Egg Quality, Industrial vs. Local

Have you ever wondered what all of the egg terminology meant and why prices range from as low a $0.99 a dozen to $6.00 a dozen or more at your local grocers?

With this post we hope to explain in detail what some of the common terms are for eggs, along with some background information on egg health that we have picked up over the years.

First, numerous terms are legally limited in their use.  The agency who regulates the use of the terms is the USDA.  The USDA term definitions can be found here:

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms

 

So, I basically get the cold shoulder or the look of doom after I tell people or show people the price of my eggs because they are so used to the eggs from the store ranging from $1 to $6 a dozen. So they obviously think I charge too much…  My eggs are filled with nutrients and flavor and are much more fresh.Why would anyone choose the path of eating things that do your body more harm than good & having it not taste as flavorful, right?

 

Some common terms for eggs:

  • Conventional (caged)
  • Cage Free
  • Free Range
  • Pastured
  • Organic, Non-GMO and Soy Free

 What is the difference between them all?

Below we will document the living conditions as well as common practices for each of the terms above.

Conventional (caged) – standard white or brown eggs, package will not specify anything except USDA inspected.  May say “natural” as all eggs, regardless of production method, are technically natural.

Conventional eggs are from hens that are hatched in industrial hatcheries.  The males are ground up alive as young as 1 day old.  The females are sent to pullet houses to bring them up to laying age as fast as possible.  Once of age, they are moved into industrial hen houses in individual cages.  They are set up so that they may not turn around and their cloaca (where the egg comes from) is oriented so that the eggs end up on a conveyor belt.  They live out the rest of their lives in this single bird cage until they are no longer producing in sufficient quantity.

Cage Free – same as conventional, however package will state cage free.

Cage free birds are identical to caged birds, except that the bird is allowed to roam within the industrial hen house.  The houses are stocked in such high volumes that there is typically only 1 to 1.25 sq ft per bird, enough to cover the entire floor surface.

Conventional Caged & Cage Free Eggs (standard and non-GMO) typically have the following:

  • Typically they have no sun as they are in large industrial buildings with forced fan ventilation.
  • Antibiotics are administered unless package states otherwise.
  • Hens are de-beaked to prevent them from pecking each other due to the stresses of the environment (cage free)
  • Eggs are scrubbed and bleached in industrial machines which  remove the protective layer ( bloom) from the egg.
  • Shipped from somewhere else. Eggs are much older and less fresh than a local source due to transportation delays.
  • Commonly fed the cheapest GMO feed that can be obtained. Most of the feed is based on mass produced GMO corn and soy.  See our GMO page.
  • Breeds are chosen for egg laying size and frequency only, not for flavor or quality.
  • Proven to be less nutritious than farm eggs.  One study available here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/free-range-eggs-zmaz07onzgoe

Free Range

Industrialized free range eggs are typically raised in the same house as “cage free” eggs, as noted above, however they will have some level of outside access.  The amount of outside access various from farm to farm, but can be as little as a 10×10 foot concrete area, to as large as a field.  Per the USDA, there is no limit to the size of the outside access, only that the birds must be allowed to be outside.  The outside area does not have to have grass, dirt, or dust for bathing.

Pastured

Pastured is not a term that is recognized or regulated by the USDA currently.  It is typically taken to mean that the birds were allowed access to a pasture (grass or similar).  Unfortunately, on an industrial scale, as this is not a regulated term, this can mean allowed on a pasture for a portion of their lives, or for as little as an hour a day, etc.  There is no way to know without visiting the farm.

There are non-governmental organizations who have set up standards for pastured eggs, although formal enforcement is up to the users.  Those standards include:

  • minimum of 108 sqft per bird of outside space
  • minimum of 6 hours per day outside
  • access to grass for foraging

Feed Standards:

 

Organic – Organic implies that the feed was entirely organic, that no antibiotics were utilized, and the feed was non-GMO (a requirement of organic feed).

Note that organic eggs can still be caged, cage free, free range, or pastured.  Read the label closely.

Also noteworthy, the vast majority of industrial organic eggs are produced by the same large companies as the conventional eggs.

 

No Soy – As the name implies, the feed fed to these birds does not contain soy.  As this is not a regulated term, it could mean no soy at the time of production of eggs, but it does not guarantee no soy from birth.

