By Laura Sayre — Title photograph by Matthew Stallbaumer
Whether you live in the city or country, you can find healthy, delicious, farm-fresh eggs — and even raise a few happy chickens of your own. — Photo illustration by Matthew Stallbaumer
Taking care of chickens is an excellent way to encourage your family to get outside and connect to the natural world. — Photo by Jaren Wicklund
Fresh farm eggs come in a wide variety of colors. — Photo by Matthew Stallbaumer
The birds are scalded to make feather removal easier.
After feathers are plucked, the chickens’ innards are removed, and the birds are put on ice.
Do-it-yourself processing table.
The enhanced fragrance and flavor are rewarding enough, but the extra savings don’t hurt!
Portable coops, such as this A-frame model, allow birds to forage for worms, bugs and grasses.
If you’ve eaten eggs from hens raised with access to fresh green pasture, you know how different these eggs look and taste in comparison to your ordinary supermarket variety. The egg yolk color is probably the first thing you notice: a deep, bright orange-yellow instead of a light, pastel shade. If you sample a few different eggs in individual bowls and compare them, you’ll see other differences, too. In eggs produced by free-range chickens, the yolks are firm and round and their whites stay intact when you crack them. In ordinary supermarket eggs, the yolks are often flat, with loose, watery whites.
These visual differences of color and texture signify flavor, nutrition and performance benefits. Many people suggest that free-range chicken eggs taste meaty and protein-dense. They easily complement other foods like cheese, herbs and vegetables. In cooked egg dishes, the richly colored yolks make them look as good as they taste.
Common sense can tell you that free-range chicken eggs are healthier. Pastured chickens that consume a more nutritious diet naturally produce more nutritious eggs. Scientific evidence is accumulating to support that theory.
In 1999, Barb Gorski, a pastured chicken producer in Pennsylvania used a grant from the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. She wanted to have meat and eggs from her own chickens and from two other farmers tested for a variety of nutritional factors. Results of the study indicated the pastured-raised chicken eggs contained 10 percent less fat, 40 percent more vitamin A, 34 percent less cholesterol, and four times as much omega-3 fatty acids when compared to commercial eggs’ standard values as reported by the USDA. The free-range chicken meat (with skin on) contained 50 percent more vitamin A, 21 percent less fat and 30 percent less saturated fat than the USDA standard.
In 2005 and 2007, Mother Earth News reported similar outcomes after testing eggs from pastured flocks across the country. Their findings showed that pastured eggs had approximately one-third less cholesterol, nearly three times as much vitamin E, seven times more beta-carotene and twice the amount of omega-3s as compared to the standard USDA data. A follow-up study in 2008 confirmed that pastured eggs contain three to six times more vitamin D as well. Pastured eggs also normally contain higher levels of carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are associated with good eye health.
Understanding at least one positive quality of pasture-raised eggs isn’t difficult. Jo Robinson created the Web site www.EatWild.com to assist people in understanding the benefits of pasture-raised livestock products. Robinson points out that as far back as 1966, when a classic study was published in Poultry Science, there was confirmation that egg yolk color is a reliable indicator of beneficial carotenoid levels. The more carotenoids the eggs contain, the darker shade of orange their yolks will be.
To learn more about finding healthy, delicious eggs and reading chickens of your own, read "How Do Your Eggs Stack Up?" at Mother Earth News.