Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Eggs with a conscience - Maree

The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?"
~Jeremy Bentham

W&N watercolours on Bockingford 300gsm - some of my chickens' eggs

From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.
~M. Frida Hartley

Free-range eggs are laid by happy hens that roam freely around outdoors in the day and snuggle up in their barn at night. They are fed a vegetarian diet of grains and pulses with no animal by-products or fish meal. You can buy them in large, extra-large and jumbo sizes.

Organic free-range eggs are produced in conditions regularly inspected by Ecocert, an international monitoring body, to ensure that organic farming practices are followed. These hens feed freely on an organically certified wheat-based vegetarian diet that contains no animal by-products or fish meal. The yolks of organic eggs are naturally paler due to the wheat-based diet.

In the battery cage system (the dominant form of egg farming in the world), the hens are confined in cages with a sloping floor so that their eggs roll away in order to prevent faecal contamination of the eggs.

The cages are normally stacked on top of each other in houses with no access to natural
light. The houses use various automated conveyor belt systems to bring the hens food, capture their waste and take away their eggs.

Because of the cramped conditions (sometimes less than an A4 sheet of paper per hen – for life!), alternative farming methods for eggs have increased in popularity. These include barn, free-range and organic (also free range, but with the additional requirement of organically produced feed).

“Freedom to behave naturally” (one of the 5 freedoms that all animals should receive according to the Farm Animal Welfare Council in the UK) is one of the greatest welfare concerns for the world’s egg laying chickens.

Research has shown that hens have a strong preference for laying their eggs in a nest and are highly motivated to perform nesting behaviour. Hens also show a strong preference for a littered floor both for pecking and scratching and for dust-bathing, and a preference to perch, especially at night.

Battery caging prevents all of this as the hens are kept in barren cages without perches or litter, and are so confined for most of their lives that they cannot even flap their wings.

Barn chickens are kept loose in huge warehouses. These chickens have the freedom to move about inside the barn on littered floors, and are provided with perches and nests. However space is usually quite limited. Free range systems allow hens to express natural behaviours to a much greater extent. Free range chickens have daily access to large outdoor areas. This enables them to dust bath, forage for food, flap their wings and move freely.

Organic systems are similar to free range systems but in addition the hens are fed on organic feed (grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides).

Free-range egg production in South Africa is regulated by the Agricultural Product Standards Act. Woolworths free-range egg supplier farmers are fully compliant with the regulatory requirements and the requirements for free-range production as stipulated by the South African Poultry Association.
Info from "Woolworths TasteMag"

(Here's a question arising from Kate's comment below : are 'organic' eggs different to 'free-range' eggs...? My free-range hens' egg yolks are bright orange.... I have also found this website that states Egg yolk colour is not a good guide).


  1. Maree, you are a wonder! I am enamored by your lifestyle and thank you for allowing your hens to live as they should. Love the sketch but I have to ask: when in the world do you have time for sketching with all the other things you do?

  2. Aaah Paula, thank you for your lovely words! I must tell you, that's ALL I do - other things and sketching! lol!

  3. Very nice, loose sketch, and thanks for info- I'd noticed paler yolk but it looked wrong- now I know better!

  4. Beautiful work, Maree! That nest is wonderful...

    That's funny, here our free range, organically raised chickens get a variety of bugs and such too, not just wheat. Especially in summer, their egg yolks are really almost orange--I never heard that pale yolks were desirable. Different areas have different standars?

  5. Glad you like it Concetta And as far as the egg yolk colours are concerned, it now seems according to Kate, that different countries could have different standards!

  6. Thank you Kate. It seems possible that different countries have different standards, how confusing! The info above is from the Woolworths 'Taste Mag', and here Woolworths is one of the few food suppliers that does free range eggs. Maybe the whole-grain diet only has got something to do with the colour of the yolks. I would say, here in South Africa anyway, don't buy eggs unless you know for a fact they're truly free range!

  7. P.S. Kate : I found this info on Google : "Yolk color is dependent on the diet of the hen; if the diet contains yellow/orange plant pigments known as xanthophylls, then they are deposited in the yolk, coloring it. Lutein is the most abundant pigment in egg yolk. A colorless diet can produce an almost colorless yolk. Yolk color is, for example, enhanced if the diet includes products such as yellow corn and marigold petals. In the US, the use of artificial color additives is forbidden."

    Another site says, "The colour of the yolk is due to substances called carotenoids. The nutritional value of the egg is not affected by the yolk colour. The intensity of yolk colour may be measured against standards such as the DSM Yolk Colour Fan. Most egg marketing authorities require deep-yellow to orange-yellow yolk colours in the range 9 to 12 on the DSM Yolk Colour Fan. Yolks of more intense colour may be required for specifi c markets.

    The most important sources of carotenoids in poultry feed are maize (corn), maize gluten, alfalfa (lucerne) and grass meals; these sources contain the pigmenting carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which, together with other oxygen-containing carotenoids, are known by the collective name of xanthophylls.

    However, the carotenoid content in the ingredients of poultry feed is not constant; the pigmentation properties of the carotenoids can be weakened or lost in a variety of ways. These fluctuations in carotenoid content and availability concern both the poultry nutritionist and the feed producer. Because of such fluctuations, naturally-occurring carotenoids cannot be relied upon to provide the desired yolk colour or to provide a consistent colour. Therefore, nature-identical yellow and red carotenoids, such as apoester and canthaxanthin, are commonly added to feed in order to achieve the desired egg yolk colour. Consumed by the laying hen, these supplemental carotenoids are readily transferred to the blood and then deposited in the yolk to provide pigmentation."

    There you have it! lol!

  8. Thanks, Maree! Great information! I knew the color was dependent on diet; even our free range eggs are less golden color in the winter. We get most of ours from a local family, all organic, free-range, and they've been, as they say, like sunshine on your plate. So are the free range eggs we get from the health food store, but it's good to know that the ones we occasionally get at the big grocery store marked organic but considerably paler may still be as good!

    I love this blog, I learn so much...

  9. Thanks for opening the doors and this lovely discussion Kate, I also learn a tremendous lot from this blog, it has widened my horizons to take in what is going on in the rest of the world!


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