Friday, January 25, 2013

Let's translate your egg carton, shall we?

I've been given the green light by hubs to expand my laying hen flock this year. It's a very exciting time! Just yesterday I ordered 30 chicks that will arrive next week.
If you aren't sure about whether or not it's "humane" to ship hatched chicks in the mail, read Joel Salatins book "Folks this ain't normal". He breaks it down very simply (and it's a great book that I think every food eater should read). The jist is this, God made them that way. Mama hens have eggs hatch for a few days, since they are laid over the course of days they don't all hatch at once. Because of this, they have to sustain life under her until she takes all the chicks out to find food and water. So hatcheries can ship chicks the day they hatch and you get them by day two or three.
As much as I'm looking forward to having extra eggs to pass along to friends and family. I feel a little apprehension. Very often I find myself explaining why my eggs (and all local and pastured eggs) are better (and sometimes, more expensive). I thought I'd use this space to put some of that info together.

"Conventional egg production — that is to say, the vast majority of egg production in the United States — is not a pretty business. Laying hens are crammed five or six to a cage in stacked rows of cages designed for automated feeding, watering and egg-collecting. As many as 100,000 birds can be confined in a single warehouse, each bird with less than 67 square inches, about two-thirds the size of a sheet of paper, to call its own. The crowded conditions lead to cannibalism and other destructive behavior, so the birds’ beaks are cut off at an early age, a procedure that could be likened to cutting off a child’s finger tips, in terms of its impact on the animals’ dexterity and sensory experience. The industry favors windowless warehouses with prolonged artificial light to stimulate maximum egg-laying. When egg production drops off, food is withheld as a way of sending the birds into a forced molt followed by another round of egg laying before being disposed of.
The adoption of practices like these has paralleled the spread of salmonella as a bacterial contaminant in eggs — the reason you’re cautioned not to eat raw cookie dough or Caesar dressing anymore. Crowded conditions, genetic uniformity and the widespread use of antibiotics in industrial agriculture favor the development of new and potentially more devastating pathogens" from MEN article (see link below)

After I posted about my eggs on facebook last night I started to wonder how much "store eggs" cost? And what the differences are. So as I was walking thru the grocery store last night I stopped in to see. I was baffled. There were a few that were less expensive and a few that were more expensive, but none, not one, that was comparable in quality. So how can folks question the cost? Then it hit me! Bam! They don't know what they are getting at the store. The cartons all sport words like farm fresh, all natural, cage free, vegetarian fed. Do consumers know what those words actually mean? Do they think farm fresh means that they came from a farm with a red barn and a white picket fence? Do they think cage free means chickens pecking around rolling fields of green? Do they think chickens are supposed to only eat vegetarian?
 I found a good article in Mother Earth News about this topic and am going to use some of those points. Everything take from that article will be in italics.

Ok, let's get started. First off, none of the verbiage on these labels is really regulated, "although there are some third-party verification programs".

Cage Free- that means, simply that. They are not in cages. They live in big warehouses but are not required to have roosts or nesting boxes to behave as normal chickens do.  “Cage-free” does not mean outdoor access."

Free Range- often times that means that they have access to the outdoors, but doesn't mean they forage or even that there is grass. “free range” usually means the laying hens are raised in large flocks in big open warehouses rather than in stacked cages. They can walk around, flap their wings and preen their feathers a little. Usually means? huh.

“Certified Organic.” Production methods must comply with the USDA National Organic Program, including organic, vegetarian feed, no use of antibiotics and no cages. Debeaking and forced molting by starvation are allowed. Organic standards require producers to “maintain livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of the animals.” How much access to the outdoors this requires for chickens is still being hotly debated. At this time, on large organic chicken farms, it may mean nothing more than a small door opening onto a concrete yard.

“Omega 3.” All eggs contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, thought to be beneficial to human health. Omega-3 levels in eggs can be raised by supplementing the birds’ diet with things such as fish oil, flax seed or alfalfa meal (or by simply allowing the birds to forage on lawn or pasture).
As I was finishing up this post I found this! Please check it out. It shows loads of labels along with what they mean. Super helpful.
Now, I'm going to get up on a soap box for a minute. If you'd rather not experience that please feel free to leave this page now. Good, you stayed. Folks, just buy local! Even if you buy your eggs from a family with 4 hens that only eat in their small back yard, you are getting a better, healthier product. Do a test, take a store egg and a pastured egg and crack them side by side in a pan. Eggs should have a bright yellow (even orange sometimes) yolk that stands up nicely, with a firm (not runny) white. Do you know what pastured means? You won't find it in the store, at least not yet.  Farmers who raise pastured laying hens usually have those hens in movable coops that they move from place to place daily or every few days. The chickens only spend the dark hours in the coop the rest of the time they are foraging in pasture. Pastures full of bugs, seeds and grasses. Because they are moved on a regular basis the chance of disease is lower and they get an abundance of naturally occurring food. You see chickens aren't vegetarian. They eat bugs, big bugs, little bugs, even mice sometimes.
Egg mobiles at Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm.
So if you drive past a farm and see a big funny shaped trailer surrounded by chickens stop in and buy some eggs, they will blow your mind!! I'm sure like me, you want to feed your family the best that you can. When it comes to eggs, you won't find that in a store. You'll get that from your local farmer, your neighbor or the folks down the street.

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