for longer shelf life. Commercial eggs require immediate refrigeration.
People pay twice as much for eggs labeled with omega-3s when Factory-farmed eggs already have 50 milligrams in them naturally, which is the same amount as the omega-3 enriched eggs. Another irony is pastured eggs, which come from chickens allowed to roam on open pasture, have twice as much omega-3s as factory-farmed eggs anyway.
The ‘vegetarian fed’ label sends relaxing mental images of making a choice to protect other living animals. The vegetarian feed they are given is often GMO grains. Brilliant marketing idea, “Pay more for hens that are in a warehouse and feed GMO commercial pellets”. This practice deprives chickens of their required protein found in nature foraging for bugs.
According to the USDA Food & Inspection Service Guidelines for “Free Range” or “Free Roaming” states: Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside. Free range is a slick marketing tactic if you don’t know their farming practices. Free range is USDA regulated, but there is no regulation on the amount of time chickens are allowed outside or the quality of their living conditions, so if they get a mere five minutes a day outside, producers can stamp a free range label on an egg product that is USDA approved. ‘Usually these types of operations allow chickens outside of warehouses, but they aren’t required to provide the animals any specific amount of time outside—or even exposure to sunlight indoors.
‘Natural’ or ‘All-Natural’ labels are another marketing joke. There is absolutely no definitive regulation for this term other than the product is minimally processed.
Testing has found that, compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture 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.
Even the most expensive store bought eggs are at least 45 days old. You will notice pasture raised eggs will have a nice orange yolk and brighter color. Wild dandelions found in fields and the herb basil helps with darkening the orange yolk.
It is possible that a farmer may consider their chickens pasture raised because they have some sort of run outside. If supplemental fed the same commercial pellets, the eggs will not have the same nutritional value as listed above. It is common to provide some supplemental feed. It is the decision of what feed which drives cost of egg production and health.
If you really care about how the chickens are raised, I highly recommend raising your own backyard chickens. If this is not possible, I recommend buying locally after you visit the farm and observe their processes. If they claim bio security restricts the ability for your visit, chances are high that the hens do not meet adequate space and care.