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Organic isn't everything.......

When I have to stay away from home for work, the one thing that miss the most (apart from my husband, the dogs and the other animals) is fresh eggs from our chickens.  We eat eggs for breakfast every morning whenever possible (sometimes we have to eat porridge or weetbix in winter when the chickens aren't laying regularly) and I do notice the difference if I don't have them, as I get hungry earlier in the morning.  I usually order eggs from the hotel for breakfast each morning, but they are not the same as my home eggs.  They have a darker orange yoke and a funny taste.  I assumed that was because they were almost certainly cage eggs, however on a recent holiday we bought eggs from the supermarket and they were just as bad.  I did my best to buy organic free range eggs, thinking that they were the closest to our home eggs as possible, but they still didn't taste or look right.

That's when I realised that organic isn't everything!  Our chickens don't eat organic grain, we haven't bothered to find a suitable source, they just eat layer mash, however they do have access to grass, either in their cage or out in the paddock on the (majority) days when we let them free-range.  And it seems to be the grass/pasture/green stuff that makes all the difference to the taste of the eggs.  Unfortunately its pretty hard to buy pasture-fed eggs from the supermarket and "free range" doesn't guarantee that the chickens actually have grass to eat, it just means that they don't live in cages and get to go outside occasionally.  Its still cheaper and easier to feed grain (organic grain if they are organic eggs).

An extract from the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (the egg industry group) Egg Labling Guide:
7 Egg Production System
7.1 Egg cartons must use one of the following terms to describe the method of production: 
Cage’ eggs; or
‘Free range’ eggs; or
‘Barn’ laid eggs.
These words must be printed in a legible manner on the front of the carton (i.e. side which
faces the consumer when cartons stacked for retail sale). The font size to be used for the
labelling describing the method of production must be no less than 6mm in height. The font style used must be Arial Bold. 
7.2 A full definition of the egg production system as stated in the Australian Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry should either be printed on the carton as follows:  
Cage Systems 
Birds in cage systems are continuously housed in cages within a shed,
Barn Systems
Birds in barn systems are free to roam within a shed which may have vertical levels.
The floor may be based on litter and/or other material such as slats or wire mesh,
Free Range Systems
Birds in free-range systems are housed in sheds and have access to an outdoor
or, if not printed on carton, the full definition must be made available to the public by providing an industry or producer website address, telephone helpline or postal address. These contact details must be printed on the carton. A reference to the Code of Practice must also be included with the full definition.
Note: that ACT has special laws for the labelling of eggs.  The Eggs (Labelling and Sales)
ACT 2001 (ACT) provides that egg packages need to be labelled with the condition in which the hens are kept.
It not just the taste, studies have shown that pastured eggs are better nutritionally as well see here for a good summary.  So forget all the crap about cholesterol, eggs only started being BAD for us when we started factory farming chickens and reduced the nutritional value of the eggs, if chickens are allowed to live a happy chicken life with access to pasture, there's no reason not to eat eggs every day, and that's exactly what we do.  I sell our excess eggs at work for $2 a dozen, because that's all it costs us to feed the hens.  And if you've been thinking about getting a few chickens for your backyard, maybe this will persuade you that its a good idea.

Its also not just about eggs, meat from pastured animals is tastier and has more nutrition.  See some of the link from Frugal Kiwi about pastured vs factory farmed meat (and some info on eggs too).  We only eat our own poultry and beef anyway, but it really makes you wonder how we could go so far in the wrong direction, I suppose it just proves that you get what you pay for - cheap meat production results in minimal nutritional value.  If you can buy organic pastured meat, it is worth the money.

The thing that annoys me most is when the factory farming industry tries to cover up the poor quality of the product.  An example is pork chops produced in our local meat works.  These pork chops are $20+/kg and taste great.  That's because they are "pumped meat", that's meat that's had flavouring and tenderisers injected, no wonder it tastes nice, but the chemicals aren't declared by the butcher or the restaurant, so what exactly are you eating??  In comparison, some farmer friends recently gave us several chops from a pig that had been raised on pasture and cow's milk.  No pumping required and it tasted beautiful, like pork should, not the tasteless chops were usually buy.  It seems that the producers have realised that industrialised factory farming has resulted in an inferior product, but instead of changing the system, they have 'fixed' it with an industrial solution (more chemicals) to disguise the problem.

AND why do we need yellow food colouring in supermarket cakes and biscuits?  If I bake a sponge or pancakes with my fresh pastured eggs it is a beautiful yellow colour, but if you use grain fed eggs you need to add yellow to create that colour.  Again, disguising inferior ingredients with chemicals instead of fixing the source of the problem.  That's why I don't trust anything with additive, usually they are just used to make the product cheaper, and definitely not to make the food more nutritious!  (See a very interesting history of food colouring, including lead-based colouring used for childrens' lollies in the 1800s).

So what do you think?  Can you taste the difference between pasture-fed and cage eggs?

By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at}

What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.

Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


  1. Once you start looking into modern food production, what you find is shocking, isn't it? Thanks for the link to my post "How to Grow a Less Nutritious Chicken".

    After I wrote that, we stopped eating battery chicken at home. We have it in the odd bit of food when we are away from home, but even then, I rarely order chicken unless it is free-range as I know what poor quality meat I'm eating and what miserable short lives the birds had.

  2. I never know which are the best eggs to buy. Some free range ones I get have such orange yolks they look fake. I don't know what could have made them that colour. They certainly don't look like the eggs our chickens produced when we had them.

    I wish I could go to the farms of all the different egg producers and see for myself what the living conditions of the chickens are. Then I could figure out which is the best brand to buy. Labels just don't cut the mustard sometimes.

  3. Well said! If you can get hold of it, the British documentary "Hugh and Tesco Too" is very interesting. Its about supermarket chickens, and particularly about Hugh Fernley-Whittingstalls battle to get supermarkets to at least offer chickens more healthily raised.

    Also, it's interesting to see comments about super-orange yolks - most of my organically raised chickens have amazingly orange yolks. My hens free range on grass all day, and corn is included in their diet. I think it's either the chicken breed or the food that effects the yolk colour, since I have one fussy chook that is a different breed to the others and her yolks are always pale, and yellow not orange.


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