For many of us eggs are a staple part of our diets and can feature in practically every meal. From paleo to vegetarian, eggs are considered a great source of protein and in moderation, are a healthy addition to a well balanced diet.
When I buy my eggs I like to support the biodynamic or organically certified dozen. While I’m not always loyal to one brand, I look for the certification logo on the packet. Compared to other eggs on the shelves, this option is more expensive, but I am paying more for the peace of mind that not only does the company have strong organic and environmental principles when it comes to land, farming and water, but importantly, there is a high commitment to animal welfare.
There are seven organic certifying bodies in Australia but all follow pretty much the same set of standards for certifying organic products. A priority of these standards is animal welfare and annual audits are performed by a third party certifier to ensure that the standards are being followed.
Organic standards specify that the maximum stocking density for layer hens must not exceed 2500 birds per hectare when they are housed in a single paddock and must not exceed 1500 birds per hectare when they are in a rotational paddock system. This compares with 20,000 hens per hectare for Egg Corp Assured Free Range layer hens (some industry insiders report that this number could be closer 40,000) and the Coles branded Free Range eggs at 10,000 birds per hectare.
Organic standards do not allow hen to be de-beaked or fed hormones and antibiotics.
There are many small-scale egg farmers out there who, for a variety of reasons, may not be certified organic but who are still doing the right thing by their hens. A number of these are stocked at my local greengrocer.
One of these that I love is Papanui Open Range Eggs. While they have chosen not to get organic certification due to certain requirements on their farm, their laying hens seem to have a pretty good life. Living in converted school buses, each housing about 500 hens, there is enough roosting space for all.
The chooks follow a herd of beef cattle around the property and get to enjoy open ranging on pasture. They have access to fresh water and a commercially produced layer ration at all times. There is no fencing but are protected from predators by Maremma dogs that live with them, 2 for each bus. I also really love that they raise replacement chooks from day olds on Papanui, ensuring healthy chooks with a full beak. Old hens are sold locally to families who want to keep their own chickens.
Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs are another great product which are externally audited by Humane Choice to ensure the hens are genuine free range. The Humane Choice standards are up there with the best when it comes to ensuring high animal welfare standards in Australia.
Their hens enjoy living in mobile poultry sheds each housing up to 1,000 hens, which provide shelter, nesting boxes and timber rails for roosting. The sheds are designed to allow the birds access in and out as they please and are moved regularly across the paddock, giving the hens continuous access to fresh pasture.
Hens are stocked at much less than 1,500 hens per hectare in the range area, giving each hen plenty of space to scratch and peck at seeds and grass. All hens are full beaked which enables them to peck and scratch at seeds, insects, grubs etc. just as nature intended.
Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs purchase day old chickens direct from the hatchery and rear them in a purpose built brooding shed. Maremma dogs live with the hens and protect them from predators such as eagles and feral cats.
Next we have Delucas, which proclaim in bold and large type ORGANIC Grain Fed, Open Barn, however there is no logo indicating organic certification on their packaging. I decided to to dig a little deeper and here is what I found – nothing! No web site or other details, so at this stage with little to go on, I assume that these eggs are fed organic grain and are housed in an open barn, which may or may not mean that the birds can or cannot get out through an opening, which could be large or small. What grains the birds eat actually have nothing to do with the amount of birds in a space, or the level of animal welfare so, this leaves too many unanswered questions for me. I prefer to spend my $ elsewhere, till I know more.
Overall there are lots of options for consumers who are looking for a more ethical alternative when it comes to shopping for eggs. My advice is to look for certified organic or biodynamic, or if choosing an uncertified product, do your research. You may have to pay a little more, but at least that way you can be sure that you are getting what you paid for and your $ are going to support a kinder life for laying hens. For me, that’s money well spent!