 Non-GMO- As the name implies, the feed fed to these birds does not contain Genetically Modified Organisms.  The term Non-GMO is not formally regulated, and can still contain pesticides and other chemicals.   Non-GMO is a step above conventional feed, but not as heavily regulated as Organic.

 

Pastured

  • Hens must have at least 108 sf of space
  • 6 hours – no minimum period of outdoor space
  • Grassy area for them to eat
  • Exercise and spacious to do what chickens want to do
  • Vitamin D intake from sun which is 3-6 X more vitamin D!
  • Darker yolk depending how much pasture they eat vs grains
  • A more rich flavor with a more firm and round yolk & less watery
  • Can have upto 30% more lift in baked goods that stays fresh longer
  • 10% less fat
  • 34% less cholesterol
  • 40% more vitamin A
  • 2-7 X more Beta Carotene
  • 2-10 X more Omega-3 fats
  • 2X more Vitamin E
  • Typically contains higher levels of Carotenoids
  • Can be fed GMO’s & soy
  • Can have antibiotics

Here at Black Ridge Farm & Orchard:

Our hens are fully pastured, free range, no-soy organically fed, and given full access to pasture from dawn until dusk.

Our eggs are:

  • Unwashed, leaving the natural bloom to protect the egg from bacterial contamination
  • Fed a very high quality whole grain high protein layer feed.  We do not use pellet feed, organic or otherwise.
  • No antibiotics, no medication and nothing unnatural ever!
  • Watered from a metal container not plastic.  One concern we have is when a water bakes in plastic in the hot summer.  I’m sure you have tasted a water bottle left in the car.  We do not want our hens to have to drink the same so we use large metal drums for their water.
  • During growth we supplement their water with organic raw apple cider vinegar as a natural antibiotic.
  • Pasture grass is natural and not messed with or treated  Our pasture is only fertilized by our birds and natural compost.
  • And of course we are local!

 

Why are pastured eggs good for my health?

Pastured eggs have more of the following:

Vitamin D

  • stronger immune system
  • fights diseases
  • less fatigue

Vitamin E

  • Antioxidant

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

  • Reduces low grade inflammation in your body. Inflammations leads to the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer, type II diabetes, and other health problems.

Beta-Carotene

  • Pastured eggs have been shown to have up to 7 times as much beta-carotene as conventionally raised eggs.

 

What causes the yolk to be darker/thicker in pastured eggs?

Egg color reflects the chickens diet. Carotenoids in the diet create the dark orange in the yolk. Caroteniods are in carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, algee, marigold petals.  Basically any plants which are red, orange & green are likely high in carotene.  Carotenoids are important for humans as the are utilized to produce vitamin A, and also because they have antioxidant effects.  Carotenoids also help prevent heart disease by inhibiting low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) from sticking to artery walls and creating plaques.

Carotenoids, as antioxidants, serve to protect cells from the danger of free radicals that may be produced by the body during metabolism or by cigarette smoke, sunlight, radiation, pollutants, or even stress.

Animals are not known to make there own antioxidants so they have to get it through food like Caroteniods.

If avoiding illness ranks high on your priority list, carotenoid-rich foods may benefit you. Carotenoids, a group of A vitamins that includes beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein, are leading forces in the fight against free-radical damage. Free radicals are associated with serious diseases, including macular degeneration and types of cancer. Carotenoids also promote healthy skin, bones and immune function. Seek guidance from a registered dietitian before altering your diet.

I encourage you to research the sources below for more information.

Resources & Sources

Mother Earth News

Dr. Kaayla Daniel

Pennsylvania State University

Ohio State University

Professor M. Monica Giusti, poultry biologist

Health Impact News

Dr. Mercola

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/09/18/soy-can-damage-your-health.aspx

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/facts/guide_egg_labels.html

http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/diseases-and-conditions/pathology/carotenoids

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/carotenoids

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ab/2014/837891/

True Ameraucana Chickens

Ameraucana, Araucana, Easter Egger, Olive Egger, Rainbow Layer. What’s the difference? 

So you’re ready to buy these cute fluffy chicks that everyone is raving about! Blue eggs, rainbow layers, who wouldn’t want some of these beautiful hardy birds with the fun egg colors? You walk into your local country store and see them and the sign says Ameraucana/ Araucana.

