A long time ago, in a land far, far away I had a friend who hated chickens. She loathed them. Every time we’d go out to eat, she’d say to the waitress, “Don’t bring me anything with chicken. Chickens are disgusting, vile animals.”
And then she’d tell a story about her uncle, who was a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation – so, a factory farm) chicken “farmer,” and how when he was upset with her, he’d send her into the chicken “camps” and make her touch them. They would peck at her and squawk, and they were generally miserable poor things.
So, for a very long time, I believed chickens were disgusting, vile animals, based on her story. And no, no, no. That couldn’t be more of a misrepresentation! After spending some time around the squawkers over the last few years, I’ve come to adore the humble, slightly screwy chicken. If kept with love and respect, they aren’t much different than my cats.
Except I can’t eat anything that comes out of my cat.
The way they express their individual personalities is mesmerizing. I love chickens. I love pastured chickens.
And, most of all, I love the creamy, fluffy, bright yellow-orange yolked eggs they give us.
As I’ve mentioned, I spent some time recently at my friend Diana’s farm (Lil’ Bit Farms) and goofed around with her chickens and goats. All my eggs this summer are coming from Diana. From chickens that bawked while scurrying away from me. From chickens I touched. Chickens I know.
(P.S. I mention this, because I have a challenge for you at the end of this post.)
After Diana brought me eggs last week, my obsession with the difference between CAFO and pastured eggs peaked. So, I share with you some of the things I’ve learned, along with some unique ideas so that you can use ALL your eggs before they go bad!
Let’s talk. Bawk. Squawk.
12 Things You Should Know About (and Do With) Your Eggs
1. Pastured, free-range, vegetarian-fed, commercial eggs – what’s the difference?
This is probably the most elementary knowledge we’ll talk about here, but it’s important to get it out of the way first (if you already know, skip down to number 2).
Pastured chickens are chickens that are allowed to roam around, hunting and pecking through the ground for grass and bugs. They’ll often be fed supplemental feed, but often they won’t even want it, as they’ve gotten all the nutrition they need from eating the things chickens were designed to eat. Pastured eggs are definitely the gold standard of eggs, and it’s often hard to find them unless you know a person/farmer who keeps their own chickens.
Free-range eggs, which you’ve seen in the store, I’m sure, are from chickens who are allowed “some form of outdoor access.” This amount of outdoor access is nebulous, and just because your eggs say “free-range” doesn’t mean the chickens spend their lives running around a happy farm. To be sure, free range would be a better choice than commercial eggs, but just know that free range doesn’t mean all that much right now.
Vegetarian fed (or organic), which your free-range eggs will also often say on the carton, simply means that the chickens weren’t fed animal protein. Unfortunately, this means they also weren’t allowed to run around eating bugs. Again, vegetarian fed (or organic) is better than commercial eggs, as we at least know the hens weren’t fed scraps of dead chickens or other animals, but the chickens still weren’t happily hunting and pecking in the open air, as they crave doing.
Commercial eggs, or CAFO eggs, are the inexpensive eggs you’ll find in every supermarket. I’m sure you’ve seen these feeding/laying operations in “shock” videos. If you haven’t seen the way these poor chickens are inhumanely treated, I recommend watching Food, Inc.
2. Pastured Eggs have higher nutritional value than commercial eggs. Especially when it comes to vitamin D. We’re talking 4-6 times more vitamin D.
Most of this can be attributed to a pastured hen’s own access to ample sunlight and critters and grass that, in addition, has had access to ample sunlight.
Check out all the other nutritional benefits to pastured eggs, according to Mother Earth News.
3. One last thing about the difference between pastured and CAFO eggs: Pastured eggs come with the dark orangey-yellow yolks. CAFO eggs do not. Unless the commercial farmer cheats.
We’ve been buying pastured eggs (if you can’t access fresh pastured eggs, find Vital Farms eggs in your local natural supermarket, get them and see what I’m talking about) for several years now, so I’d forgotten what commercial yolks looked like. I remembered them being a light almost yellow-white color, from the olden days, but I wasn’t sure.
So I bought some to compare.
