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What Are These Eggs?

September 19, 2012

The disadvantage to too many choices is if there is difficulty understanding what all the terms and labels mean. Some, such as certified organic, have a strict definition of what they must meet. Those who are not certified organic, but not standard battery cages, seek ways to describe what they do in order to be attractive to you, the customer. Sometimes this results in a difference of view – cage free, for example, may be in large barns and not have access to the outdoors. Some may have access to the outdoors but chickens don’t use it. Others have an outdoor based program.

The latest attract the customer label I’ve seen is vegetarian fed. We’re afraid of animals eating other animals that we eat. The chicken, in her natural state, is *not* vegetarian. Watch a mouse crawl into a chicken yard and see how not vegetarian chickens really are! Although it’s true chickens aren’t in a natural environment in cages, they also aren’t in a natural existence as vegetarians.

So here’s a question posed:

At the store my brown egg options are organic, vegetarian fed and cage free. I usually buy the cage free. But is there really any difference? All three come from chickens that eat only vegetable products. I assume “vegetarian fed” doesn’t mean human vegetarians feed the chickens.

With what I’ve already said, is it a wonder it’s confusing with the labels on just eggs?! According to Joel Salatin, in his book “Folks This Just Ain’t Normal”, colonial times saw, among the jobs for teens, was supplying winter protein for the chicken pen. That meant animal protein.

“Consequently, young boys had the chore of acquiring something for the chickens. Usually a squirrel, skunk, possum, raccoon, rabbit – something small. This required shooting or trapping, and is one reason why handbooks for boys written during the 1800s and early 1900s were dominated by homemade trapping devices. Often these boys were not yet old enough to carry guns, so they had to be ingenious at acquiring varmits some other way.”

By reasoning then, vegetarian chickens is not normal. Although it may make humans queasy, chickens have no qualms about eating other animals, bugs and those smaller than them. Some feeds may have bone meal in it, but not all does. Most layer and chicken feed is grain best, but vegetarian chickens has a current draw to sound different. But there’s that mouse – and vegetarian chickens won’t hesitate as their vegetarian keepers might. That’s not to say all feed byproducts to chickens! When I look at our feed tag it’s plant products – but understand chickens, left to their own devices, do consume protein, be it bugs and worms or a nest of baby mice!

Organic eggs follow a set standard of certification. Among them – access to the outdoors, no GMO feed, no animal byproducts, no antibiotics except in outbreaks and no forced molt. Molting is a natural occurrence, but can be hastened with darkness and withholding feed.

Cage free eggs would seem common sense – birds are not maintained in cages, but they may be confined (as in barns, large pens etc). There’s pasture based systems, free range and many others that seem to come out daily.

There is, although debatable, some difference in nutrition of the eggs based on what the hens eat. There are studies that show eggs from hens on pasture have more nutrition, while other studies show it’s not true. Some claim that eggs from Americauna hens – blue or green egg shell color – are higher in vitamin E and lower in cholesterol than other eggs, while other studies show an egg is an egg no matter shell color.

Like most things, it comes down to what YOU believe. That’s difficult to determine with so much conflicting information and you just want safe, healthy eggs for your family! It’s easy to buy healthy eggs from several management system types at the grocery store, although the price will vary. It’s easier all the time to find someone to buy eggs from on a small scale, although those aren’t tested as the large operations are. Many say that eggs from small producers don’t have salmonella but that may not be true if the eggs aren’t tested to find out!

Here at SlowMoneyFarm we strive for common sense. We put out what we do and why, and let you the consumer decide if that’s something you want to support with your hard earned dollars. Farms over a certain volume must be licensed here in Alabama, and it’s recommended to collect multiple times, refrigerate after sanitizing the eggs and pay attention to handling/food safety. We do not bleach our eggs, as some do, because eggs are porous. That means that sanitizer intended to sterilize the shell *can* penetrate the shell, and we prefer to not to that. We’re working on a sanitizer that carries less risk.

All customers have a choice where to buy their eggs, and what your choices are should be based on many things, including handling of the birds if that is important to you. Many feel it’s safer not on pasture due to predators, which may not be humane in the killing of birds.

Bottom line – you have choices. Ask questions, seek answers, we welcome conversation even if you don’t purchase from us! If you’re comfortable buying at the store then great! Some farmer provided those eggs too! Your choices give us choices!

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