Eggs. I love eggs. "In a shell" (ha ha), they are a great, natural, nutritious, food. It is also a great way for folks who choose not to eat meat to get protein.
In my quest to live healthier, greener and more self-sustaining, I am lucky to have my own chickens (sans rooster - all girls here!) and to know exactly what is and what is not going into my eggs. An even better feeling is to know that the hens are kept happy and humanely. The chickens also make great, inexpensive, and highly entertaining pets!
I have learned a lot in the short time I have had birds. One of the most eye-opening things I have learned is about egg labeling and nutrition.
Egg labeling can be confusing. Free Range, Organic, Pastured ... which is best? Omega 3, Brown vs White ... which is healthiest? Large, AA ... What does it all mean?
Here is the break-down from the USDA (United Stated Department of Agriculture) and the American Egg Board and others.
First lets' look at the basics of size and quality
I wish I got those grades...
Eggs you find in the store come with one of 3 different grades:
U.S. Grade AA, A, and B.
These grades are basically given based on 2 factors:
1 - the interior quality of the egg judged by candling prior to packaging
2- the condition of the egg shell prior to packaging
Keep in mind that this may or may not be the condition in which they are in at the time you purchase or consume them.
U.S. Grade AA
Whites are thick and firm; yolks that are high, round, and practically free from defects.
Shells are clean & unbroken.
U.S. Grade A
Whites are "reasonably" firm.
This is the quality most often sold in stores.
U.S. Grade B
Whites may be thinner, yolks may be wider and flatter than eggs of higher grades.
Shells unbroken, but may have slight stains.
This quality is usually used to make liquid, frozen, and dried egg products.
... doesn't matter.
Size is just the minimum required net weight per dozen eggs.
It does not refer to size or shape of the individual eggs.
It is the total weight of the carton that puts them in one of the following classes:
Chart from USDA
Size or Weight Class
Minimum net weight per dozen
Now that the easy part is over, on to the nitty gritty.
Eggs come in a variety of colors. Forget the USDA's explanation of this 'cause they are just plain wrong with their feather mumbo-jumbo. Here is the truth = If the hen has a white skin patch under the ears the eggs will be white. If the hen has a red or splotched skin patch under the ears, the egg will be not white. I say not white because eggs can be any shade of brown from a light tan to a rich dark mocha. Some eggs may have an auburn tint and others can even be shades of green, blue or pink! Very Cool.
I have 5 hens and can tell who laid what egg by the color.
FACT: There is no difference in flavor, quality, or nutrition as a result of the color of the shell. No, really, I am not kidding. It doesn't matter.
Here is what does matter...
OK kiddos, that means there is a rooster involved. If you need more explanation than that, ask your parents. The egg could be fertilized.
NO, the embryo won't develop into a chick because it has been either too cold, too long since laid or both.
NO, there is no difference in nutrition in fertilized vs. unfertilized eggs.
Although, they do not keep as well as unfertilized eggs. Commercial eggs are not fertile unless so labeled.
Regular 'Ole Eggs
'Y know... the ones in the store that are the cheapest. No fancy labels. Just plain old eggs. These come from large "factory farms". The hens are called "battery hens" and are "packed" several per cage; cage on top of cage, filling large warehouse buildings. They live this way from egg-laying age till death. I could go on about the miserable conditions but won't. You can learn more from the Humane Society at the following link: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/chickens/
Anyway... that is where the majority of commercial eggs come from. This is also why they are cheapest - "stack 'em deep -n- sell 'em cheap". Although, some argument can be made for the control aspect of this style. It is possible to maintain climate, air quality, feed, medications and water at optimal levels. Predators are not an issue.
FREE RANGE, Free Roaming and Cage-Free
Free-range. This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.
"The insects and other organic matter in the diet of free-range hens may result in such a very small increase in egg protein content that it’s considered insignificant. The nutrient content of eggs from the same breed of hen fed the same diet is not affected by whether hens are raised free-range or in floor or cage operations." (http://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/eggcyclopedia/f/free-range-eggs).
Eggs laid by hens at indoor floor operations, sometimes called free-roaming hens. The hens may roam in a building, room or open area, usually in a barn or poultry house, and have unlimited access to food and water.
All eggs are hormone free. In the U.S., by federal law, neither laying hens nor any other type of poultry are fed hormones. (http://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/eggcyclopedia/h/hormone-free-eggs)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood are considered essential components of the diet because your body can’t make them from the foods you eat. Regular eggs also contain omega-3s, on average about 30 mg per egg. Omega-3-enhanced eggs provide more, from 100 to over 600 mg per egg. (http://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/eggcyclopedia/o/omega-3-fatty-acids)
Eggs produced according to national USDA organic standards related to methods, practices and substances used in producing and handling crops, livestock and processed agricultural products.
This is all extremely complicated and comes in varying levels.
Among other requirements, organic eggs are produced by hens fed rations having ingredients that were grown without most conventional pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or commercial fertilizers. Due to higher production costs and lower volume per farm, organic eggs are more expensive than eggs from hens fed conventional feed. The nutrient content of eggs is not affected by whether or not the ration is organic.
And for those who go unconventional...
Backyard Chickens allowed to "graze"
Researchers from Pen State found that pastured birds produced eggs that contained about three times more omega-3 fat in their eggs than did birds raised on an industrial diet. They also had more vitamins A and E. (http://www.rps.psu.edu/0305/poultry.html)
My fresh eggs have a super thick shell (from the "recycled" calcium supplement), a cloudy and thick egg white, a thick and dark yolk & virtually no air sac. This means they are fresh!
So, what to I do with all these fresh, healthy eggs from my happy birdies?
Breakfast sandwiches, scrambles, fritatas and quiches; deviled eggs, egg salad breakfast pizza; sauces and dressings, baked goods and deserts, homemade pastas and noodles. You can even make hair and skin treatments - but, that is not my specialty.
You can visit my blog for some of my recipes and to learn more about my flock.
My Flock: http://mossytrees.blogspot.com/p/chickens.html