As a GRIT reader you may already have a backyard flock. Good for you! However, if you are buying eggs either because you are still on the fence about owning chickens, or can’t where you live, here are a few things you should know.
Free range, a term we often hear, only means the chickens have access to the outdoors. It does not mean they actually go out.
“What???” you might be thinking.
Yep, that’s right. A coop with a window technically has access, yet the chickens may remain indoors and even in cages 24/7, and their eggs can still be labeled free range. No benefit to you, the buyer.
Most eggs likely carry GMOs and the associated pesticides, and are not organic. Unless the farmer is using certified organic and GMO-free feed, the chickens are probably eating corn produced using genetically engineered seed. Even backyard chickens are most likely eating genetically engineered feed. The eggs will contain some of the byproducts of the pesticides.
Real free range chickens get dirty. If you have your own Ladies, you have probably already found this out. When chickens are allowed to be outside, and the ground is wet, their claws get muddy when they scratch looking for food. When they then go to a nest box to lay, they may walk right over another egg, getting it a little dirty.
Not to worry, this is normal. Just don’t wash the egg, at least not until you are ready to use it. Egg shells come complete with a coating to prevent bacteria from getting inside. Washing the egg removes that coating, so just wait until the last minute. Most eggs are clean when collected, but if you are buying farmstand eggs, you may want to ask if they wash them. Store-bought eggs have been washed, removing that protection. That is the main reason we in America refrigerate our eggs, when no other country does.
Know that the color of the shell doesn’t really matter. Store-bought brown eggs are probably no better for you than the white ones. Different breeds of chicken lay different color eggs, that’s all. The egg producer may want you to think they are better so you’ll pay more, but unless there is another reason to buy them, don’t waste your money.
Here’s the thing: healthy, happy, uncaged, free-range chickens eating veggie scraps and bugs they find produce eggs that taste different and the yolks are a darker color. They have been found to have a better nutrient content as well. If you are buying eggs labeled free range from the market and see no significant difference in the yolk color, they are probably from chickens that only have a window.
If you can buy locally, you are better off. Just don’t assume the chickens really get outside. I know a farm that advertises their eggs as free range, I also know for a fact their chickens have a screened in coop they never get out of. It’s still better than factory-farmed eggs, but not free range. See if there is a way you can visit the farm and see for yourself.
If you are allowed chickens where you live, go for it. Really they take less care than a cat. More and more places are allowing chickens, which is a very good thing. Find out as much as you can about having a flock or about the eggs you buy. Knowledge is power.
When chickens really free range.