Which Eggs should you be eating?

by Amy Stafford on March 21, 2013

Yep that pretty much sums up how the weather has been around here.  Snow flurries on Sunday, thunderstorms at 6 A.M on Monday morning with rain all day and Tuesday and Wednesday gusty freezing winds.  That is why my garden is still a quiet empty shell.  The rosemary is holding strong and the garlic and onion have green sprouts up, but I haven’t been able to plant lettuce, radishes, sweet peas, greens or beets, which this time last year  were already sprouting from the ground.

I know that we need this crazy cold wet weather to balance what was a mild winter last year, but come on already Mother Nature, enough!

My poor chickens yard is a mud pit, my hubby says with 40 little feet running around in there all day long what do I expect?  My chicken yard, the area that is fenced in around my coops is 50′ x 50′ that is 2500 square feet.  That is a pretty big space for 20 chickens.  Even though I still open the door and let them run around out into our yard of 7 acres as much as I can.  Though through the winter they may only be let out a few hours a week.  I have to keep an eye on them while they are out for fear of predators, mainly red tail hawks, and I have no desire to stand outside and watch them in freezing weather.  The cold keeps me in the house and them in their fenced in yard and with all the wet wether we have had over the last month there is a lot of mud.  However, with their yard being so muddy I have felt very guilty so I have been letting them out several hours a day this last week, just so that their little toes can dry out.  Though the ladies have been real troopers laying eggs no matter the weather.  I am getting a dozen eggs a day now, so if you run into me I will probably be shoving a carton of eggs in your hand.  Which brings me to my post today.  I taught a cooking class a few weeks ago on how to make a healthy meal for your family in 15 minutes.  I made my pistachio crusted salmon, lemon green beans and a spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs, mushroom, onion with a red wine vinaigrette.

I brought some of my hens eggs to my cooking demonstration to display, to show the beautiful colors of the shells, but also to talk about how important it is as far as your health as to the types of eggs you buy.  I got a lot of questions from all the participants that were there and they were really interested in finding out as much as possible.  So, I thought I would share with you what I know.

There are four different types of eggs at your grocery store.

  • Conventional (Regular) Eggs:  Hens are raised in egg factories where the chicken are crowded together in multi-hen cages with less than half a square foot of space per hen (that is 6″ x 6″) Stacked on top of one another. These close quarters can be a breeding ground for disease, so farmers often fill the hens’ food with antibiotics to keep disease at bay, and those antibiotics can wind up in your eggs. Likewise, hens laying conventionally raised eggs may be given hormones to amp up production. These eggs tend to be lighter in color, less nutritious, and far less tastier than fresh eggs.

Hens kept for egg laying

  • Cage Free Eggs: Cage-free eggs are eggs from birds that are not raised in cages, but in floor systems usually in an open barn. The hens have bedding material such as pine shavings on the floor, and they are allowed perches and nest boxes to lay their eggs.  They still live in very close quarters and most hens have the top part of their beaks removed as chicks so that they can not peck at each other.

Cage Free Hens at Factory

  • Free Range Eggs: Free-range eggs are laid from hens that have the “opportunity” to go outside. Smaller farms may keep birds outside under a canopy area. They may travel in and out of a barn at free will or spend some portion of their day roaming outdoors. The reason I highlighted and quotation marked the word opportunity is because most large egg production companies may house up to if not more than 20,000 birds in a barn with a single small hen door that leads to an outdoor run that can be the same size as my hens use, 2500 square feet.
  • Organic Eggs: Organic eggs are laid from hens that may be kept in any kind of caging system, but generally are cage free. They eat an organic feed and don’t receive vaccines or antibiotics. In order to qualify for USDA organic certification, the grains used for the hens’ diets must be produced on land that has been free from the use of toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years. Genetically engineered crops are not permitted, and hens must be maintained without hormones, antibiotics, and other intrusive drugs. 

The old adage “you are what you eat” certainly holds true when considering the nutritional value of eggs. Since the 1970s, studies have indicated that eggs from hens with access to pasture are better for you than eggs from birds kept in cages . Free-range hens that eat a healthy, natural diet pass on that benefit to you in the form of more nutritious eggs.

Ask anyone who keeps chickens, chickens are dirty, you have to spend time keeping their area clean because they can easily become sick.  Can you imagine a barn filled with 20,000 chickens, the smell, the noise and the bacteria that those birds live in 24/7 it would make for a weak, sick and unhealthy bird.  That in turn will have to be pumped full of antibiotics to survive.  The results being eggs filled with traces of antibiotics, hormones and I don’t even want to think about what covers the shell before they are cleaned.

Something you should know about egg shells, is that they are a semipermeable membrane, which means that air and moisture can pass through its pores.   If you keep chickens you are quite proud of how thick and tough  your chicken’s egg shells.  If you feed your birds a healthy diet and they are allowed to free range, eating grass, bugs and clover their shells will be tough and will prevent bacteria from entering the inner part of the egg, which you eat.

I go even a step further and add Omega-3’s (flax-seed mix), garlic powder, probiotic and Diatomaceous earth to their food.  I also add Apple Cider Vinegar to their water.  All of these things are for the birds health, that translate into the most healthy eggs.  Afterall I am feeding this to myself, my family and my friends.

