Nellie’s Free Range Eggs FAQs
Please see below for some frequently asked questions. If you don’t find your question in this list, feel free to contact us and we’ll do our best to answer you.
Where can I buy Nellie's Eggs?
We are sold in a wide range of stores throughout New England, the Mid Atlantic, and the South. And we’re rapidly beginning to appear in more and more locations in other markets as well. Please check our store locator for a store near you.
What does Free Range Really Mean?
It means what it sounds like, which is during most times of the day and year, our hens are free to roam outside as they please. This is very different from Cage Free, which sounds good, and is better than being in a tiny cage, but still basically means that you are in a massive warehouse of a barn with hundreds of thousands of other hens, in floor to ceiling caged enclosures, with no access to the outdoors. So not exactly idyllic.
We do have to insure that our hens are safe from predators and disease from wild birds, so we don’t allow them outside if ground predators such as fox or coyote are seen in the immediate area. And during migratory bird season, we protect our birds from exposure to diseases such as avian mites or Avian Flu.
You can get more information about Free Range here.
What is Cage Free? Same thing?
Not at all! Cage Free does represent an incremental improvement over the current industry practice of battery cages where hens can’t move. But despite the name, Cage Free is still caged. The new aviary systems being rushed to market to meet the demand for cage free are gigantic floor to ceiling metal enclosures full of layers, catwalks, and doors. It’s a bit better of a life than not being able to move, but the hens never see the outside and these are still very much factory farms with all the inhumane practices intact. Learn more on our Free Range page and see a video of a cage free style farm.
What is Pasture Raised All About Then?
Pasture Raised is another term that has emerged in recent years. While there are no USDA standards around it as there is with Free Range, responsible producers (and there are exceptions) are providing the hens with grass pasture to forage on, just like Free Range. The debate comes in with respect to how much space is “enough” for hens. Our free range birds have a minimum of 2 sq. ft. per hen of pasture. But that’s an average, for every hen in the flock. It is very rare for more than 25% of the flock to choose to be outside at any one time during the day. Most of them prefer the shade, water, feed, or social opportunities inside the barn. So the girls that feel like venturing out, usually have a vast expanse of field all to themselves to explore. Some Pasture Raised producers offer even more average space than this, but that space does not come free. So the eggs will typically cost more as well. We think that we have found the right balance with Certified Humane Free Range for hens, farmers, and consumers. Learn more at this blog post.
What causes different egg shell colors?
Egg shell color is determined by the breed of hen and is often related to the color of the feathers over the hen’s ears. Brown hens, like we have, typically lay brown eggs and white chickens lay white eggs (although there are a few breeds of white chickens with brown ear-feathers that lay brown eggs).
We even have a few flocks of Ameraucana Heirloom hens on our farms, who lay eggs with pastel blue shells.
Note that the shell color is not related to the nutrition or quality of the egg inside.
Do you wash your eggs?
Due to FDA regulations and food safety requirements, we must wash our eggs before our consumers can receive them. We use a light, organic approved soap to wash our egg shells. After the eggs are washed, they are sanitized with a mild chlorine solution. Our quality assurance team monitors critical control points like wash- and rinse-water temperature, detergent levels, etc. This does remove the cuticle (or bloom) from the egg which is a natural protective coating, but we must wash them per FDA requirements.
Are Nellie's Eggs Organic?
No. Our hens are fed conventional grain from reputable suppliers but we cannot guarantee this feed is free of pesticides or GMOs, and therefore they are not organic. We offer these eggs to customers who would like eggs from hens treated humanely and free range, but at a lower cost than organic eggs.
We do, however offer another option for customers who are concerned about pesticides and GMOs. Our Pete and Gerry’s Organic eggs are produced by Certified Humane free range hens also raised on small family farms but are fed exclusively organic grain which is free of any pesticides or GMOs.
Our organic eggs are a little more expensive because of the feed costs, but we feel it is a fair price for bringing organic eggs to market without shortcuts. You can find out more about Pete and Gerry’s eggs here.
What causes double yolks?
