“…let’s talk about you + me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be…” : )
We finally have eggs for sale! The girls have finished molting, started laying more consistently, and we are finding ourselves at the beginnings of a surplus! I am so excited because that now means we can make our delicious, healthy, humanely-produced eggs available to others.
And because I’m so excited and proud of our gorgeous tan, blue, speckled, and brown eggs, I’m going to ask you to spend a good minute reading about why you should eat our eggs over the dozen you might buy in the grocery.
Sidebar: Okay, the truth is, I’m feeling a little ambivalent as I write this… On the one hand, I’m super stoked that I raise truly pastured, corn- and soy-free eggs from chickens who live out their years free-ranging, eating grubs, bathing in pepper tree dust… On the other hand, I’m suffering a bit of writers’ block because the terms I want to use to describe my eggs have been hi-jacked by mass producers, and that brings my credibility into question. What they mean by free range is not what I mean by free range, for instance. Despite that we at Sunny Cabana Farms adopt all organic practices and then some, we’re not certified. And in an effort to clarify, I feel I’m toggling the line between overly-defensive and overly-complicating an egg. Hey, I get it, not everyone is going to worry about this stuff. To a lot of people, an egg is an egg is an egg. And yo, it’s just a chicken. But I’m just not one of those people. And maybe our eggs just aren’t for everyone. I’m kinda okay with that.
There’s a lot of information out there already about how to read the labels on an egg carton, and I don’t want to spend a great deal of time and space recycling that here. So here’s what I will do. I’ll ask you to first check out this great infographic summarizing what each label does and doesn’t mean (click on the graphic to open a larger version). Then I’ll tell you how our chickens are treated, what is and isn’t in our eggs, and how this differs from what you might find in another carton wearing the same label.
You might also want to check out this slideshow from a 2012 HuffPo article summarizing some common labels you find on egg cartons (like “free range,” “cage free,” etc.), their actual meaning (or lack thereof), and how they’re regulated (or not). Here is a more recent and comprehensive article contrasting what most people think each label means, and what it actually does (or doesn’t).
Our eggs are:
Free range: We have a small farmstead flock that spends their entire day roaming an acre and a half of our property. The chickens we inherited when we purchased the place, affectionately called the “OG Chickalettas,” usually begin their day by heading to the orchard, where they peck at dropped fruit, snap up flies, and scratch for grubs in the compost bin.The new guard (our more recently acquired hens) prefers to start their day with a dust bath in the goat stall and then proceed to the pasture where they enjoy bugs, sprouted rye, wheat, alfalfa, and also assist with parasite control (we run them behind the goats as part of rotational pasture management). This means they all get to seek out vitamins and minerals as needed from what is available on our property. They all put themselves into the coop each evening at dusk. We button them up for the night by closing the door to keep out predators and return each morning to let them out and start the day anew.
You might see the “free range” label on an egg carton in the grocery store. If you clicked on the links above, you know by now that this means that the chickens who laid the eggs were given access to the outdoors. In the UK, producers are required to provide one sq. meter per nine hens. That’s about 1 square foot per hen, which just looks like this. There are no square footage regulations in the U.S., and so most large production “free range” flocks are really confinement flocks surrounded by a nice lawn. In contrast, we are currently stocked at about 7,260 square feet per hen. : )
Pastured: As I mentioned, our chickens are given free access to pasture as part of our rotational grazing system. They roam free and get to eat their natural diet – plants and bugs – whenever their little hearts desire. Not only does this allow them to express their inherent “chicken-ness,” but it also means they produce an egg known to be higher in Vitamin A, E, and Omega-3s. They are also lower in Cholesterol and Saturated Fat. Mother Earth News conducted a study comparing conventional and pastured eggs and found that eggs from chickens raised on pasture may contain:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
But buyer-beware, although pastured eggs may be healthier, the “pastured” label doesn’t mean “free-range,” just as “free-range” doesn’t mean pastured. In fact, often pastured laying hens just look like this:
It’s a hella lot better than conventional factory cages, but these chicken tractors are often crowded and the chickens aren’t free to range, which means they don’t have the autonomy to seek out vitamins and minerals as needed to suit their dietary needs. In short, our truly-pastured hens are healthier because they have a greater variety of nutrients to choose from on a daily basis. Healthier chickens means healthier eggs.
Non-GMO, Corn- and Soy-Free: We supplement our hens’ free range diet with free choice certified organic/non-GMO, corn- and soy-free layer pellet from Modesto Mills and American Farm and Larder, both local California operations. Personally, I’m not as concerned about GMOs as I am about the amount of corn and soy in the American diet. If you are not familiar with the reasons to avoid soy, here is a wonderful summary. While you’re at it, check this out too. Cracked corn is a popular chicken scratch, but instead we offer sprouted barley, oats, and black-oil sunflower seeds. Sprouting these grains increases the amount of protein available to the chickens and, therefore, their eggs. It’s a lot of hard work! But I really really really like knowing that our eggs are not only high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but totally free of corn and soy. There are few foods you can say that about!
“Organic”: Our chickens have been fed USDA Certified Organic feed since October 2014, and we don’t use antibiotics or hormones. But we are not certified organic. Certified organic chicken has been fed only organic feed starting at two days after hatching. We inherited our hens with the property, remember? And the previous owners did not feed organic. I’m not about to cull a chicken because her previous owners chose a non-organic (and much more affordable) feed. Our chickens also get a large portion of their diet from our land and pasture, which is not yet certified organic because we have no way of proving what the previous owners did or did not use on this land. So we will have to live here for three years without using any synthetic fertilizers, chemicals or pesticides or planting GMO crops before we can become certified. Organic certification is also expensive. So while this is something we are working toward, we feel our best option for now is to be completely honest with our customers about our practices.
Not only are our practices consistent with Certified Organic Requirements, we actually go a step further. Organic egg producers are only required to provide access to the outdoors (and we already talked about what that might look like). Our chickens live outdoors. Organic producers are allowed to force molting and clip beaks. We don’t do this. We also don’t use artificial lighting to induce egg-laying during the shorter winter days. It’s important to us and our chickens’ health that they follow the normal rhythms of nature.
“Expensive”: Some might say so. We charge $8 a dozen, and that’s more than you will be likely to pay in the grocery store for eggs with any and all of the labels I described above. But all of the things that make our eggs better/fresher/healthier are also the things that make them more expensive. Certified Organic Corn- and Soy-free feed and scratch is twice as expensive as non-organic. Not to mention the costs of housing and bedding, cartons, seed and water for pasture… In fact, we should be charging more, but it’s really important to me that healthy food is accessible.
Here’s another way to look at it. How much are you willing to pay for a soda from the vending machine? What about a bag of chips or other snack? Most people pay over $1 for these unhealthy convenient foods. Even a bottled water or tea will cost you at least that much. From this perspective, 50 cents for a satisfying snack loaded with nutrition and produced by humanely raised and cared for animals is actually a pretty sweet deal. It will literally make you a better person. One of my favorite ways to snack on our eggs is as a southwest egg white salad on toast. I’ll post the recipe on the blog soon.
So that’s it. That’s our eggs. “All the good things and the bad things.” Buy from us, and we’ll be happy to show you around the farm so you can see for yourself what we mean by all these labels. (That’s the “let’s talk about you + me” part). Because really, this is about more than eggs. It’s about rebuilding the relationship between farmer and consumer.