Monday, April 25, 2011

How well do you know your eggs?

These days when you go to the grocery store there are so many types of eggs to choose from - brown, white, organic, free range, free run, cage free - the only ones they don't promote are conventional battery caged eggs. Suffice it to say if the producer isn't promoting the fact the eggs are free range or free run, they are most likely battery caged.

It's easy to be confused with all of the different egg types available to us. And most times it is easiest to just buy whichever eggs are on sale or the least expensive. But you have to take time to look at the bigger picture, decide what is best for you and your family and think about how the chicken was treated when it is laying eggs.

Here is a brief synopsis of different categories of laying hens.

Battery Caged
These egg-laying hens are kept in small barren cages that provide consistent access to food and water. The hens are always standing and laying on a wire cage floor and there are generally 3 or more birds housed in each cage and the cages are stacked on top of each other. Bird droppings fall through the cages to a a pit for disposal (so I guess the lucky birds are the ones in the top cages!) The barn temperatures are easily monitored so that the birds are in an environment that is an appropriate temperature at all times. The physical comfort of the birds is poor and often the hens experience chronic pain associated with injuries to their feet caused by standing on the wire floor. They are also known to have weak bones due in part to their lack of exercise and movement. The cages are also too small and too cramped to allow the birds proper movement including grooming, wing-flapping, perching and nest building.

Free Run
These hens are kept entirely indoors on a barn floor. Housing provides them with a deep-bedded sawdust so it is much better on their feet. This type of housing does not necessarily provide more space per hen than conventional battery cages and does not always provide nest boxes or perches. Free run hens have no access to the outdoors but some barns may be designed to allow natural light to enter. Access to food and water is good and consistent and barn temperatures can easily be maintained. As they have more room to move around, Free Run hens are able to explore their surroundings, groom themselves, flap their wings and walk around.

Free Range
Hens that are in a Free Range environment are free from battery cages and are allowed access to the outside. Because they are able to roam free, there must be adequate feeders and drinkers for the entire flock to ensure that all birds have access at all times. Hens are able to choose whether to be indoors or outdoors, in the shade or in the sun, so their comfort level is very much up to them. Warmth and shelter is always provided as is access to the outdoors.

While free range and free run eggs come from chickens that are handled in a more humane fashion, they are more difficult to gather and may have been laid in less sanitary conditions, making the labor costs and spoilage factors higher than for battery chickens. This accounts for some portion of the increased price for these eggs. In my opinion, the taste of free range and free run eggs is far superior to that of battery caged hens. The yolks are more yellow and there is a better flavour to them. Of course, the price is a bit more expensive but only by .15 to .20 an egg. That works out to less the cost of a latte a week!

Aside from being aware of the food that you consume, you should also be aware of the treatment of animals, the production of eggs, what the chickens are being fed and how they are treated while they are laying. These hens are laying eggs for our consumption - nothing more, nothing less. They at least deserve to be treated well while they are providing food and nourishment for us.

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