Double yolks are fairly rare (about 1/1000) and double yolked eggs tend to be very, very large. They typically are graded as a ‘Super Jumbo’ because they are so large. These eggs primarily come from our younger hens who are still just learning how to lay eggs. All of the farm fresh eggs go through the sorting machine together and once they are identified as Super Jumbos they are sent to the first packing station where they are hand packed because they are too big for the machine to pack.
They are then packaged as Jumbos even though they are technically Super Jumbos. All day the hand packing station runs filling Jumbo cartons with Super Jumbos. These Super Jumbos are over 50% double yolks. As these cartons are filled, they all go into the same case. So, you even though they are rare, double yolk eggs often wind up in the same cartons.
Should I eat eggs past the best before date?
According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA): “Many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hen lays them. Egg cartons with the USDA grade shield on them must display the “pack date” (the day that the eggs were washed, graded, and placed in the carton). The number is a three-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year (the “Julian Date”) starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. When a “sell-by” date appears on a carton bearing the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 45 days from the date of pack.”
Use of either a “sell-by” or an “Expiration” (EXP) date is not federally required but may be required by some states.
Because storage location as well as other environmental factors can affect egg freshness, we can not recommend consumers to eat our eggs after the best before date printed on the packaging, but it is to your discretion if you would like to.
Yolk color and nutrition
Natural fluctuations in yolk color can be due to flock age, the weather, the season, and even flock location. The bugs that the hens peck at also can play a part in the yolk color because they increase the amount of protein in their diet. Each hen is unique and their eggs typically reflect that as well.
We routinely check our eggs for color and that they are generally much darker than caged, commodity eggs, representing their more natural and varied diet, but sometimes there are lighter yolks as well due to all these variables.
How many family farms do you work with? Where are they located?
We have over 40 independent, family owned and operated farms in our network. These are small farms usually run by two parents and their kids. We are very proud of the fact that our company can provide a realistic living for those families that still want to actually farm in a world of industrial scale agriculture.
There is a lots more information about our farms and their locations on our website.
Are your small family farms fairly treated?
This is a very important question. There has been some press lately about how broiler chicken farms, under contract by some of the large meat chicken brands are being badly mistreated by their corporate contract holders. This is shameful.
We are a B-Corp company and treat our farmers as true partners. You can learn more about it here.
What happens to sick or injured hens
To start with, we don’t have many. Our free range flocks have a pretty good life.
Our farmers keep an eye on their flocks all day long. Whenever we find a sick or injured hen, we segregate her, treat and then return her to the flock when she’s back to full health. We never administer antibiotics at any time.
In general, we have far less challenges with disease and injury than conventionally raised, caged hens because we don’t overcrowd them, they have access to the outdoors, fresh air and water, and can socialize with their hen cliques.
Do you give your hens antibiotics?
This practice was adopted by factory farms to deal with the constant filth and disease that is their chicken filled warehouses. They will typically treat healthy hens with antibiotics as a prophylactic measure.
Our barns are airy, uncrowded, clean and safe. If in the rare circumstance a hen is discovered to have a health issue requiring antibiotics, and this is very rare, she will be segregated from the main flock and treated. Her eggs will not go into our cartons until she is fully recovered and off any medications.
Do you give your hens hormones?
We do not. And the use of hormones is illegal for anyone raising poultry. Unfortunately, that is not the case with other types of farm animals.
How many eggs does a hen lay per day?
It’s right around 1 per day for most. A flock will average around 307 eggs per hen over the first 52 weeks of laying. This will decrease a bit as the hens age.
You are a B-Corp. What is that?
We are very proud to be a B-Corporation, and we’re the first farming company to become so.
B-Corps are committed to creating benefits for all stakeholders (workers, suppliers, customers, community, and the environment). There is a rigorous application process to becoming certified as such. You can learn more here.
I’ve read bad things about male chicks. What happens at Nellie's?
To fully answer this important question about male chicks, we’d like to explain a little bit of how our farms work.
We are deeply committed to how our hens are treated from the day they are born. We take ownership of our hens when they are delivered to us at 16 or so weeks old. Prior to joining us at our farms, these hens are hatched at a hatchery and raised by small family farms in free range pullet houses. The hatcheries which supply our hens are operated by companies who own the rights to the genetics of their hens. These hybrid breeds have been developed for specially for egg laying productivity and it is what makes commercial egg farming possible at the prices consumers currently enjoy. They are not bred to be suitable for meat as those are very different breeds. We do not have the resources or expertise to produce our own breed of egg laying hens, so we have to work with these hatcheries.
