Local pasture raised eggs are easily the most popular sustainable food you can buy. They are easy to raise, easy to sell, and easy to see and taste the difference. I’m sure you already know that pasture raised eggs are better than supermarket eggs. But do you know why?
Why are store bought egg yolks a pale yellow? Because 10,000 hens locked in a barn with a small dirt yard have nothing to eat except the same old premixed chicken feed. Even organic chickens who are mandated outdoor access quickly scratch said yards down to dirt. There’s very little nutrition in a dirt yard.
Pasture raised eggs are far more nutritious than supermarket eggs. Pastured eggs have both Omega-3 and Omega-6 in nearly equal proportions. Conversely, supermarket eggs have as much as 19 times as much Omega-6 than Omega-3. These need to be in balance to be healthy. According to Mother Earth News, eggs raised on pasture contain ⅔ more vitamin A, 3 times more vitamin E, 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D, and seven times more beta carotene.
Pastured eggs are laid by hens out on pasture. They get plenty of exercise out in the sun. They get to eat fresh grass and live bugs every day. This is how chickens are supposed to live. Not forced to walk across a floor layered in weeks old poop to get to their feed and water. Not crammed into small wire cages with up to eight other hens. Not breathing fecal dust which gets into their lungs, causing inflammation and leading to infections.
Industrial Egg Chickens have Osteoporosis
A hundred years ago the average egg laying hen weighed about 6 pounds and laid around 150 eggs a year. Today, industrial egg layers weigh 3 pounds and lay 300+ eggs in a year. That’s twice the production out of half the weight. That may sound like progress, but it’s not healthy. These hens are much more fragile than heritage breeds that you will find on sustainable farms. They need a very exacting feed ration and can’t be allowed to run around much. they need that energy to go into egg production, not exercise.
In order to keep up the the calcium requirements needed to lay an egg every day, the hen’s body sacrifices her bones in order to get the needed calcium. Egg shells are made of calcium. Being half the size also means less bone mass to pull from. These hens are not laying smaller eggs. Of course not, that would mean less money.
A standard large egg weighs 2 oz. An industrial hen weighs 48 oz. That’s a lot of weight to be dropping every day. Imagine a 150 pound woman having a 6.5 pound baby every day for a year. That’s all you need to imagine, because industrial laying hens don’t usually live longer than a year.
Is it any wonder that industrial eggs lack the vitamins and nutrients that pastured eggs have?
Animals are meant to be outside.
Not locked inside buildings. Small dirt yards are not enough. Genuine pasture raised chickens are moved every week – sometimes more than once a week – to fresh pasture. This is to keep them from eating up everything in sight. Anyone who has raised backyard chickens in a chicken yard know just how quickly chickens can turn a lush green yard into dirt. That’s what happens when chickens don’t move. Just imagine what 10,000 chickens could do to a yard.
When a farmer puts 10,000 hens in a building together, they’ve created a perfect environment for disease. Pathogens don’t like to travel very far. Their lifespan outside a host is short. They need to find another host soon. Lucky for them, there are plenty to be found in a commercial chicken house. It doesn’t help that living inside under constant light suppresses chickens’ immune systems. To combat the disease problem created by confinement, commercial farms rely on antibiotics and other drugs.
These chicken farmers live in constant fear of an outbreak that could sweep through their flock leaving thousands dead in a matter of days. They take many precautions. Toxic footbaths and showers at every building entrance to kill pathogens. Screens and concrete to keep out mice, flies, or wild birds. No Trespassing signs and gates to keep out the disease carrying public. These actions come from a place of fear. Fear created by a flawed system.
Chickens raised on pasture don’t need drugs. They’re spread out. They have many times more square footage per chicken. This means that pathogens have a harder time finding a new host. Plus, being out on pasture also means sunshine. Sunshine is the worst thing for a pathogen. Sunshine is the great sanitizer. Sustainable farmers aren’t worried about disease constantly. Disease is rare on a sustainable farm. This, as much as anything, should be proof that sustainable farming is a superior model.
How do you know you’re buying truly pasture raised eggs? First, know the farmer who raises them. Some egg sellers claim pasture raised without knowing what it truly means. They think they’re raising chickens in a pasture when in reality the chickens merely have a large yard. Ask the seller for proof. Do they have any pictures? Better yet, go visit the farm. The best inspection is customer inspection.
- Kliger et al, 2000. “Effects of photoperiod and melatonin on lymphocyte activities in male broiler chickens.” Poultry Science 79:18-25.