#Store-bought factory eggs.
We all know them.
So lovely, all uniformly gleaming white, uniform size and shape in their carton. Crack them open and you see a very pretty, sort of lemony-yellow yolk.
#Locally raised, farm fresh truly free-range eggs.
Talk about VARIETY! These eggs come in all kinds of colors – ranging from white to pinkish to tan to brown to mahogany to shades of blue and green. Some are speckled. Some are the same color from top to bottom. And those yolks!
Spring, summer, and fall when the hens can get a variety of seeds, green plants, and insects, those yolks are deep dark orange.
No lemony-yellow yolks here.
Well, okay, during the winter when they only get commercial feed and whatever scraps and peelings come from the farm kitchen they get paler and head more toward the lemony-yellow, but as soon as the green leaves of grass and garden and weeds appear and the bugs awaken from their winter slumber, the yolks turn back to orange.
Pundits will tell you there’s no difference in flavor or nutrition between the two.
If that’s true, why are the yolks so different?
Maybe the free-range birds have more beta-carotene making the yolks more orange?
If that’s the case, that means they have more Vitamin A.
Simple, clearly visible fact.
If the yolks look different, the eggs AND their nutritional value have to be different.
Argue the point at the expense of your own credibility with anyone who has actually seen a truly free-range egg next to a factory egg.
Factory eggs. That brings me to another point.
“Ewwww! I don’t want to eat farm fresh eggs! They came from a chicken’s bu**!”
Never in my life have I heard such a ridiculous statement – that is until I moved to this rural community. Here, I’ve heard it (or words to that effect) from 4 different ADULTS, 3 of whom grew up here.
When asked where the eggs in the store come from, they responded with words to the effect of, “From a factory.”
If this was a big city with no farms for miles around, I could understand a young child having so little understanding of where food comes from, but not adults, and certainly not in a rural community.
Let’s talk a bit more about this concept of an egg factory. It’s said that a picture is worth 1,000 words so here’s a picture of an egg factory.
Look long and hard at this egg factory. Do you see machines, gears, and an assembly line?
No. Just cage upon cage of hens living in tiny cages with roll-out bottoms that make sure the eggs stay clean and don’t get eaten by the hens.
So, where do the eggs come from? Eggs come from the chickens’ bu**s of course!
Do you see any windows in this factory? No. Artificial light only – and lots of it so production (determined by number of hours of light) is kept at peak.
Do you see any space for the chickens to run around? No. That would make it too difficult to track each hen’s production and thus usefulness.
How about food? It’s ground up grain in the tray that runs in front of all of the cages. No greens. No insects.
Water? That’s carried by the pipe running across the top of all of the cages. It’s supplied with a special nipple in each cage so the hens can drink.
Healthy? With cramped space, crowded conditions, no sunlight, no fresh air, no exercise, no fresh greens, no insects that chickens are intended by nature to eat, and a steady diet of antibiotics to prevent the diseases such conditions make them prone to, I’d say they are as healthy as man can make them while exploiting them to death – literally.
And at the end of two years living like this, they are butchered because their production rate begins to decline.
And the “fresh” factory eggs you buy from the store are actually usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-3 weeks old before they even get to the store.
One more point, if the commercial chickens are crammed wing-to-wing and beak-to-beak in a shed with no cages, the eggs can be, and are, labeled as “cage-free” or “free-range” eggs. Ya, RIGHT!
What are the conditions under which farm fresh truly free-range eggs are produced?
This is the inside of my coop, well lit by natural sunlight and with plenty of fresh air all year round, and it’s large enough so the chickens can run around and scratch through the hay even on bad weather days. Good weather days find them outside chasing bugs, eating greens, scratching in the dirt, sunbathing, taking dust baths, dodging aerial predators…
Speaking of bad weather days, my flock doesn’t even mind the snow! Wind is another matter, but they can play inside all day if they want.
Obviously during the winter, the only fresh green plant matter they get is what comes from my kitchen or the kitchens of those friends and neighbors who buy eggs from me and share their scraps and trimmings, but that’s still a darn sight more than the factory birds get! And the yolks, even in winter, are darker than the store eggs.
Sunlight? Check. Fresh air? Check. Fresh food? Check. Exercise? Check. Long life? Most home flock owners don’t butcher their hens at 2-years of age when their production begins to slow so generally they get to live as long as nature intended them to.
Antibiotics? Not needed as a general rule due to a healthy lifestyle.
Fresh eggs? Everyone has different standards, but I don’t sell mine if they are more than 3-4 days old. Either we eat the older ones or feed them back to the chickens.
Have I convinced you to get yourself a couple of hens for your own fresh eggs yet?
Okay, let’s look at part of the finances of what those farm fresh free-range eggs cost to produce.
First, the cost of feed, currently $13.99 for a 50 lb bag at the local IFA affiliate store comes out to roughly $0.28/lb.
On average, a hen will consume about 84 lbs/year so that’s about $23.94/year in feed. Not too bad, right? Let’s keep going.
The average hen lays 200-250 eggs a year when she’s in peak production. That’s 16.67 – 20.83 dozen eggs a year.
**That makes the cost of feed alone $1.13-$1.41 per dozen eggs.**
Now add in the cost of buying the chicks, usually several dollars per chick, and the cost of feeding them for 4-6 months before they start producing eggs, and since grower feed is more expensive than layer feed, that’s another $10-$15 of feed per hen before you get your first egg – on top of the cost of the chick.
Now figure in the fact that approximately once a year the hens molt, or lose most of their feathers and grow new ones. During this 6-8 week period, all of their energy is going into growing new feathers rather than producing eggs.
And don’t forget the cost of the equipment to brood those babies and get them to laying age. You’ll need a confinement/protection ring, lots of wood shavings, a heat source to keep the brooder at about 90 F, small waterers, small feeders, a thermometer to keep track of the temperature, and then a larger but still heated and protected area as they grow to be “teen-agers” still needing heat and protection, but lots more space than the original brooder. This equipment can easily run you anywhere from $60 to a couple of hundred dollars, depending on many chicks you are starting off with and how fancy you want to get with your equipment.
Ah, first eggs!
It takes them a little while to get everything moving along at just the right speed so the first eggs are usually a bit on the small side, but this one (next to a quarter) set a record for our hens.
Finally, don’t forget the cost of a coop and fencing to keep your hens safe from weather and predators! That will set you back another couple $100’s, or more.
If your goal is to save money versus buying eggs at the store, or to compete with the commercial growers by selling eggs at store prices, the math simply doesn’t work out, unless you have other reasons besides saving money or making a tiny profit.
Moral of the story:
If you want the want the healthiest, most humanely raised food for your family, invest a few hundred dollars to start raising your own chickens, or, buy truly fresh eggs from a local small producer that REALLY free-ranges their chickens, and don’t squawk when they charge more than the grocery store for those eggs. In fact, you should expect to pay more so they can keep supplying you.
P.S. I don’t have electricity or TV in my coops so my chickens have no clue about the COVID-19 social distancing thing and they are still producing plenty of eggs! No shortage of eggs here.