If you’ve checked out some of my other blog posts or social media, you know I am a big fan of eggs.
It’s because eggs are a nutrition powerhouse and versatile food that offers several health benefits.
Normally, I tend to focus on the nutrition and health benefits of food but there’s so much more to any food than just its nutritional profile – food, all food, has to come from somewhere!!
Food doesn’t just appear on store shelves and that’s where my latest journey took me, to Burnbrae Farms, 6th generation family egg farmers, to learn all about egg production including the different types of hen housing, and the awesome line up of eggs and egg products that Burnbrae has to offer so that consumers can confidently choose a high quality egg from producers that take environmental stewardship and animal welfare seriously; they truly walk the talk.
There is so much confusion surrounding egg production and most consumers want to do what they feel is best for them and choose eggs that fit their needs but with confusion the rule and not the exception, how’s a consumer to know?
The first step is to be informed.
Conventional hen housing
Historically, chickens were raised on pasture, and when egg production started to take off in the earlier part of the 1900s, chickens spent a lot of time outdoors where they faced many challenges such as predation, disease, and extreme weather.
An interesting point that many in our modern world may not be aware of, is that eggs back in the day were laid on the range. It was much harder to keep eggs clean because they were on the ground, and among the hens’ manure.
And chickens, when they’re in large groups, do what chickens do and establish a pecking order – yes, it’s a real thing – as they establish who has first dibs on resources such as food and water.
In the chicken hierarchy (bird society), chaos typically ensues, and hens fight each other for their respective position in the hierarchy; birds can lose feathers and sustain serious injury even to the point of death.
Conventional housing was designed to address these concerns. Chickens are kept in smaller groups to reduce aggression, ensure they have continuous access to feed, water and because they’re elevated off the bottom of the cage, they don’t stand in their own manure nor do the eggs come into contact with the chicken poop either.
This greatly improved chicken life, reduced injury, premature death, and helped farmers to have more predicable egg production which allowed for a steadier supply to the marketplace.
An alternative to conventional hen housing, enriched housing is part of a modern trend (with Burnbrae Farms being the first in Ontario to adopt this form of housing).
Enriched housing provides chickens with an environment that supports their natural behaviours such as scratching (they have scratch pads), perches for, well, perching and a curtained nest area which offers an enclosed space where hens can lay their eggs in private.
With enriched housing, hens are housed in smaller groups of 10 or more where they have continuous access to feed and water. Smaller social groups help farmers to control disease and it reduces the natural aggression hens can have towards each other such as feather pecking which is largely eliminated in this housing structure.
Like conventional housing, in enriched housing, hens are also kept separate from their manure – nice – which leads to healthier hens, cleaner eggs, and better air quality for both hens and their caretakers as the hens are not scratching at the ground, keeping the air free from manure dust.
Eggs are laid, move to a conveyor belt, and make their way to the grading center for optimal quality assurance.
Free run (cage free) housing
Free run eggs, also known as cage-free eggs, come from hens that are free to move between the different levels of the hen housing either by flying short distances or by using ramps which are provided for them.
Hens are still housed in large barns to ensure hens get the benefits of being protected from predation, extreme weather conditions and disease risk reduction.
As with other types of housing, on each level of the barn, the hens have access to food and water. The exception is on the ground level where food and water are not provided at all, otherwise dirt and/or manure from the floor could get into their food and water resources.
It’s important to note, however, that there are trade-offs with free run/cage free housing. Bec
ause the hens are out in the open, many of their natural tendencies rear their head and there can be problems with feather pecking and aggression.
And most may not know that hens can pile on each other if they are scared or startled. Hens are skittish and may pile on top of each other for protection but unintentionally smother hens on the bottom of the pile.
Free run/cage free housing also has a much higher carbon footprint than conventional or enriched housing too – customers are probably in the dark about that.
It also costs a lot more to raise chickens in this type of housing which explains why these eggs are more expensive at the grocery store. The birds require more management, they tend to be larger birds (Lohmann hens, descendants of the Rhode Island Reds) which, along with greater roaming, flying, walking, and moving around, burn more calories so they go through more feed as well.
Free range housing
Pasture raise eggs are seen as the ultimate in ‘natural’ egg production. Essentially hens live in little huts in pasture/on range where they forage. At night, they go back into their huts to sleep and eventually the huts are moved around a pasture. In not, the ground would over be used; grassy patches of pasture would turn to dirt.
These hens still need to be provided with water and feed because foraging wouldn’t provide enough nutrition for the hens. It’s the most inefficient, most costly way to produce eggs.
