Wednesday, July 22, 2009
All eggs are not created equal
Do I really need to say more? Probably not, but I will. The egg in the center of the picture above is from Dave & Kim Raylinsky who have a flock of 21 heirloom-breed chickens (see below for her description of the breeds). These lucky chickens eat a delicious and appropriate diet of earthworms, ticks, mosquitos, lush grasses, weeds, table scraps, fresh veggies & fruit, a little chicken feed, and the occasional fish, frog, or snake. They also roam free on 3/4 of an acre. After looking at these pictures it's pretty hard to keep insisting that food has nothing to do with health or functioning! A quick glance at the yolk of an egg tells us a lot about that hen's health and diet. The yolks from Dave & Kim's chickens' eggs are clearly astoundingly full of vitamin A (which gives the deep orange color). You can't see the vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in these eggs (or all the other good stuff), but they are also totally filled with these nutrients. And have I mentioned the flavor? These eggs are incredibly rich and delicious, and satisfying in the way that your standard diner omelet will never be. Here's what Kim writes about their little family "farm" in upstate New York:
"We really don't have much of a farm, it's just under 4 acres, surrounded by lush green farmland and bordered by the Onesquethaw Creek, a Class A trout stream that flows to the Hudson. We live in the original Teunis Slingerland House, circa 1762 that was once on 10,000 acres of both lush farmland and slab rock ground. Our remaining piece sits on both.
The chickens roam on about 3/4 of an acre and are free to roam the stream which they do. They are amazing weeders and have taken care of our tick problem and the mosquitoes. I never knew they were such busy creatures -- they're up with the sun and as soon as it starts to get dark they retreat to their roosts in their coop. They come and go as they please. We chose heirloom breeds that could withstand our cold windy winters; we get horribly cold winds from the Heldebergs. We ordered the chicks through Agway in the spring of 2008. We chose Gold Laced Wyandotts, Black Giants, Barred Rocks, (the wandering blondies who we find right at our back door, eating our blueberries and raspberries, and scratching through my perennial gardens), and the blue egg layers, Aracaunas. They live with 15 Muscovy ducks, nine of which are newly hatched less than a week ago. Adjoining their coop and pasture are 5 sheep. Our intent was to fence off 2 acres to cut down on mowing. We had farmed before: Dave grew up on a small farm and I always lived with animals, both farm and pets. These animals though, are both, probably over fed and definitely worried about too much. The chickens and ducks get all of our vegetable scraps; they love leftover macaroni, boiled potatoes, cooked rice, scraps of bread, and the excess from our garden all summer. They do love ripe tomatoes and corn, on or off the cob. We supplement with a layer crumble and cracked corn, but they rarely eat it when the bugs are out and the grass is green. We've seen a chicken run by with a frog, a snake, and fish dangling from their mouth. Doesn't sound too appetizing but I guess they need their protein too! With our wet, wet summer the mosquito population has been worse than ever, and the chickens keep the fly problem in the coop completely under control; even a wasp isn't safe if they're nearby. Also, our chickens layed all winter, maybe not as frequently, but we would get at least a dozen every day from 21 chickens. Not bad; it's the lack of light more than the cold that affects them. We keep a red 250-watt heat lamp on in the winter, and switch to a 25 watt for the summer. They've never slept in total darkness except for infrequent power outages. Only a little spoiled! We also have an endless supply of earthworms, all sizes. Banner year for lush grass and worms with all of the rain we've been getting."
The pale yellow yolk is from a standard $1.29-a-dozen egg. And trust me, you are getting only 12.9 cents of nutrition out of these eggs! I had to buy a dozen to get one for my photo, and I am the last person in the world to waste food, but we won't be eating these anemic eggs in our house; I plan to compost them (they are only fit for worm food anyway). The poor hen who produced this egg lived a miserable life in a tiny cage, probably without a beak (they cut them off the baby chicks so they won't peck each other to death in their close confinement), and definitely missing lots of her feathers. She was also dosed with antibiotics and received all sorts of awful stuff in her meager feed which was mostly genetically-modified soy and corn (and yes, the altered genes can be passed along to you, the consumer, and harm your health).
The other egg is from one of the farmers who produces our raw milk and grass-fed meat. This one was likely laid by a hen raised using the pasture-pen method (above). This method allows the chickens to eat what nature intended (bugs and grass mainly) and get sunshine (for vitamin D) which makes these eggs also very nutritious and delicious! However, since these chickens don't have the same range and they have to share the supply of bugs and worms available in this area this means their eggs won't be as dramatically orange and rich as their spoiled counterparts. This is the best way to produce good eggs (and poultry!) for commercial sale. The chickens fertilize the pasture which keeps the grasses and field plants healthy, consume the larvae of bugs in the grazing cattle's manure, and cut down dramatically on the amount of bugs and flies bothering the grazing animals -- a win-win situation!
It's also worth mentioning that the standard "organic cage-free" eggs from the grocery store are produced by hens who are allowed to move freely, but who spend little if no time outdoors. Spending time out in sunlight allows the chickens to develop plentiful amounts of vitamin D in their feathers, which is then concentrated in the egg yolks. It also allows them to peck around in the grass and dirt, which is what they naturally want to do! So check out your local farmers' market for pastured eggs, or join a reputable buyers' club.