Once the chicks are hatched, they are sorted by gender. The female chicks will become egg laying hens and are transported at one day old to the pullet house. Unfortunately, there is no role for male chickens of this breed in egg farming. And, male chickens from laying breeds are not suitable for meat because they mature very slowly. Additionally, they cannot be kept with the hens. In a cage free or free range environment, the roosters tendency to fight would create a terrible, inhumane environment for hens. So, given that there is no viable market for the male chicks, the hatcheries euthanize them. To do this, the hatcheries use one of the practices recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association. We do not have control over which practice they use and it varies depending on the hatchery. However, none of the practices are very appealing. We wish that there was an alternative, but there currently are no hatcheries available to us that produce chicks without male chick culling.
However, we do not believe that we can stand by idly and pass the blame onto hatcheries. They are producing chicks for farmers like us and so we must own some of the responsibility for current practices. As part of our commitment to the humane treatment of hens from the very beginning of their life, we are serious about doing our part to end this practice. We have spoken with company leaders at the hatcheries and advocated for the end of male chick culling. The hatchery/hen genetics industry is very consolidated with only a few companies worldwide. They are headquartered in Europe where there has been much greater political will to force change. For example, the German government has stated that male chick culling will be phased out in Germany over the coming years. Germany, the Netherlands, and the European Union, in partnership with the hatchery parent companies, are providing financial support to various university research efforts occurring in Europe. There are several in-egg technologies to sex the eggs, which are rapidly progressing in testing and we expect some of them to be in widespread use in the coming few years. We maintain contact with researchers at the University of Leipzig, Germany and Project In Ovo in the Netherlands and plan to offer financial support to them. Their work is focused on commercializing a prototype in-egg sexing technique.
In addition to working with researchers, we are working to partner with non-profits such as Compassion in World Farming to support their efforts around this issue. Finally, we are partnering with Unilever, who has taken a leadership role on this issue, to coordinate efforts and bring positive change to the U.S. We hope to hold a summit later this year with key U.S. players to ensure that we are all doing everything we can on the issue. Commercializing the technology and bringing it to the U.S. is going to require a team effort and we are taking a leadership role in this effort.
While we cannot change the entire egg industry at once, we are committed to building a sustainable business at a scale large enough to create meaningful progress in the way laying hens are raised and treated in the U.S. Currently, over 90% of eggs consumed in the U.S. are produced in horrific caged environments. We are optimistic that as consumers become more interested in how our food is produced we will continue to see improvements in the humane and ethical treatment of farm animals from their first day to their last.
What happens to the hens when they are too old to lay eggs?
To begin with, we have definitely thought long and hard about the best way to deal with our hens at the end of their laying days. There are several options to consider. First, we could keep them ourselves. In order to feed and house our retired laying hens for the remainder of their lives, we estimate that the cost of a dozen eggs would be at least $12.00 at the shelf. We feel that this would not be affordable for our consumers.
Additionally, it would prevent us from achieving our broader aim of building a sustainable business at a scale large enough to create meaningful change in the way laying hens are raised and treated in the U.S. The next option is adoption. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find a way to make this work either. We have found that there is some interest locally in adopting hens, but not nearly enough for us to move several thousand hens in time for the new flock to arrive. Our last option is for the hens to be sold for food. Even this option is not without difficulty because laying hens have far less meat than broiler hens which are bred specifically for that. Many commercial egg laying hens are simply euthanized and landfilled at the end of laying. As farmers, that seems terribly wasteful to us.
So, while we know some consumers will be unhappy to know that our hens go on to be used for food, we do feel it’s the most responsible thing to do. At the end of a flock’s natural laying cycle, we contract with several poultry transportation and processing companies to purchase our birds. These companies send crews to our farms to pick up the hens. The crews are trained and certified in the humane handling of poultry. At this point, the hens belong to that company, but we have worked with them to ensure that our birds are going to acceptable follow-on markets. There are currently two main markets for our birds with each receiving about half of the overall quantity. One is live poultry markets where consumers are able to select live birds for consumption. The other is a US federally inspected processing plant which specializes in processing “light poultry” including laying hens. This plant uses the latest technology to ensure that the hens are quickly and humanely slaughtered.
