Chances are, you have access to farm fresh eggs. Whether it’s neighbors, friends, farmers markets, roadside stands, or local farms, many people are getting this breakfast staple straight from the producer. But are eggs really better this way, or is it a lot of hype?
Farm Fresh or Bust
A recent study in Mother Earth News showed a comparison in nutrients between eggs from pasture-raised chickens and those commercially raised on factory farms. In their study, it was noted that eggs that came from conscientious farmers (whose birds foraged on fresh pasture) had the following:
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less fat
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
These eggs also have four to six times more vitamin D, because sunshine is converted to Vitamin D when chickens are on pasture and that goodness transfers to the egg. So the short answer? Yes, there is a difference.
If you’re concerned that the price is double for your local farmer’s eggs, remember that you’re getting double, sometimes triple the nutrients. Also, keep in mind that for the first six or seven months of a chicken’s life, your farmer is feeding the flock without harvesting any eggs. This is a huge expense to the farm—over a hundred dollars per hen. Since manpower is money, the humane daily care of these young birds costs more than a big operation which keeps them confined and fed by a conveyer belt.
There is also the fact that about half of those chickens turn out to be roosters after all, and unable to produce eggs. Disposing of the large number of roosters tends to cost small farmers much more than the industrial operations, because small farmers usually employ more humane methods like giving them to local zoos or food banks. These efforts all take time and resources that affect their ability to keep prices low.
Another cost is the unexpected loss of hens from predation. When a chicken is in a confinement house, the conditions may be limiting, but at least she’s safe. That’s why your farmer’s prices may reflect a higher standard. He or she may employ guard dogs, electrical fences, and more, to keep your supply of healthy eggs coming.
Brown vs. White
Most people don’t know that brown chickens (like Rhode Island Reds) lay brown eggs, and white chickens (like the iconic Leghorns) provide white eggs. The nutritional difference in each breed’s eggs is trivial, so although the brown eggs may have the reputation of being more nutritious, they’re not. The diet of the hen determines the nutritional content of eggs, not shell color. If the animal has been kept inside its whole life, no variation in breed will make its eggs more or less nutritious. Only vitamin D from the sun and the salad of grass, weeds, and bugs can help a hen produce eggs of such high quality. Instead of focusing on the color of eggs, become an expert on the lifestyle and diet of the “Mother Hen.” For example, slick marketing labels like “100% vegetarian fed” sounds great, but means again that the chickens have never been outdoors to scratch around for bugs and clover. This means no natural vitamin D, and a host of other sub-par results.
Another surprising fact is that “free range eggs” doesn’t always mean the original chicken went outside; it only means they have the option to vacate the henhouse. On carton labels or commercial operations that boast “free range,” usually the birds never actually get to venture that far. What’s more, the outdoors to which they have access don’t necessarily have grass; a small opening to a dirt yard can still earn them the title. Nonetheless, that’s why your aunt’s famous “free range” eggs tend to be so much more nutritious than their confined counterparts; backyard chickens typically enjoy those flavorful bugs and clovers, and maybe even a few kitchen scraps in addition to their feed.
In contrast, the organic food movement has been marked by transparency. That’s why it’s important that you research the source of your grocery store’s organic eggs, and see whether they score well in the standards they profess.
Going the Eggs-tra Mile
Perhaps the greatest benefit to farm fresh eggs is the human-to-human interaction of raising, buying, and eating them. Whether it’s just a conversation starter at the local farmers market or a heated discourse over the future of our complete food system, farm fresh eggs have been bringing people together for hearty discussion for generations. So join the dialogue here. What are your thoughts on the incredible edible egg?
Image Source: Bethany Johnson