I was surprised, actually, at how bright yellow they were (still not as dark as the pastured eggs), until I learned that CAFO farmers will often, nowadays, supplement the chickens diet with something called canthaxanthin to simulate the gorgeous natural yolk color of pastured eggs. Canthaxanthin, by the way, is also the main ingredient in “sunless tanning pills.” Heh.
In a pastured egg, the gorgeous dark yellow-orange color represents the amount of beta-carotene, leafy greens, and protein the hens get in their diets.
In a commercial egg, the color likely represents the amount of coloring additives the CAFO worker put into the feed.
The greatest difference I found, by the way, between the pastured egg and the commercial egg came after beating them. The pastured egg was thick and creamy, and the commercial egg was watery and separated slightly within seconds after beating.
4. Eggs have a natural coating called a “bloom” that protects the eggs and keeps them fresh for a week or two. Commercial eggs are washed of the bloom and covered in mineral oil instead.
Eggshells are porous and absorb the smells around them and the things on them, as well. Just something to consider.
In the meantime, if you get a pastured egg and it has a “bloom” on it, don’t wash it off UNTIL you’re ready to use it (and then rinse it well and wipe with a towel). Keeping the bloom on will help your eggs stay fresh in the fridge for two or so weeks.
(Refrigerating eggs, by the way, helps extend their shelf life. According to this site, if you keep an egg at room temperature for a day, it ages the same amount that an egg kept in the refrigerator for a week would.)
5. The color of your eggs doesn’t change the taste or nutritional content.
Green, white, brown, yellow, blue … it’s not the color of the egg that counts; it’s what’s inside.
These eggs in Diana’s hands came straight from the happy chicken!
6. You can tell if an egg is still good by carefully placing it in saltwater.
If you’re not sure how fresh your eggs are, or if they’ve been in your fridge for a few weeks and you’re wary about using them, try this quick experiment:
- Dissolve 2 Tbsp salt in 2 c. cold water.
- Place the egg in the water gently.
- If it sinks and stays down, it’s fresh. If it floats toward the bottom at an angle, it’s starting to age. If it floats, toss it out – it’s not terribly good anymore.
Why does this happen? Read the link above to learn!
Now For the Fun Stuff! Some Things You Can Do With Your Farm-Fresh Eggs!
If you’re not going to eat all your eggs, or if you want to use ALL parts of them, here are some great beauty and crafty ideas to make the most of your little round goodies.
7. The membrane of an egg makes a WONDERFUL under-eye mask.
Now, if this isn’t using all parts of an egg, I don’t know what is.
After you’ve cracked open your egg, if you carefully peel off the membrane that coats the insides, you can apply it right under your eyes (keep it OUT of your eyes, though) and let it dry.
Just pull off a piece that fits around the area in question, and gently smooth it on (make sure you’re not wearing makeup, by the way).
Let it dry and then gently wash it off. If you do this several times a week, you may even see results that last more than a day. AND it’s a great motivator to keep eating those nutritious eggs.
This is a great quickie eye mask to use while you’re cooking the eggs you just cracked open. Go, go multitasking natural beauty!
8. Suck out the gunk in your pores by making a pore-strip mask with egg whites and paper towels!
This is a super simple pore strip tip that’ll leave your face soft and clean.
Just soak strips of paper towel in egg whites you’ve whipped up (you can add a little water if the whites are very thick). Apply the paper towel strips all over your face, but especially on your nose, chin, and anywhere your pores tend to clog.
Let the strips dry and then peel them off. Rinse well with warm water and then splash with cold water.
9. Egg yolks make an amazing hair conditioning treatment.
The protein in egg yolks (added with their creamy consistency) will leave your hair stronger and shinier than ever.
Separate two or three eggs and use the whites for a pore mask (above). Whip the yolks and add in just a touch of heated, liquid coconut oil until you have a creamy mixture. (Some people use olive oil, but coconut oil leaves your hair smelling better and a little less like mayonnaise.)
Apply the mixture to damp hair and leave on for 10 minutes.
This is the important part: Rinse your hair very, very well with cool to tepid water (do NOT use hot water, or you’ll cook the eggs into your hair – yuck!). Then shampoo out the rest of the way, still using cool to tepid water.
You probably won’t even need to use conditioner! (In fact, I highly recommend not using conditioner, so you can bask in the natural conditioning and silkiness of your hair.)