So what is the answer to buying the most nutritious safe egg for your family?   Become friends with someone who keeps chickens and has too many for her own good.  If she is not available I would definitely buy at Farmers Markets and then after that I think you have to ask yourself which factors matter the most to you and decide.  Just remember a hen who lives a clean and healthy life will provide clean and healthy eggs!  Hope this helps.

As always, I am not an expert and am only sharing what I have learned from reading and research and hands on experience.  Please don’t hesitate to comment or share any information that you have.  I am always looking to learn more and would love to hear from you!

xo, Amy

Amy Stafford's Hen Free Ranging Chicken Amy Stafford's Eggs

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You can usually find me in my garden, the kitchen, at the gym or spending time with my family. I love sharing recipes, gardening and exercise tips and stories of my backyard chickens and beekeeping.
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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Blake Kirby March 21, 2013 at 9:03 am

Great article. Those who eat eggs from my farm are quite happy to have them. I can’t stand the thought of buying eggs from the store.

Reply

Amy Stafford March 21, 2013 at 9:19 am

Thanks Blake! Yep nothing better than a farm fresh egg- I haven’t bought store eggs since having my own chickens. Do you sell your eggs or gift them?

Reply

Blake Kirby March 21, 2013 at 9:29 am

Both. I have one duck that lays almost daily. I give most of those to a lady at the church who bakes goodies for the coffee bar at the church. Occasionally I’ll take eggs to neighbors, but mostly I sell the chicken eggs. I would love to give them all away to be loving and friendly, but the little bit of money that I get helps me buy chicken feed.

Reply

Amy Stafford March 21, 2013 at 11:18 am

Blake, What kind of duck do you have? I have been playing with the idea of getting khaki ducks, they say duck eggs will become the new fabulous must have for the at home cook. I love that you give them to the lady at church- how perfect! She probably appreciates it more than anyone else could. Do you mind me asking how you sell your eggs? Do you sell them from home or do you take them somewhere?
Amy

Reply

Blake Kirby March 21, 2013 at 11:42 am

Amy, we have one Rouen hen and one drake. She takes breaks every now and then, but when she’s laying it’s almost one every day. We are soon going to be raising Australian Spotted Ducks. This will be my little girl’s project.

I sell eggs to friends. Sometimes, If I’m going to be in the same area that they are I’ll take them to them… otherwise they come out to the farm.

Linda@There and Back Again March 21, 2013 at 10:16 am

I’ve been known to beg everyone I know who has chickens to let me buy their surplus eggs, or I buy them at the farmer’s market where I can talk about how the chickens are raised. Great piece!

Reply

Amy Stafford March 21, 2013 at 11:19 am

Thanks Linda, If I lived near ya chicky, I would supply you with eggs! Have a great week.

Reply

Ron In Sunny Florida March 21, 2013 at 11:11 am

Hello Amy, Another informative and fun to read article.
My girlfriend and I have talked recently about getting a few chickens for eggs as the next step to improving our lives and becoming self sustaining, but neither one of us has a clue about raising them. I’m sure alot is common scense, however, could you offer some direction or recommend a website that offers some solid information on getting started. One of our biggest questions…”Is Florida’s long hot humid summers a factor when choosing a specific breed”? …or are we over thinking things?

Reply

Amy Stafford March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

Hi Ron,
Keeping chickens is so much fun, especially if you are a gardner like us. So I would recommend getting them… obviously. There are breeds that tolerate heat better than others, usually the larger the comb on their head the better the tolerate heat, but all chickens need shade and lots of water when it gets hot. There are tons of tricks to help keep them cool in extreme heat, even here in ohio (especially last summer) the temperature was above 90 for almost 30 days, so it took some work, but it can be done. The number one thing with keeping chickens, is housing. They must have a secure place to roost at night because everything will try and eat them. So the housing must be predator proof. I posted a tour of my coop that I purchased from horizon structures http://ahealthylifeforme.com/chickens-home-sweet-home/, it will give you an idea of construction. Also, my son and I built a second coop last fall and I plan on sharing the plans in a post in a few weeks. As far as a sources of information on all things backyard chickens there are three ladies that I turn to for the smartest, educational advice. Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily http://fresh-eggs-daily.blogspot.com, Terry from Hen Cam http://hencam.com and Kathy at the chicken chick http://www.the-chicken-chick.com These ladies are a wealth of information and teach how to properly care for your chickens. I am always learning something new from each of them. I follow them on Facebook as well, because they pop info up there all most daily. As you can tell, I could go on and on! :) If you have any more questions don’t hesitate to ask, and I hope I can help.
Amy

Reply

Cheryl Brewer April 12, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Amy,
Thanks for the very informative article. Those pictures make me very sad. I was going to ask you this question (about eggs) the next time I saw you but now I have all the information. Thanks for the eggs you gave me! They were very good and now I know how healthy they were for my family. I was so interested in the different shades and sizes of the eggs. Buying eggs from the grocery store is no longer appealing.
Cheryl

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