Happy Chickens Lay Tasty Eggs
Eggs are hands down one of my favourite foods. I love eggs. I will eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In fact as a child we had a certain day of the week that was dedicated to this marvelous food. In our house Wednesday was no longer known as Wednesday, it was “Egg Day”. No one looked forward to this day of the week more than my dad and it is to him that I owe my great love of eggs. We often had eggs on the weekend too but Wednesday was always a guarantee. Things always looked a little brighter on Wednesday mornings.
Once upon a time an egg was just an egg. As with everything these days, it is a little more complicated than that. There are brown ones, white ones, blue ones, little ones, big ones, organic ones, free-range ones, free-run ones, cage-free ones, humane-certified ones, omega-3 ones, happy ones and sad ones. It can be a bit confusing knowing which eggs to buy and if one should spend $2 for a dozen or upwards of $6 a dozen.
The colour and size of the egg vary depending on the type of chicken that layed the egg but what’s inside is very much the same. But how the chickens are raised and what they are fed has a big impact on what’s inside and on the welfare on the chicken.
So what do all the different labels mean?
Free Run: Hens are cage-free and kept indoors in a barn. They do not have access to the outdoors and may or may not be overcrowded.
Free Range: Hens are cage-free and have access to the outdoors. How much they are outside is not clear. They may or may not be overcrowded or have nests and perches.
Certified Organic: Hens are cage-free and are raised free range (access to the outdoors) with the most space per bird. The chickens are also given perches, nest boxes, dust bathing areas and feed on organic pasture or eat organic feed. Certified farms are audited to ensure animal welfare.
Pastured Eggs: Hens roam outside in the fresh air with room to preen, eat bugs and well just be chickens. This is the traditional way of raising chickens. Their diet is supplemented with a grain based feed or veggies and other scraps from the farm. They may be certified organic or not depending on the farm. Pastured chickens and eggs are higher in omega 3 fats, beta carotene and vitamin E and of course taste. We do not see this label on eggs in Canada.
All Other Eggs: Hens are raised in very small cages with little to no room to move around, let alone preen, stretch out their wings or do the things chickens like to do.
So which to choose? Well that is up to you. For many reasons I choose pastured eggs (preferably organic) whenever I can get them. This means raising your own chickens or if you are a city living, apartment dweller like myself, buying them at a farm or farmers’ market where you can ask the farmer how the chickens are raised or where you can see the chickens running around being chickens with your very own eyes. I sought out these beautiful blue eggs from a friend of my aunt who has a small flock of chickens on Gabriola Island. Her chickens looked awfully happy running around the yard in the sunshine.
Chickens raised on pasture improves animal welfare, decreases environmental impact, supports small-scale farmers, sustains rural communities and the eggs have more nutrition and taste too. It is a win-win-win. At $6 a dozen, perhaps it means eating fewer eggs but remember there is a lot of nutrition in that little package. If I can’t access pastured eggs I go for the certified organic ones, which for me is the next best choice.
A little something to think on the next time you are standing in the egg aisle at the grocery store or you find yourself wondering what the difference is between the $2 or $6 dozen of eggs. Taste the difference for yourself and get crackin’ in the kitchen, whether it be fried, poached, or scrambled for breakfast, lunch or dinner.