The fact is these little guys are a hybrid of various genetic backgrounds that happen to possess a blue gene.  Most of the commercial hatcheries mistakenly label all of these as Ameraucanas.  This post serves as a guide to help clear up the confusion on all of the names you may see.

 EASTER EGGER

 An Easter Egger is a hybrid chicken that possesses a single blue egg gene from one of its parents. They are not recognized by the APA and not considered a specific breed. They do not breed true season after season. They lay a large to extra large egg. Egg colors range from blues, to greens, pinks and even browns. They are used for eggs and not meat as the body structure is usually quite small (we have eaten a few and they are best left to a slow roast (crockpot even) and then picked for pulled sandwich meat).

The reason hatcheries call Easter Eggers an Ameraucana is simply due to lack of understanding about the specific genetic traits of an Ameraucana.

Some examples of a parent carrying the blue egg laying gene would be: Ameraucana, Araucana, Cream legbar

OLIVE EGGER

 An Olive Egger is another hybrid breed that possesses a blue egg gene crossed with a very dark brown egg gene. They are not recognized by the APA and not considered a specific breed.  Like the Easter Egger, they also do not breed true. They lay a large to extra large egg. Egg colors are medium to very dark green. New chicks born from a blue egg gene parent and dark brown gene parent are typically called first generation olive eggers. You can breed a first generation olive egger a second time with a dark brown layer which gives you an even darker green color.

Some examples of a set of parents for the Olive Egger are:

Dark Brown– Maran, Welsummer, Barnevelder

Blue– Ameraucana, Araucana, Cream Legbar

A&B- Cal Ranch EE, C- Half Blue Ameraucana & half Welsummer from breeder

AMERAUCANA

Ameraucanas breed true and have 8 large fowl colors recognized by the APA standard (as of 2016).  Ameraucanas only lay a slate blue egg, have a pea comb, have slate blue legs, red ear lobes, and are tailed, muffed and bearded. The recognized plumage colors are Black, Blue, Blue Wheaten, Brown Red, Buff, Silver, Wheaten, White and then the Self Blue (Lavender) may be added in 2017 which would make a 9th.  Ameraucanas are mostly only available through breeders with a few hatcheries picking them up recently. Ameraucanas and the Araucanas are also more flighty as they had natural select breeding from predators throughout their existence.

The Ameraucana was bred from the Araucana. It took many generations of perfecting the Ameraucana to have a tail, a muff and beard.

If you would like to do further research on the Ameraucana chicken visit this website http://ameraucanabreedersclub.org

ARAUCANA  

Araucanas breed true with 5 large fowl colors recognized by the APA standard. They only lay a blue egg, have a pea comb, and are rumpless, have tuft fathers, willowed legs except for the black and white, with yellow or white skin. Similar to Ameraucana, Araucana are only available through breeders.

Learn more about the Araucana at http://www.araucana.net/

We have investigated the local southern Utah country stores regarding their chick hatcheries.  After some digging around we were able to call up and speak with the hatchery.

After a long chat, we have concluded that the hatcheries are indeed supplying some form of Easter Egger. They will claim otherwise, however they also falsely claim that their breeding stock is sourced from the Araucana bloodlines of Chili and then were “Americanized”, hence the name.  Made for a good laugh 🙂   They also had never heard of the APA standard and had no idea on the correct colors.

I have confirmed that there is a hatchery who actually sells Ameraucanas and talked to the manager personally.  He did have the correct information and was familiar with the APA standard.  He told me it is very upsetting to him that other hatcheries call the Easter Eggers an Ameraucana.  He also knew exactly what he was talking about and gave direct answers unlike the other hatcheries who gave impartial answers.

I  recommend if you would like actual Ameraucana, Araucana, or similar breeds you work with a small breeder or local source with true bloodlines.  If you are unable to find one, the hatchery below does have the correct information and can provide you with a true Ameraucana.

Cackle Hatchery  https://www.cacklehatchery.com/baby-chicks/colored-egg-layers.html

The two hatcheries I called up that one of our local country stores uses are from Idaho and Iowa.  I would avoid these hatcheries if possible.

More resources to learn

http://www.amerpoultryassn.com/BC_Links.htm

http://www.backyardchickens.com/products/olive-egger

http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/361185/easter-egger-club