Yep, I love eggs: scrambled, poached, deviled, fried, boiled, and my favorite, egg in a basket. They are the perfect breakfast or power-ball snack. I also love the idea of purchasing eggs from farms that raise them with kindness and humanity, and that has proven a bit challenging. There are many terms to decipher, but armed with correct information, we can all help chickens and still enjoy those eggs. The following chart gives information about a few local farms and is thanks to my favorite place to grocery shop, Rainbow Grocery.
|Rock Island||Judy’s Family Farm||Uncle Eddies||Chino Valley||Organic Valley||Clover||Clover Organic||Marin Sun Farms||Eatwell Farms||Clark Summit|
|Hormones, Antibiotics & other additives in chicken feed||no||no||no||no||no||no||no||no||no||no|
|Kept in Cages||no||no||no||no||no||no||no||no||no||no|
|Have access to outside||no||no||no||yes||yes||no||no||yes||yes||yes|
Organic Fed / Certified Organic
All organic eggs are certified by the USDA. Organic eggs come from hens whose feed is free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and commercial fertilizers. Organic chicken feed contains no animal byproducts and the hens have never been given antibiotics.
Hormones and Antibiotics:
The FDA banned the use of hormones – most notably diethylstilbestrol, or DES – in poultry in 1959, after they not only caused tragic health problems in consumers but also failed to stimulate growth in chickens. “Hormone free” is a misleading bit of marketing that suggests other egg producers are illegally dosing their birds.
Kept in Cages
Some hens are kept in battery cages; enclosures so small the animals can’t spread their wings. Battery caged hens are crammed as many as six chickens into a cage at a time, leaving each bird with less personal space than a sheet of ordinary notebook paper. Critics say the battery system causes the spread of disease, requires the painful de-beaking of birds, and restricts natural bird behaviors, such as dusting or nesting.
Have Access to Outside
“Free Range” and “Free Roaming” are terms that bring to mind idyllic barnyard scenes. These labels, which are regulated by the USDA, may be used by a producer if their hens are allowed some access to the outdoors. This does not guarantee constant access, nor is there any specification of the size of the outdoor area (which is, of course, a penned area, not a range).
Also known as debeaking, or beak trimming, is a process by which parts of the beak of a chicken or turkey are trimmed. Many variations of debeaking are used. Most commonly, the beak is shortened permanently, with the lower beak somewhat longer than the upper beak. The goal of this is to reduce cannibalism in stressed-out bird populations, such as in crowded egg-laying hen houses.
When light and temperature are manipulated so hens lay eggs more than normal.
Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid considered crucial by some for developing brains and preventing heart disease and depression. Farmers boost the omega-3 content of their hens’ eggs by adding ground flaxseed, algae, or even fish oil to the birds’ feed.
My own kind choice is to stay informed, shop at the local farmers’ market and ask questions, and someday, raise my own.
If you have any tips or insights into local egg farms, please do share!
For more egg carton terms, go to:
Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at The Oakland Zoo.