The reason my husband and I raise our own chickens and eggs has nothing to do with cost. By raising our own chickens, we eat the freshest eggs available. I interact with my chickens daily. I know who lays what eggs and that my hens are healthy. Our chickens forage on bugs, pasture weeds and greens along with commercial laying mash. Chickens must have a high protein diet to lay eggs. Our hens are both happy and healthy.
Most importantly, our pasture fed chicken eggs are 2 times higher in Omega-3 fatty acids than store bought eggs. They will contain 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more Vitamin A, 3 times more Vitamin E, seven times more beta carotene, and three to six times more Vitamin D. The flavor and texture of our pasture raised chicken eggs is so incredible that we could not go back to store bought.
The problem is most people are not blessed with the ability to raise their own chickens and have them pastured as we do. So the next step is to buy the healthiest eggs available to you. Some egg labels suggest their eggs are healthier and taken from chickens raised in a better environment. You may be surprised at the truth. When you buy cage free eggs you may interpret it to mean that they are peacefully grazing on pasture. You may be surprised at how misleading those labels are.
Egg Terms To Understand:
Debeaking or Beak Cutting: They cut the beaks down on the chicks to prevent picking at one another. We have three Rhode Island Reds that came from an egg ranch. They have trimmed beaks. This may keep them from picking at each other but prevents them from eating the greens as well. The beak end is dull and not sharp enough to tear off the pieces of greens well. They are learning but after four months, they are still unable to pasture as effectively as our other hens.
Forced Molting: Chickens yearly lose old feathers, replacing them with new ones. This is the natural molting process. During this time period, they rest from laying eggs and rejuvenate. The feathers grow back and they lay bigger eggs. To lay eggs, they must have eight hours of light and high protein feed.So the company to save profits, force molt them by placing them in darkness, withholding food and giving limited water. This is a very harsh treatment performed by most chicken ranches.
Humane Molt process: Chickens are fed feed low in protein and lighting is adjusted so that chickens stop laying. They then begin the molt process. In this humane molt, they have access to food, water, and reduced light.
Egg Labels and what they mean:
Pasteurized. Eggs are placed in warm water to kill bacteria, then waxed to prevent cross-contamination.
Table Eggs ( Battery Raised Chickens)(no specific label such as cage-free): Battery cages contain from 3 to 11 birds. 98% of all layer flocks are housed indoors in battery cages.They house 125,000 birds in each building. There is no room for them to move. Hens often trample each other to death. These over crowded cages contain sick hens, hens with hurt feet or beaks, hens caught in the cage and dying, or dead chickens. Poor air quality causes respiratory disease in these chickens. They are debeaked and forced molted through starvation. The forced molt causes stress and disease in the chickens. Sick chickens are not given care. They are simply killed or left to die in pain. The chickens live a miserable existence.These chickens when spent are loaded into trucks and taken to a slaughter house to end up in pet food and fertilizer. If your eggs are not labeled, this is how the hens were housed. I lived by chicken ranches at one point, so I don’t buy store bought eggs. There are care standards that should apply to chickens but are ignored. In California we passed a new law to change that. It won’t go into effect for several years. I am sure there will be loop holes used to get around this new law.
Vegetarian-Fed: This term sounds healthy but only means that the hens were not fed animal by-products. This does not mean that they were raised in any better living conditions than the hens above. This does not mean the egg is really a healthy alternative.
Omega-3 Enriched: Hens are fed enriched feed containing flax seed or seaweed. This does not tell you about their living circumstances. Unless it states Cage-Free as well, they are housed in cages.
USDA Certified Organic: These hens are housed inside a warehouse and required to have outdoor access. Regulations require 1 to 1.5 sq feet of space per hen. This is pretty crowded. Even though they are allowed outside access, this does not mean they get outdoor access. These hens are fed organic-all vegetarian chicken food, no antibiotics, no pesticides, and no hormones. The grains used to feed the chickens must be produced on land free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers for three years. Genetically engineered crops are not permitted. Beak cutting is allowed but forced molting through starvation is not. Many organic chicken ranches don’t force molt but let them cycle naturally. This is why organic eggs cost more, they lose money when the chickens molt.
Free-Ranged: There are no real standards for this term. This term often is given to meat animals not poultry. By this term, the animal is supposed to spend 50% of its time outdoors. That outside access could mean in reality a 10′ by 30′ area with no grass as seen by Federal agents on one inspection. This term in reality does not mean better living conditions. It sounds great though. You need to call the egg ranch and ask questions. There is a great range of living conditions displayed in this label term.
Free- Roaming: Often this means they are housed in a chicken house with concrete or wire floors with no access to the outside required. At some farms the chickens may have access to a small area outside but most of the chickens do not use it. Once chickens are raised inside, they may not venture outdoors even when given access. Chickens are very habitual. There are no requirements on stocking density so most are crowded together just like in the cages. There are no requirements on what they are fed and forced molting through starvation is allowed.
Cage-Free: Hens live uncaged in a warehouse situation. Unless labeled Range-Free as well, hens do not have access to the outside or pasture. They are usually stocked very densely with little room. Unless labeled, they are fed standard chicken feed.
Pasture-Raised: Chickens forage on pasture but not necessarily freely. Often chickens are placed in enclosed huge cages that are moved by tractor to pastured areas. Does not tell you if they were fed standard chicken feed as well. Does not mean the eggs are organic either.
Certified Humane or Certified Humane Raised & Handled: This term does not mean they are organic or Free-Ranged unless labeled so. Chickens live uncaged inside the warehouse with artificial light. They eat standard chicken feed unless indicated differently. No cages or crates are permitted.They are not required to have outdoor access. Each hen is required to have at least 1 sq foot of space. There are requirements for stocking density, perches and nesting boxes. Forced molting through starvation is allowed but not beak cutting. There is 3rd party auditing of the business. There are not enough agents to monitor all the egg farms. The truth is that most of the time, the farm is only visited once a year, maybe twice.
In all these methods, the male chicks are killed right after hatching. They are killed by suffocation, gassing and throwing them alive into a grinder. These ground baby chicks end up in inexpensive pet foods. When chicken-by-products is listed in the label, that may mean feathers, beaks, feet, intestines, and all of it. Organic standards require the chicks are killing by gassing rather than being thrown alive into a grinder. In the other labels above, there is no requirements on how the male chicks are killed. I watched this on a video and got sick. U-Tube has videos on how animals are killed and you should watch them. We tend to forget our hamburger or fried chicken came from a real, breathing animal who felt the pain of being raised in horrible circumstances and killed with inhumane measures. My husband, city born, now understands my conviction to raise our own food and animals when possible.
Video on how California chickens are housed and killed:www.grit.com/News-from-Razor-Family-Farms/Behind-the-Egg-Labels.aspx