I would like to talk a little bit about eggs. Lets start with the chicken. All Rainshadow chickens are on pasture. We have roughly sixty ladies and one rooster. We raise heritage breeds such as Black Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, Buffs, Marans, Leghorns, Barred Rocks, Ameraucanas. They live in “Rainshadow Roost”, which is a trailer with next boxes and roosts that moves to fresh grass. These girls are a small army and are deployed on different missions throughout the year. During the summer months we have pastured areas where the hens live and work. In the winter they move into our garden where they scratch up all the leftover vegetables, eat bugs and pests and weed seeds.
They leave the garden ready for cultivation in the spring and then they move out onto our spring grasses where they knock our weeds back and then move back to their summer pastures. The “Roost” is our ladies’ mobile home. It is their safe place and no matter where they are, they hop in to lay their eggs during the day, and put themselves to bed at night. We lock the roost at night to keep our chickens safe from predators and then let them out first thing in the morning. We clean the hen house once a week and add bedding of wood shavings and straw throughout the week. In addition to the bugs and grasses that the chickens find, they receive a free-choice diet of cracked wheat, triticale, and peas. They do not eat corn or soy or any other genetically modified foods.
Chickens are not the only birds to lay delicious eggs. We also have forty heritage turkey hens who lay large, speckled, delicious eggs. We have Bourbon Reds, Chocolates, Naragansits, Spanish Blacks and Holland Whites. The turkeys have a summer pasture and a large winter enclosure where we feed them hay that we raise and harvest ourselves. They also eat a mix of triticale and peas. At night, they have a large covered cage with roosts. We close their door for safety at night and let them out first thing in the morning.
We originally got our flock in the mail as day-old chicks. We are now incubating our own eggs maintain our flock. Our chickens lay for about 3-4 years before their laying diminishes significantly. At that point we process them on farm as stewing hens. Our turkeys take about nine months to come of age and then they lay for about nine months before they are harvested for Thanksgiving. Our rooster and tom chicks that we hatch, which is roughly 50% of the eggs, are raised on pasture with the meat birds and harvested when they are ready. It is very important to know how the animals are treated outside of their laying life. The egg industry has a lot of cruelty associated with it, especially for roosters and old hens.
So there we have it: Pasture raised birds, no genetically modified feeds, vegetarian diet, from a farm right here in Central Oregon. By a farmer that you can call directly. From chickens you can meet yourself.
Now, a couple of questions:
Can you buy such a thing at the store? Not just any store, but we do sell our eggs at Melvin’s Market in Sisters and the Locavore store in Bend. What kinds of labels will you find on eggs at the larger grocery stores? Maybe “Cage-free” or “Free-range” or “Natural” or “Certified Organic”. What do these mean?
I’d like to share with you a list of egg label definitions compiled by the Humane Society.
Certified Organic: The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, and are required to have outdoor access, but the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access is undefined. They are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides, as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing.
Free-Range: While the USDA has defined the meaning of “free-range” for some poultry products, there are no standards in “free-range” egg production. Typically, free-range hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access. Since they are not caged, they can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. There are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing.
Certified Humane: The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses but may be kept indoors at all times. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density and number of perches and nesting boxes. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Certified Humane is a program of Humane Farm Animal Care.
Animal Welfare Approved: The highest animal welfare standards of any third-party auditing program. The birds are cage-free and continuous outdoor perching access is required. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes. Birds must be allowed to molt naturally. Beak cutting is prohibited. Animal Welfare Approved is a program of the Animal Welfare Institute.
American Humane Certified: This label allows both cage confinement and cage-free systems. Each animal who is confined in these so-called “furnished cages” has about the space of a legal-sized sheet of paper. An abundance of scientific evidence demonstrates that these cages are detrimental to animal welfare, and they are opposed by nearly every major US and EU animal welfare group. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. American Humane Certified is a program of American Humane Association.
Cage-Free: As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. Beak cutting is permitted. There is no third-party auditing.
Free-Roaming: Also known as “free-range,” the USDA has defined this claim for some poultry products, but there are no standards in “free-roaming” egg production. This essentially means the hens are cage-free. There is no third-party auditing.
Food Alliance Certified: The birds are cage-free and access to outdoors or natural daylight is required. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are specific requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes. Starvation-based molting is prohibited. Beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Food Alliance Certified is a program of the Food Alliance.
United Egg Producers Certified: The overwhelming majority of the U.S. egg industry complies with this voluntary program, which permits routine cruel and inhumane factory farm practices. Hens laying these eggs have 67 square inches of cage space per bird, less area than a sheet of paper. The hens are confined in restrictive, barren battery cages and cannot perform many of their natural behaviors, including perching, nesting, foraging or even spreading their wings. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. This is a program of the United Egg Producers.
Vegetarian-Fed: These birds’ feed does not contain animal byproducts, but this label does not have significant relevance to the animals’ living conditions.
Natural: This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare.
Fertile: These eggs were laid by hens who lived with roosters, meaning they most likely were not caged.
Omega-3 Enriched: This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare.
† The truth is that the majority of egg labels have little relevance to animal welfare or, if they do, they have no official standards or any mechanism to enforce them.
Virtually all hens in commercial egg operations—whether cage or cage-free—come from hatcheries that kill all male chicks shortly after hatching. The males are of no use to the egg industry because they don’t lay eggs and aren’t bred to grow as large or as rapidly as chickens used in the meat industry. Common methods of killing male chicks include suffocation, gassing and grinding. Hundreds of millions of male chicks are killed at hatcheries each year in the United States.
I would really like you to watch a couple of short YouTube videos
The Second is: A virtual tour of Willamette Egg Farms
Willamette Egg Farms is located right over the hill in Canby and is probably our largest egg producer in Oregon. They offer a wide range of eggs and they will tell you about them in their videos.
So, I bought two dozen of the Willamette Eggs, which was very strange, since I haven’t bought an egg for a long long time. But people have been asking me what is the difference between our eggs and eggs you can buy at the grocery store. I decided to do a photo project.
I bought the traditional carton and the “cage-free” carton from Willamette Egg Farms and I compared them on the inside and the outside with our chicken and turkey eggs from Rainshadow Organics.
Lets look at the cartons. The “cage-free” carton is awfully nice. But please take a second look at both their video and the definition of “cage-free” above. We re-use our cartons that we get from CSA members, so we don’t have any marketing on the carton itself. We do put a sticker that reads, “Eggs arrive from the hen with a protective coating. To preserve this protection, we do not wash our eggs. Please wash any debris from the eggs prior to cracking them. Grown with no soy or corn.”
Now, lets look inside the carton. We have brown chicken eggs and turkey eggs from Rainshadow then we have brown eggs from Willamette Egg and at the bottom we have white eggs from Willamette . The brown eggs from Willamette are really brown. They look great. Our selection from Rainshadow was a half dozen of our lighter eggs. We also have very dark brown eggs, white eggs, and occasionally blue and green eggs. Different breeds of hens lay different colored eggs, no matter how they are raised. Color does not indicate how the chicken was raised or what it ate or how the egg will taste.
Now, lets crack them open. Right here in front we have the turkey egg, which is quite large, but not as dark as our chicken egg. The Rainshadow chicken egg is on the right, which has a noticeably darker yoke and firmer white. The “cage-free” from Willamette is next and then the traditional white egg from Willamette is the back left.
The taste is up to you to decide. I hope you feel better equipped to make your decisions.