Luckily, Burnbrae Farms has a great alternative. Organic free-range housing / farms offer benefits to hens by allowing them to express their natural behaviours such as moving around, roaming, laying their eggs in a nest, taking dust baths, and perching.
The added benefit compared to other types of housing is that they can go outside to roam, and forage, weather permitting.
What might surprise most consumers is that while they have access to the outdoors via openings in the barn walls, only a very small percentage take advantage of this opportunity. Most of the hens prefer to stay indoors presumably because they prefer the security that the barn has to offer. Those that do choose to go outside, don’t stray very far from the barn.
Instinctively, the hens will have a sense of their surroundings and that includes being aware of possible threats like predation when they’re outside.
But they of course still have access to all the water and food they need. Hens wouldn’t be able to get the nutrition needed to survive, let alone lay eggs from foraging alone. Free range hens at Burnbrae Farms get organic feed that never contains medications, is non-GMO, grown free of herbicides and pesticides.
But there are some disadvantages. Because they are outside, there’s a great risk of disease compared to hens that live in a closed barn and there’s always the threat of predation.
When it comes to the wallet, free range eggs cost the most due to related production costs, including the cost of the specific feed.
Type of eggs
Burnbrae Farms understands that consumers prefer different egg types which is why Burnbrae is committed to providing a choice to suit the diverse preferences of its customers. They have range of products to choose from:
Shell white and brown eggs
- White, brown
- Prestige (Exceptional eggs produced from young hens in the peak of their laying cycle)
- Super Bon-EE (the big ones, 25% larger than regular large eggs)
- Omega-3 Free Run
- Omega-3 Plus (which have even more omega-3 fatty, and extra nutrients)
- By far my all time favourite options with heaps of nutrients including 125 mg of DHA and 25 mg of EPA per egg
- Free Run (Cage Free)
- Nature’s Best (from hens on a vegetarian feeding program that contains no medications, antibiotics or animal by-products)
- Nestlaid [from a hen’s nesting area/enriched housing]
- Free Range
- Free Run
- Omega-3 Plus
Specialty egg products
- Egg Creations
- Simply Egg Whites
- Egg Bakes
- Egg Bites
While each type of housing has its benefits and tradeoffs, Burnbrae Farms’ dedication to maintaining the highest standards of animal care and their commitment to providing high quality eggs and egg products to meet consumers’ preference is apparent and they are truly as committed today as they were when the Hudson family began producing eggs more than 80 years ago.
Ultimately, it’s up to you the consumer as to which product to buy based on your preferences, values, needs and nutritional goals and Burnbrae Farms makes it easy; there really is an egg and egg product for everyone from all walks of life.
So? What are you waiting for?
Egg nutrition refresh
Eggs are a nutrition powerhouse and versatile food that offer several health benefits,
- Excellent source of protein: eggs are a rich source of high-quality protein, which is essential for the growth, repair, and maintenance of your body’s tissues. The protein in eggs contains all the essential amino acids your body needs.
- Nutrient-rich: eggs are packed with essential nutrients. They are a good source of nutrients such as iron, vitamin A, E, B vitamins including B12 and biotin, phosphorus, iodine, zinc, and selenium – incredible! Additionally, eggs are one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D.
- Choline for brain health: eggs are one of the best dietary sources of choline, a nutrient that is not only important for brain health, but that, sadly, most Canadians don’t get enough of. Choline plays a role in memory and cognitive function and is essential for the development of the brain, especially during pregnancy.
- Choline for liver health: choline helps to reduce the risk of fatty liver, typically an issue in those who are overweight, and who have metabolic health problems such as pre-diabetes, diabetes. Low dietary intake of choline is a risk factor of liver disease in general as well.
- Heart health: yup, you read that correctly. Contrary to earlier concerns about the cholesterol content in eggs, current research assures us that egg consumption does not increase the risk of cardiovascular or heart disease. In fact, eggs contain healthy unsaturated fats (like omega-3s) and antioxidants, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are actually hugely beneficial to heart health.
- Eye health: eggs are a rich source of two antioxidants, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which are crucial for eye health. These compounds can help protect the eyes from age-related macular degeneration and cataracts by filtering harmful high-energy light waves.
- Choline & DHA for optimal pregnancy: choline and DHA are the ultimate pregnancy dynamic duo. Choline and DHA are needed for fetal brain development and are important during the first 2 years of life post partum. There’s good evidence as well, that like folate, choline is needed to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.