Deciphering an egg carton label can be a perplexing experience. Natural. Organic. Free Range. Cage Free. How do we know what these terms mean, since there is really no official standard for egg production…and no method for enforcing one if it existed.
I am fortunate in that we now have our own flock of laying hens and I no longer have to ponder the vagaries of egg labeling, but this blog by Francis Lam will give you a better idea of what you are choosing from the egg aisle.
Our hens are pastured and very productive. We sell most of our surplus eggs to friends and neighbors, but this summer when many of our regulars went on vacation and our hens starting laying 2 dozen eggs a day, we were suddenly overstocked. There’s a corner near our house where folks sell random furniture, produce, crafts, etc., and one Saturday Eddie suggested we go sell some eggs there.
We sold out in an hour or so, but one gentleman objected to our $5 a dozen price and told us he could get farm fresh eggs up the road for $3 a dozen. Really? Well, after we packed up the vehicle we went on down the road to check out the competition.
As we drove up to the farmhouse we saw the sign “Farm Fresh Eggs $3”. We could see a dozen or so hens scratching around in the pasture with the cows, but we knew that couldn’t be their entire flock! As I got out of the car a woman in tall rubber boots exited a huge barn next to the farmhouse and I told her I’d like to buy a dozen eggs. She went into the house and came out with a carton of brown eggs.
I asked her how many hens she had and she said 500 and dismissed me. Then I knew…those hens were in the barn! Hopefully not in battery cages, but who knows? And, the truth is that they came direct from a farm and were no doubt fresh…so the label was, in fact, true.
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, or, in this case, the yolk. When we got home I cracked open one of those eggs and one of our eggs. Here’s the proof of what free range, pastured hens produce, as compared to production hens. Visually, its striking, but on your taste buds its amazing!
If you have the opportunity to buy eggs from pastured poultry you’ll never go back, I’m sure. Look for a local CSA, farmers market or food co-op in your neighborhood, or search Local Harvest. And, if you can, ask your egg farmer if you can visit their farm. The legitimate farmer will no doubt be proud to show you around.