The “Why and How” of Pastured Eggs

One of my favorite moments during the morning farm chores are the 30 seconds when I open up our chicken coop in the morning. Our pastured layer hens never seem to lack enthusiasm for the first moments of their day. Regardless of how I felt when I got out of bed, they are ALWAYS ready to carpe diem!

“So tell me then: if it’s so smart, then why doesn’t everyone do it? The physical labor and omnipresent risk unfortunately prove too onerous for most profit-centered operations.”

When I tell people about how we produce our pastured eggs, most everyone wisely nod their heads, drop jaws in amazement, and offer such comments as “Wow!”, “That’s so smart!”, and “You even fertilize your pasture at the same time!”. So tell me then: if it’s so smart, then why don’t all egg producers do it? The physical labor and omnipresent risk of loss unfortunately prove too onerous for most profit-centered operations. We, however, are not profit-centered. We do it because it is better for the birds, produces better eggs, and is better for our customers’ health. Just how much better though? Read on…

The “WHY?”

Just how do pastured eggs stack up against the competition? First, let’s get some terminology out of the way…

Conventional Eggs – The bottom of the barrel. Chickens are in individual cages where they have enough room to stand and sit. They eat GMO feed covered with Roundup.

Cage Free – Not much better. Chickens live in overcrowded hen houses, but don’t have individual cages

Free-Range – A marketing ploy. Birds have access to an area outside, but their food and water is inside, and many of them never make it outside at all. Small, backyard flocks are a little better with their dirt runs, but they still don’t usually get many bugs or plants.

Organic – Finally, a half-step above the others. Birds aren’t fed Roundup or GMOs (all the aforementioned are), but most organically raised birds never even saw the sun, not to mention a blade of grass.

Farm-Raised – Just about all birds are raised on farms. [Crickets chirp…]

Pastured – Birds are rotated regularly on green (weather permitting, of course). pasture. ROTATION IS CRITICAL unless you only have a dozen or so birds, because the hens will only venture so far from their coop. Their diet is completely different than that of the other categories. They eat plenty of plants and bugs, and they produces an egg with a completely different nutritional profile.

Pictures say a thousand words…

Pastured Hens

These birds live outside. They have fresh air, and fresh, wild food. They eat non-GMO, soy- free feed to supplement their natural diet. The birds are healthier, happier, and produce better eggs. This last picture is of our own birds just two weeks ago.

And now, let’s look at some facts. Just how are much better are pastured eggs? According to one study…

  • 400% more Vitamin D
  • 33% less cholesterol
  • 25% less saturated fat
  • 66% more vitamin A
  • 200% more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 300% more vitamin E
  • 700% more beta carotene
  • 50% more folic acid
  • 70% higher B12

Wow! I could barely believe some of these numbers myself (some other studies found even higher numbers)! If you think about it though, it really does make sense. Isn’t this what we would expect based on how the birds are raised?

The “How…”

Our typical day consists of rolling out of bed, a quick Te Deum, and then booting up to head outside and move our pastured layer hens before the kids wake up. (Well, actually, we often have a little passenger or two tagging along.) I load up the old Suburban with a couple buckets of non-GMO feed, freshly ground and mixed on the farm either that morning or the day before, and head off garbage-man style on the running board while Natalie drives across the pasture.

Setting up the Eggmobile for the day

The first order of business is to pull up the 328 ft of temporary fencing surrounding the egg mobile (nicknamed the “Silver Starling”). We hitch up the eggmobile to the Suburban, tow it to a fresh spot of pasture, and I proceed to re-erect all the fencing while Natalie refills the water buckets from the nearest yard hydrant. Feeders are refilled from those 5 gal feed buckets we thoughtfully packed along in the Suburban trunk. Then 1…2…3…we open the back door of the eggmobile and share in the birds’ excitement as they rocket out of the coop to hunt for clover and worms.

It’s easy to forget the last part though: we had closed up the nesting boxes the day before to prevent birds roosting in them at night, so we must quickly duck inside the eggmobile and open them back up before Natalie heads back to the house and I continue on with the other outside chores. We trek out again in the afternoon (on foot) to collect eggs, close up nesting boxes, and check waters, and then once more at the end of the day to shut the coop up for the night. Next day…repeat.

Contrast this with heading out to the backyard enclosed coop, pulling a string to open the coop door, dumping some stale, Roundup-covered feed from Tractor Supply (but hey, it was cheap…) in a stationary trough somewhere in the dirt run, and heading back inside. It’s even less work to care for birds in a factory farm where food and water are automated and eggs are carried away on conveyor belts. In a world where consumers want cheap, convenient food, however, these kind of products fly off the shelves. Nutrition becomes secondary to keeping your business in the black. Not on our farm though; I would rather fail and lose it all than sacrifice the convictions upon which our farm is founded.

Please share these facts with your loved ones. Encourage them to ditch the cheap eggs (and bottled dietary supplements with them!) and to buy real, nutritious food like pastured eggs from local, regenerative farmers instead.

Thank you for taking charge of your nutrition and supporting local farms!

References

2007 Mother Earth News Egg Testing Project

Vitamin D in Pastured Eggs

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