244. Gentleman Farmer’s Guide to Choosing Healthy Eggs

It’s Farmers Market day in Barrington!  This week’s featured highlights include a performance by Frank Badot, “the best chocolate and caramel sauces you will ever taste” from Grown-up Kid Stuff plus an amazin’ corn children’s activity at 3:30.  Jessica Green of The Gentleman Farmer says we’re going to love this week’s harvest from their Barrington Hills farm so be sure to pay the Greens a visit if you stop by the market between 2 and 7 today.  She’s also sharing an update in her “Get Growing with Jessica Green” series today that’ll help take some of the guesswork out of shopping for the best eggs to feed your family.

The Gentleman Farmer's  Jessica Green on Gardening, Farming, Food and Family
The Gentleman Farmer’s Jessica Green on Farming, Food and Family

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Gentleman Farmer’s Guide to Choosing Healthy Eggs

by Jessica Green – Mother-of-two and Co-Founder of The Gentleman Farmer

There is nothing that slows down a grocery run more than when eggs are on your list and you care about where they come from. I found myself sitting in front of the refrigerated section carefully studying the different brands of eggs the other day at a new grocery store – unsuccessful in finding an option that was satisfying. I could find organic eggs – which sounds great—but did they come from pastured hens? I found cage free – which is nice, but was beak trimming a practice because of close quarters? I found free-range, but how long were they outside and how much space did they have to roam and were they organic?

Get Growing with Jessica Green - All About Eggs
The Gentleman Farmer’s Guide to Choosing Healthy Eggs

It really is mind boggling, and with my children tugging at my shirt, threatening to do cart races down the aisles, I had to pick something and quick! So I went for the eggs that came from pastured hens but were not organic. Then when I got home, I made a mental note to pick up some eggs at the next farmer’s market from a farmer friend I trust.

So here’s the 411 on eggs: It’s all about what’s important to you!

Eggs that are sold simply as organic, most likely, are being fed organic corn feed, which qualifies the eggs as being considered organic. Unless otherwise specified these hens are still kept indoors, possibly in cages and possibly in very close quarters.

Eggs that are sold as cage-free are out of cages, but not necessarily given access to the outdoors.

Eggs that are sold as free-range are out of cages, and free to roam outdoors but the quality and duration of their time outdoors is not defined.

Eggs that are sold as pastured spend all day outside, are able to perch and spread their wings and come in at night. Pastured is not a certified term, but a little research can point you in the right direction of which labels are staying true to their marketing.

What makes a hen healthy is not just about what its daily diet is but also how it is treated. After all a happy hen is a healthy hen!

The Low Down on Eggs
“A happy hen is a healthy hen!” – Photo Submitted by Jessica Green

When it comes to certification agencies Animal Welfare Approved requires its hens to have the following:

* ability to nest, perch and spread its wings

* required outdoor access

* specified quality and duration of access

* forbidden beak trimming

* forbidden forced molting

* compliance verification of a 3rd party

Other agencies such as Food Alliance Certified and Certified Humane require the following for their hens:

* ability to nest, perch and spread its wings

* forbidden forced molting

* compliance verification of a 3rd party

The only requirements of a farm for American Humane Certified agency is that forced molting is forbidden and compliance of a 3rd party.

Beak trimming is something that happens to reduce feather pecking behavior. While hens do peck each other even when out in pasture, most often when they are given something else to peck, such as a cabbage or veggie that has been hung (almost like a scratching post for a kitten) they tend not to bother one another as much. The need for beak trimming is most often when the hens are kept in confined and close quarters.

Forced Molting is a practice where hens are not fed for up to 14 days in order to produce more eggs.

To really know what you are buying, source locally or research the company/farm before you buy.

Post - Farm Fresh Eggs - Sally Roeckell - 2
Get Growing with Jessica Green – All About Eggs – Photo by Sally Roeckell

When The Gentleman Farmer was selling eggs our hens had access to green grass where they could hunt for insects and worms; were able to perch and nest and enjoy sunshine and fresh air. We rotated their grazing pastures as needed, and at night they would nest inside to keep safe and warm. In addition to their diet of insects and worms, we fed them organic corn feed and some of our organic veggies.

While we hope to bring back the hens sometime in the future, locally, Barrington Natural Farms are one of many places to buy eggs where you can go and see the hens and speak with the farmer. Also the Barrington Farmer’s Market on Thursdays from 2pm-7pm have a number of farm vendors that offer eggs. Having your own hens has become quite popular, so it is even possible that you have a neighbor who can offer you some of theirs!

What to look for when you buy from a local farm or neighbor:

* hens have access to outdoors, are able to roam and perch and graze

* hens have shelter for nighttime and protection from the sun and heat

* hens have access to clean nesting boxes, eggs are collected often

* hens have access to clean water and feed – you can ask for the source of the feed and whether it is organic.

* eggs are stored in new cartons, labeled and given expiration dates

* eggs are kept refrigerated if washed, and integrity of egg is intact. No cracks.

Understandably, your priorities about what you are eating and how hens are treated play a key role in your decision making when buying eggs.  Considering what is important to you will make grocery shopping easier and help you choose the best eggs for your family’s table.

Get Growing with Jessica Green - All About Eggs
Get Growing with Jessica Green – All About Eggs – Photo by Sally Roeckell

(To view more of Barrington photographer Sally Roeckell’s beautiful food photography, CLICK HERE to follow her wildly popular Instagram page or visit her website at TableandDish.com.)

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Photo by Christina Noël
The Gentleman Farmer Family – Photo by Christina Noël

About the Author

Jessica Green and her husband Dominic run The Gentleman Farmer, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program on their family farm in Barrington Hills.

You’ll find the Greens selling their freshest fruits and veggies at the Barrington Farmers Market on Thursdays each week from 2 to 7 p.m.

When they’re not working on the farm, Jessica and Dominic keep busy looking after their two young boys, Henry and Oliver.

For more information about Jessica and Dominic’s efforts in local and sustainable farming, visit Gentleman-Farmer.com.