You probably saw it across social media and the nightly news — avian flu hit the U.S.A. hard this year. While it rarely affected the small backyard flock or small farms, it permanently indented the commercial egg and chicken industry. This Spring, more than 49 million chickens and turkeys died or were euthanized in the U.S. due to Avian Influenza. Fifteen different states across the Pacific North-West, deep into mid-west commercial farms, we severely affected. The impact was treacherous, and now it’s beginning to hit the every day consumer.
About a month ago I saw the first article — “eggs being rationed” and “egg prices increasing due to shortage”. It’s happening, it’s for real. It’s not the end of the world and I really don’t expect the apocalypse to happen anytime soon. But if you’re an egg lover, then it’s time to listen up.
It is now cheaper to buy eggs from your local farmer or farmer’s market than it is to buy at the store. Yes, you read that right. While it may not have hit Mayberry towns just yet, it has already started in the larger cities. Eventually, and inevitably, it will trickle down. Here’s your chance to support your local market and buy directly from a trusted backyard chicken enthusiast or farmer. Most local eggs sell for $4-$5 a dozen. Here on our homestead, we sell them for $4/dozen and we do not plan to increase the value just because the commercial industry has increased their rates.
The bigger question, however, is what’s the difference between commercial eggs and pastured or free range eggs? It’s hard to understand, but I’ll explain it to you quickly and easily.
Commercial Eggs — Most (not all) commercial eggs that are bought in a store come from battery hens. They are placed in small cages or living quarters with lights that stay on all day long. This causes them to lay more often. They get little sleep, never see daylight, and are missing most of their feathers due to being over crowded. Their beaks are cut off so that they cannot peck at the hens beside them. Their eggs then go through a cleansing and bleaching process, are packaged, and sent to the store a week later. Your eggs from the store are very rarely “fresh” eggs. In fact, studies have shown that many are 2-3 weeks old before they reach your table.
Free Range Eggs — Due to government regulations, Free Range now means something totally different than it used to. Free Range hens are normally in a large warehouse, rarely go outside, and if they do, it’s on a concrete slab. However, there are some local farmers who allow their chickens to range supervised for an hour or so a day. Commercial cartons will often say “vegetarian fed”. And if you know anything about chickens, you know chickens aren’t vegetarians. They eat bugs, worms, small rodents, and many other things that aren’t considered “vegetarian”. Free range hens are stressed out, live wing to wing with thousands of other hens, and many times die at an early age from being trampled on if in a warehouse setting. Free range farm hens are treated better, but may still be confined to a coop and run. Their eggs go through the same process as commercial eggs, unless buying from a local farmer. Yes, there are local farmers who raise their hens this way.
Pastured Eggs — This is real life at its finest. These hens get to roam free — feel the dirt between their scaly toes and peck at the ground all they want. They are loved and cared for as nature allows it, and the only cleansing process that the eggs go through might be a quick damp rag cloth if you’re buying them at the farmers market.
Which brings me to my next question….
Should you wash and refrigerate your eggs?
And that answer is, NO.
If your eggs have not come from the store or have not been washed, they can sit on your counter. If they have come from the store or have been washed, they need to go into the fridge.
All eggs have a protective coating on them when laid. The hens body puts this protective coating on so that bacteria and other nasty things cannot go through the shell. When the eggs are washed, you wash the protective coating off of the shell. This allows Salmonella and other bacteria to get into the egg, which could potentially harm you and your family. On our homestead, we suggest not washing our pasture raised eggs until you are ready to use them. If you must wash them, simply wipe them off with a slightly damp rag, but you’ll still have to place them in the fridge since you wiped them down.
We also don’t suggest refrigeration. Eggs with the bloom still intact can sit on the counter in a pretty little basket for a week or more. After that, we suggest putting them into the fridge just to help slow the aging process. If you insist on washing your eggs, they must be refrigerated after washing. We are the only country that supports refrigeration of eggs due to the process that our commercial eggs go through here, which they do not go through in other countries. Our food system has failed in the egg department. The very things they try to save us from are the very things they are putting into our food. If eggs come from the store or have been washed, they must go into the fridge. If they have come from a local farmer or from your own yard, no need to wash or refrigerate!
Enough about that. Here are just a few local places where you can purchase eggs. Please feel free to comment below or on our facebook page if you offer eggs for sale or know of a great local place.
Croftburn Farm Market
16190 Germanna Hwy, Culpeper VA 22701
Moving Meadows Farm
254 East Davis Stree, Culpeper, VA
Ayrshire Farm | Home Farm Store
1 E. Washington St., Middleburg, VA
Heritage Hollow Farm Store
7 River Ln, Unit A, Sperryville, VA
Walnut Hill Farm
449 Kellogg Mill Rd, Falmouth, VA
J&L Green Farm
4010 Swover Creek Rd, Edinburg, VA
Sweet Blessings Farm
9648 South Pines Rd.
Warrenton, VA 20186
— Please contact before coming —
Amy Fewell is the Advertising Manager of The Piedmont Virginian Magazine. She resides in Rixeyville, VA along with her husband, son and loveable lab. They run a small “mini-homestead” and Amy owns her own photography business. For more information, visit their homestead website and Amy’s personal photography website.