Friday, September 7, 2012

Eggs Defined

Friday is "word" day - and boy do I have a lot of words for you!  Have you seen the egg aisle at the grocery store lately?  Man! There must be a million choices!  Cage free - organic - vegetarian - omega 3 - what does it all mean?  Is there really a difference?  Hold on. Those of you on the fence about getting chickens may just be swayed today.....

Regulations in the U.S. food industry are definitely skewed toward huge corporate agri-business.  Words don't always mean what you think they do once the bureaucrats get a hold of them.  Here's a run down of the grocery store egg collection:

  • CAGE FREE - chickens are not caged, and are allowed to roam in a large house.  Sounds great, right?  The problem is that usually thousands of birds are housed together which causes stress to the birds and sanitation problems.  Antibiotic use is common and even sometimes routine. 
  • VEGETARIAN - the chickens are still housed in the large houses. Their feed is strictly vegetarian (read 'grain only').  The chickens are not allowed outdoors at all because they are omnivores and would eat insects and grubs if they could.  
  • FREE RANGE - this is starting to sound good, right? In 'bureaucrat-ese' it means that the chickens have access to the outdoors some part of the time.  So if a house with 8000 birds in it has a 2 foot door and a small porch, the chickens are "free range". 
  •  ORGANIC - now we are getting somewhere, right?  Well, organic chickens can still be grown in the large houses and be completely grain fed.  The only difference is that the grain is organic and the animals must not be given antibiotics.
  • OMEGA 3 EGGS - still huge houses and stressed birds, but flax seed or fish oils are included in the chickens' diet. The omega 3 level is about 7 times higher than normal and Vitamin E is also increased.  
Well, that all sounds depressing, doesn't it?  Enter the homesteader.  She has a few birds which she moves around the pasture (or allows outdoors most of the time) and enjoys fabulous eggs.  How fabulous?  In 2007, Mother Earth News published a report that compared the nutritional data of pastured eggs with standard eggs.  Chickens allowed outdoors to eat grass, clover, insects, worms and grubs lay eggs that are significantly different than their grocery store cousins. Here are the results - compared to standard eggs, pastured chickens lay eggs that have:
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more Vitamin A
  • 2 times more Omega 3 fatty acids (the good kind)
  • 3 times more Vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene (from the greens they eat)
  • 4 - 6 times more Vitamin D
When this news gets out, everyone is going to want pastured eggs.  Talk to your state congressman to see if selling eggs like this is allowed in your local farmers' market.  You'll sell out every time!  

If you just want a few chickens for yourself, seriously consider using a movable chicken pen to allow your girls access to grass and bugs.  You'll be glad you did!

P.S. - Mr. Maven just read this and said, "You have to say something about how great they taste!"  It's true - the taste is definitely different.  My shells are harder than regular eggs (from eating bugs?), my yolks are darker than regular eggs (the beta carotene) and of course the freshness can not be beat!  

No comments:

Post a Comment