For consumers who want eggs from hens that are never slaughtered, our eggs will not be a suitable option. We encourage these consumers to raise their own hens for which there are excellent resources available online.
While it’s important for us to continue to move the bar on humane egg production, we also feel that it’s important to remember that over 90% of eggs consumed in the U.S. are produced in horrific caged environments. For those hens, their best day is the day when they are finally put out of their misery.
We believe Adele Douglass, the founder of Certified Humane, said it best, “Our hens only have one bad day.”
Are Nellie's Eggs GMO Free
Our Nellie’s Free Range eggs are produced from our Certified Humane Free Range hens raised on small family farms and are free from antibiotics and hormones. These hens are fed conventional grain from reputable suppliers but we cannot guarantee this feed is free of pesticides or GMOs. We offer these eggs to customers who would like eggs from hens treated humanely and are free range, but at a lower cost than organic eggs.
We do, however offer another option for customers who are concerned about pesticides and GMOs. Our Pete and Gerry’s Organic eggs are produced by Certified Humane free range hens also raised on small family farms but are fed exclusively organic grain which is free of any pesticides or GMOs. Our organic eggs are a little more expensive because of the feed costs, but we feel it is a fair price for bringing organic eggs to market without shortcuts.
You can find out more about Pete and Gerry’s eggs here.
I can't find your eggs at my local store. What should I do?
Great question! We find that store managers are eager to carry products that their customers ask them for, so we suggest letting your store manager know that you would like to see our eggs at your store. You can also drop us a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we’re happy to see what we can do to help.
Do you de-beak your hens?
We do not de-beak our hens. De-beaking is a cruel and unnecessary practice, which some conventional egg producers use to cut costs by restricting the ability of their hens to eat grain.
We do practice beak trimming, not for our financial benefit, but for protecting the weakest members of our flocks. Our chicks are given a very mild trim at 10 days of age to prevent a sharp hook from developing on the end of the beak. This practice is accepted and recommend by the scientific advisory committee of Humane Farm Animal Care. The scientific committee of Humane Farm Animal Care has determined that a very minor trim of the sharp tip of the beak on or before the chick is ten days of age is humane, and often more humane than leaving aggressive hens with a means to hurt other hens, no matter how much space available to them.
Although hens can be wonderful and nurturing, the truth is that they can also be incredibly cruel and vicious to the weakest members of the flock. The trim prevents the dominant members of the flock from hurting the weaker members when they are older. After the trim, the chicks immediately scramble around, eat, drink, scratch, and peck as normal.
Mild beak trimming is done at our pullet farm in a completely humane manner as outlined above.
A great resource for more detailed information about our standards can be found at Certified Humane’s website here.
May I visit one of your small family farms?
You bet. Click here to learn more.
Why are your eggs so hard to peel?
Great question! Our eggs are typically farm fresh, so they may be a little harder to peel. This is because the white albumen in a fresh egg has a low relatively low (ie, acidic) pH level. When cooked, these fresh egg whites bond more strongly to the inner shell membrane than it does to itself. As an egg ages, the pH level becomes higher and the inner membrane does not stick as much to the albumen, so the shell peels off easier.
We really love a wise tip from The Prairie Homestead on steaming farm fresh eggs and found it has worked well for many of our consumers. You can find information on steaming eggs here.
Information from http://theprairiehomestead.com
Did I see a Nellie's Eggs truck picking up eggs at a huge factory farm?
No, we were not there to pick up eggs! The opposite actually, we were delivering eggs. The reason for this is that many eggs are still delivered directly to grocery stores from farms, which is known as Direct Store Delivery. We prefer to deliver our eggs ourselves right to their warehouse or stores. But in many cases, due to pre-existing distribution contracts, we have to deliver to a big factory style egg producer who takes our eggs onto their trucks and then makes the delivery. So that is while you will see our egg trucks at those locations from time to time. We would never source our eggs from those places, but we do have to ride on their trucks sometimes.