10. Eggshells make a superbly pretty translucent powder for your face.
Read more about this here in this post on Crunchy Betty (where we solved the eggshell issue).
Of note, I’ve since learned that a mortar and pestle is an excellent investment for many different reasons, but one being that it grinds those eggshells into gorgeous powder in no time – much quicker and more efficiently than a spice grinder, even
11. Make tempera paint with egg yolks, just like the artistic masters of old!
This is a wonderful little summer experiment/craft you can do with your kids (or yourself)!
There are bazillions of tutorials all over the internet on how to do this, but my favorite one is right here: Read how to make egg tempera.
I love that tutorial, because it talks about how you can use charcoal (or activated charcoal) to make black paint, mustard to make yellow paint, and even cream of tartar to make white paint.
12. Don’t forget to compost your eggshells.
Eggshells are wonderful to use in your compost pile, but it’s best to break them up into tiny pieces before adding them. Eggshells take a while to decompose.
If you want to get the jump on the goodies of eggshells for your garden, I recommend making eggshell tea. It still takes a couple of weeks, but your garden will lusciously adore you for it. I used it a couple of years ago on my strawberries, and they loved it (until the deer came and ate them all and I was left with nothing to show for it – stinky deer).
How to make eggshell tea for your garden:
- Crunch up a bunch of cleaned, dried eggshells as much as possible (putting them in a bag and using a rolling pin works well).
- Add the eggshells to a large jug of water.
- Let the eggshell water sit in the sun for 2-3 weeks (or longer, if you have the time or if you’re doing this before planting).
- Strain out the eggshells and then water your plants with the remaining “tea.”
It’s best to keep this mixture away from populated areas, ’cause it starts to smell a little icky after a while.
Cat’s Don’t Lie About Farm Fresh Eggs!
When I was taking the photos of the eggs (which I placed in front of my door, for the best natural light), my naughty little cat, Ju-Ni came by.
Ju-Ni, by the way, survived her recent surgery for bowel obstruction quite nicely, and we learned that putting a cone on her head keeps her from doing ultra bad things. The cone is now placed in a visible area as a reminder to her to toe the line.
Curious about how she’d feel about the different eggs, I let her sniff them. She first went to the pastured egg. Then she turned to the commercial egg and sniffed.
After a second of sniffing the commercial egg, she went back to the pastured egg and went to town on it (until I laughed, and then she thought she was being naughty, so she ran away).
So there you have it. 1 out of 1 cats prefer pastured eggs to CAFO eggs. If that doesn’t convince you, what will?
YOUR CHALLENGE THIS SUMMER:
Find yourself pastured eggs.
Meet a farmer or a person who keeps backyard chickens.
If you only buy one dozen pastured eggs this summer, you will have completed the challenge.
Not sure where to start?
- VISIT YOUR LOCAL FARMER’S MARKET: This will be your best and easiest bet at getting your hands on pastured eggs. While you’re there, talk to the farmer about his or her chickens. Farmers love to talk about their chickens.
- FIND A LOCAL FARM: LocalHarvest.org is a great place to start in finding local farms who might have pastured eggs. Once you connect with the farmer, see if you can take a tour of his or her space. There’s nothing quite like goofing around with the chickens whose eggs you’ll be eating!
- VISIT CRAIGSLIST: Backyard chickens are becoming more and more popular all over the country, and many people who keep their own chickens have WAY too many eggs on their hands and are looking to offload some. I found several people on our local Craigslist selling a dozen eggs for $5 or less. Check yours out to see if there’s any local egg sellers in your area! Just search “eggs” in the for sale search box. You might be surprised!
- GET YOUR OWN CHICKENS! I know, this is a far stretch and not something to get into on a whim, but if you have the yard and the ability, imagine what it would be like to walk outside in the morning, grab some freshly laid eggs, and scramble ’em right up. Ahhh. (Plus, feeding chickens is a great way to use up your food scraps.) Backyard Chickens is a GREAT site chock full of info, if that idea tingles your hiney.
Now you tell me: Do you have a source for pastured eggs already? Do you keep your own chickens?
Let’s squawk about hens. I’m not yolking around.
(I know, I’m terrible.)