When an egg producer labels its eggs “Farm Fresh” on its eggs cartons, it is hoping to conjure up an image in your mind: maybe hens roaming about a barn freely, laying healthy and delicious eggs. In reality, “farm fresh” is a feel good term that in no way indicates the quality of the eggs in the carton – or the living conditions of the hens that laid those eggs. “Farm fresh” can even be used for farms that use cages to tightly confine hens in extremely inhumane conditions.
Of course, there really are small farms like Bethesda Farm working hard to provide hens with the living conditions they need to lay healthy and delicious eggs.If you are looking for the best eggs you can find, you will want to find pasture-raised eggs that are also organic. Let’s take a look at some common egg words and phrases and then we will look at the challenges of producing an egg that is both pasture-raised AND organic — and why it’s so important to have both.
Some Words and Phrases Used to Describe Eggs and What They Really Mean
When It Comes to Healthy, Delicious Eggs, Pasture-Raised AND Organic are Both Important
As the table above indicates, “farm fresh” on a label does not tell us anything important about the eggs inside the carton. The other terms, help us understand something about egg quality. “Cage-free,” “free-range,” and “pasture-raised,” though unregulated terms, give us an idea about the living conditions of the hens. For pasture-raised hens, the golden standard of space per hen is 108 square feet of pasture, established by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm. This large space means hens can roam about the pasture freely, absorbing the sunlight, eating bugs and grass and not be in competition with their sisters for space to breathe.
The other important component to healthy, delicious eggs is organic pasture and feed. Very small farms (farms with less $5,000 gross organic revenue can represent their products as organic but cannot use the USDA organic seal on their packaging) can provide hens with organic pasture but providing the hens with organic feed to supplement what they receive from the pasture — at an affordable price — can prove very challenging.
Bethesda Farm Operates Its Own Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified Feedmill
There are currently only a very limited number of certified organic feed mills spread across the USA. Farmers often have to ship feed from distant mills and the cost of this freight can make organic feed expensive. Before Bethesda Farm took steps to have its own local feedmill certified organic, we had to have feed shipped from an organic mill in Texas. With our own feedmill, we not only reduce the cost of freight, we also control every aspect of the feed we provide to our hens. For instance, our feed is not only certified organic, it also in Non-GMO Project Verified (NGPV). As a part of this verification, we test every shipment of grain that we receive to make sure that it complies with NGPV requirements. At the same time we test for GMOs, we test for several fungi as well that would affect the quality of life for our hens if they were present. Operating our own feedmill has helped us keep feed costs under control and also provide our hens with super-fresh feed.
A Word about Organic Vegetarian-fed Hens
We’ve looked at the importance of finding eggs from hens that are pasture-raised and organic. To get the best possible eggs, it’s important to find eggs from a farm like Bethesda Farm, that combines both. You may have seen organic eggs that state that the hens are “vegetarian-fed.” While this may seem like a good thing, hens naturally receive protein from bugs and worms that they find on pasture. If hens are “vegetarian-fed” it may be an indication that those hens do not get any real outdoor time. If so, it means that the hens:
- Do not receive natural sources of protein from bugs and other organisms that live off of the pasture (omega-3 fatty acids are ultimately derived from plants like grass or seaweed).
- Do not have room to roam and may be competing for limited space with other members of the flock (see our article on the industry practice of beak trimming and why Bethesda Farm has no need to follow it).
- Do not receive the benefit of direct sunlight. Like humans, birds absorb the sun’s rays and convert it into vitamins for their bodies.
So to find the best healthy eggs, be sure to get them from a farm that combines high-quality pasture-raised living conditions and the optimal nutrition that comes from organic pastures and organic feed.