The Chicken and the Egg it produces…
What do you really know?
By Frederick J. Dunn
In this article, I will present some facts about the chicken egg, something I think everyone recognizes immediately in all its culinary forms.
Though without a doubt, the chicken is the most universally eaten of all meats, I will focus here, upon the egg it produces. A rooster may be dispensed with, with very little deliberation or ceremony and then made a meal of. However, when one considers the little hen, no matter her disposition, one stops and considers weather or not she still produces eggs. Her value lies mostly, in the number, size and shape of the eggs she produces.
When a female chick hatches, the number of eggs she is capable of laying in her life time, is already known, or at least within her. Samuel Butler once remarked “the hen is only an eggs way of making another egg”, this gives me pause. My point is, that the egg or the chicken/hen, are merely points in a life cycle, an endless loop. Think about it… when the chick is yet within the egg, the eggs are already within the female chick. Sure, I’m talking microscopically and in germ cell proportions, but they are there in finite quantity.
Why do I mention all of this about the hen and the egg? Well, it leads nicely into the quality of the egg produced and when exactly this quality aspect becomes important. A chick may hatch, already deficient, if its parents (hen or rooster) were not in premium health at the point of fertilization. So, quality of life, physical accommodations and quality of feed, all contribute to what we ourselves may one day eat.
It’s very simple really, what the chicken eats and is exposed to, we eventually eat and are exposed to as well. Those of you who are reading this article, probably subscribe to Patti Moreno’s Urban Sustainable Living e-zine… so I will assume that you are already on a quest to improve your immediate environment and obtain the very best in nutrition for yourself and those you care for. Most of you are gardeners, please consider that chickens can be among the best recyclers of food and garden cast offs you can imagine.
Before I get into what the egg provides nutritionally, here are some basic egg facts:
The color of an egg shell has nothing to do with the hens diet at all, rather it is dictated by the specific breed of chicken laying the egg. People often think I’m pulling their leg when I state that you can often tell the color of the egg your hen will produce by looking at her ear lobes… a red eared chicken will lay a brown egg, a white ear lobed chicken will lay a white egg. There are some exceptions to this general guide, but for the most part it is the case. Easter egg chickens are of course exceptions to this rule (Ameraucanas and Araucanas respectively), as they lay various shades of green, pink, blue and anything in-between.
It takes a hen approximately 25 hours to produce an egg and she lays her egg during day light, or when a coop light remains on.
Brown shelled eggs are most popular in England, while white shelled eggs are most preferred in the United States. Some people seem to think a brown egg shell means more organic, or healthier than a white shelled egg, however this simply not supported by science.
Hens lay with greatest frequency, when they have at least 14 hours of light (artificial or natural).
A hen will lay eggs, even in the absence of a rooster. Eggs from the grocery store, will not hatch if you put them in an incubator, as they are generally not fertile.
Ok, now let’s get on with the current nutritional findings, regarding battery hens and the eggs they produce, as compared with free ranging hens and the nutritional values found in their eggs. I will not deal, in this article, with the value of eggs to humans as a food, though nutritionists celebrate the chicken egg broadly, as one of the most complete and high quality animal proteins one can obtain. So eggs are top quality food, no matter where they originate.
First, I take you to the Incredible Egg Site, you’ve certainly seen their adds on TV.
http://incredibleegg.org/health_nutrients.html This is the industry voice. If one looks at their nutrition page, the message is interesting… at the top of the page, you see what appears to be whole grain bread, dark shelled spotted eggs, wheat grasses and a nice cup with milk in it, all surrounded with organic feeling natural colors. Then you see an inserted photo of the more common white eggs in flats (more true to what you will see at the grocery). I encourage you to click on the nutrition label tab… one particular percentage which jumps out at me, is the 70 calorie per egg, 40 calories are from fat. Another startling percentage, is that each egg is 71% Cholesterol. (click on and enlarge the label graphic) They make no egg to egg comparison with free range eggs.
Before I continue with the free range counterpart, let’s be fair, every “ranging” chicken does not get the same amount of exercise, sunlight, bugs and quality of forage. Therefore, it’s truly only the battery, or controlled diet birds, which can have a consistent data base of what their egg nutritional values would be. With that in mind, let’s see what free range studies post:
The following information is posted on Eat Wild and does make egg to egg comparisons with housed chicken eggs:
“Free Range Eggs Nutritionally Superior As it turns out, all those choices of eggs at your supermarket aren't providing you much of a choice at all.
Recent tests conducted by Mother Earth News magazine have shown once again that eggs from chickens that range freely on pasture provide clear nutritional benefits over eggs from confinement operations.
Mother Earth News collected samples from 14 pastured flocks across the country and had them tested at an accredited laboratory. The results were compared to official US Department of Agriculture data for commercial eggs. Results showed the pastured eggs contained an amazing:
· 1/3 less cholesterol than commercial eggs
· 1/4 less saturated fat
· 2/3 more vitamin A
· 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
· 7 times more beta carotene
Full results of the tests are available in the October/November 2007 issue of Mother Earth News, or on their website at
http://www.MotherEarthNews.com/eggs. Check Eatwild's Pastured Products Directory to find free-range eggs near you.”
And finally, of course, I must plug Mother Earth News:
10/15/2008 3:37:53 PM
By Tabitha Alterman
Tags: free-range eggs, egg tests, pastured poultry, grazing livestock, egg nutrition, vitamin D
The results from Mother Earth News’ latest round of pastured egg nutrient tests are beginning to come in. So far, pastured egg producers are kicking the commercial industry’s butt — woo hoo, go free range! We’ve invested a lot of time and energy over the last few years in researching the differences between the meat and eggs coming out of the commercial industry and those produced by conscientious farmers who let their animals graze on fresh pastures. In the past, we’ve found that eggs from hens raised on pasture, as compared to those commercially raised factory farm eggs, contain:
• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
Now we’re looking at vitamin D, which many of us do not get enough of because we don’t spend any time outdoors, and even when we do we use sunscreen that blocks vitamin D production. Eggs are one of the few food sources of naturally occurring vitamin D, and we wondered if true free-range eggs might be higher in this important vitamin, too. Our latest tests show that pastured eggs have anywhere between 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D as typical supermarket eggs.
So … (1) Get out there and eat some fresh farm eggs! and (2) Check out our ongoing pastured egg research.
Do you raise chickens for eggs or meat? If you want to participate in one of our studies, please e-mail RealFood@MotherEarthNews.com “
I hope this information has been useful to you and that you will consider rearing a small flock of hens to work your gardens, provide nutritious eggs, add animation to your urban plot and of course, recycle all those fruits and veggies that would otherwise go to waste, or take a long time to break down in your compost bin.
Until next time, giving chickens and their eggs a voice,
Author of Regarding Chickens