For starters, eggs from pastured hens have great flavor! Over and over again people who eat organic pastured eggs rave about their taste.
Secondly, they have color! Pastured egg yolks range in color from yellow to a deep orange. The deeper the color, the better a forager that particular hen is. Hens in confinement or on dirt don’t even have the option to forage for grass, seeds, worms, and bugs, therefore their yolks are usually a pale yellow.
And lastly, pastured eggs have nutrition! Numerous tests going back as far as 1974 consistently show that, compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:
- 1/3 less Cholesterol
- 1/4 less Saturated Fat
- 2/3 more Vitamin A
- 2 times more Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- 3 times more Vitamin E
- 7 times more Beta Carotene
- between 3 and 6 times as much Vitamin D
Besides all this, the pastured hens are happy and are allowed to act like chickens! They are allowed to keep their beaks, whereas the majority of confined hens are debeaked. Without their beaks they would never be able to forage. Pastured hens are allowed to be outside in the sunshine on grass, pull at worms, scratch the dirt, dig holes for their dust baths, chase butterflies, and act how God created them to act.
Where do I buy eggs like this? From a farmer who rotationally grazes his hens. artisanalfarms.com is one place.
ASK QUESTIONS! Just because a farmer lists his products as “free-range”, “pastured”, etc., doesn’t mean the hens spend any amount of time on grass. Good farmers these days are used to being asked a whole line of questions… Do you rotate your hens on fresh pasture? How much time do they spend outside? What is in the feed you give them? Does your feed contain any genetically modified grain? Do your hens drink chlorinated water? Do you debeak your hens? Do you force molting by starving them? Can I come see your hens? Do you eat your own eggs?
Once you find a good local farmer, keep supporting them! They work hard to produce good food for themselves and for you.
If you have no local farmer to buy from, then here is help deciphering the terms on egg cartons:
Certified Organic: The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, and are required to have outdoor access†. They are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides, as required by the USDA’s National Organic Program. Debeaking and forced molting through starvation are permitted. God created chickens to be omnivores which means they eat plants as well as animals and bugs. If hens are fed an all-vegetarian diet then they will naturally be missing key nutrients.
Cage-Free, Free-Range, or Free-Roaming: None of these terms are currently regulated by the USDA, although there are some third-party verification programs. Nevertheless, “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. “Free-range” implies some outdoor access†. “Cage-free” does not mean outdoor access. There is no information on stocking density. There is no information regarding what the birds can be fed. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted.
Certified Humane: The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and are not required any access to the outdoors. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density and number of perches and nesting boxes. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed.
United Egg Producers
United Egg Producers Certified: The overwhelming majority of the U.S. egg industry complies with this voluntary program, which permits routine cruel and inhumane factory farm practices. Hens laying these eggs will be afforded 67 square inches of cage space per bird, less area than a sheet of paper. The hens are confined in restrictive, barren “battery” cages and cannot perform many of their natural behaviors, including perching, nesting, foraging or even spreading their wings. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. This is a program of the United Egg Producers.
Vegetarian-Fed: This label does not have significant relevance to the animals’ living conditions, only that they are fed a vegetarian diet which is unnatural for chickens because they are omnivores.
Natural: This label has no relevance to the treatment of the hens or the nutrition of the egg. It is only a nice sounding word to entice buyers to purchase the product.
Fertile: These eggs were laid by hens who lived with roosters, meaning they most likely were not caged.
Brown eggs: Simply means that these eggs were laid by brown egg laying hens. The color of the shell has no relevance on the health of the egg or to the hens’ living conditions. Traditionally, confinement house hens are Leg Horns which lay white eggs, they choose this breed because of their ability to produce the most eggs per dollar of feed. And traditionally, local farmers choose brown laying hens (Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, Black Asterlorps, to name a few) because they want their customers to disassociate their eggs from the white grocery store eggs. A farmer like us could choose to raise a flock of Leg Horns (white egg layers) on rotational pasture and organic feed and our eggs would be far healthier than the brown eggs from “free-range” confinement house chickens that one would find in the grocery store. The outside color has nothing to do with the character of the inside.
Omega-3 Enriched: All eggs contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. The levels in eggs can be raised by supplementing the birds’ diet with things such as fish oil, flax see or alfalfa meal (or by simply allowing the birds to forage on lawn or pasture). The label “Omega-3 Enriched” has no relevance to animal welfare. These eggs are actually LESS healthy for you. Typically, the animals are fed poor-quality sources of omega-3 fats that are already oxidized. Also, omega-3 eggs do not last anywhere near as long as non-omega-3 eggs. These eggs are highly perishable and should be avoided.
In conclusion: Would you rather eat eggs from these maltreated hens who live in crowded conditions their whole life, never see sunshine, grass, bugs, worms, or grubs, are debeaked, and forced to live in a stink filled warehouse where they get lung cancer from the fecal fumes? Or would you rather eat eggs from these happy hens on pasture that are allowed to keep their beaks, roam through the grass, get sunshine, eat grubs, bugs, worms, and flies, and are moved to fresh grass to get away from their manure?