Good eggs are hard to come by ? harder than you may think. It seems you can find chicken and eggs labeled ?organic? and ?free range? in just about any grocery store these days, packaged in bucolic images of rolling green hills and red barns. That is almost never the reality, even among these supposedly humane alternatives.
A chicken fed organic feed in a confinement barn with a tiny dirt yard does not represent ethical or sustainable farming. With this said, I guess that it all depends on how lazy the farmer is . . .
If said farmer does not let his barnyard birds out of the coop until noon, chances are the hens? laying boxes will be full of quality eggs. But, if said chickens are let out to pasture, the said ?lazy farmer? must start the process of finding and gathering all of the eggs that the hens have deposited around the yard, and carefully get them to the barn or kitchen to wash.
Pastured eggs are seasonal ? the hens lay less as the days get shorter. In industrial confined egg operations they use artificial lights and a horrible practice called forced molting to overcome this. That means that starting in October, egg production declines and by November, may be half what it is in the summer. However, while the ladies are resting and not earning their keep, they are eating even more expensive grains because of the cold weather. That?s another reason why pastured eggs cost more.
Grass-fed/pastured hens that are not being kept in confinement are fed primarily grains containing up to 20 times more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than those of their less fortunate cousins (factory hens). Pastured hens? diets are naturally complemented with bugs, earthworms, and other such critters that give their eggs a huge nutritious ?oomph.? Although not necessarily organic, pastured hens are usually much healthier and happier than their space-restricted and antibiotic-pumped industrial cousins. Pasturing is the traditional method of raising egg-laying hens and other poultry. It is ecologically sustainable, humane, and produces the tastiest, most nutritious eggs. Pastured eggs also have 10 percent less fat, 40 percent more vitamin A, and 34 percent less cholesterol than eggs obtained from factory farms.
What the conscientious consumer should really be looking for is pastured chickens, of the heritage breed if possible. When I lived in New England, I bought my eggs from a nearby farmer. The eggs had strong shells and dark, orange yolks that stood tall when I cracked them open. They were the most delicious eggs I?ve ever eaten.
The organic, vegetarian-fed, free-range, antibiotic-free eggs I found in Los Angeles were nothing like that. They are indistinguishable from the runny, yellow, conventional eggs most people purchase today. Clearly something is amiss. The difference is pasture. At first you may think that is precisely what is meant by ?free range,? but sadly that is almost never the case.
A ?free range? label on an egg carton or chicken wrapper almost invariably means that the chickens were raised in a crowded shed with limited outdoor access and almost certainly no fresh grass. It is often not terribly different from how their conventional counterparts are raised, and yet by meeting a few technical benchmarks, sellers can mark up their products to fetch the premium prices that more ethical food brings, effectively duping consumers. Don?t be fooled; there is no substitute for real pasture. And remember there are no seasons in a modern-day grocery store!
It may seem strange to think of putting chickens in a pasture. After all, chickens, unlike cows, don?t eat much grass. But the amount of grass they do eat when given the opportunity, along with the bugs and lizards they scratch up, make a world of difference in egg quality. Pasture also makes a world of difference to the quality of life for the chicken. They must be moved to fresh pasture every day or so to avoid killing the grass, so they get constant access to fresh greens, bugs, sunshine, and space to move around as they fertilize the lawn.
Without doubt, ?free range? eggs are better than purely conventional eggs in environmental terms, but we can do so much better. The farmers out there who are really promoting a sustainable model with pastured, happy chickens and nutritious eggs, as opposed to those who have learned to do the bare minimum to fool consumers into thinking their product is superior, really deserve that extra dollar or three per dozen. Talk to sellers at your local farmers? market or check sites like Eat Wild and Local Harvest to find sources. Luckily, you?ll know when you?ve bought the real deal. The proof is right there in the pudding ? or the shell. There are several local sources for pasture-raised eggs, Keep this in mind as you start your day every morning.