Nellie's Free Range Eggs

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Tag: Free Range Eggs

http://cagefree.summitlivestock.com/locations/lone-cactus/

What do “Cage Free” and Free Range Really Mean?

 

(photo from Summit Livestock Facilities. New Cage Free facility being built in Bouse, AZ)

We get this question at Nellie’s Free Range Eggs a lot. And it’s no surprise. The egg aisle has more unique terms these days than Doritos has flavor varieties. Free range, cage free, pasture raised, GMO Free, Organic, Farm Fresh, All Natural, and the list goes on. Particularly, when it comes to humane standards like Cage Free and Free Range, it can be very hard to know the difference.

But, there is very significant difference between the Certified Humane Free Range standard that we use and “Cage Free” that you are seeing more and more of in the marketplace. (The quotations around Cage Free are there because, as you will see, it’s quite misleading).

Most people would reasonably assume Cage Free to mean “no cages.” But the term is not a regulated standard by the USDA or the FDA (Free Range is defined by the USDA). So egg producers are left to define it for themselves. And as you might expect, the gigantic factory farms that have always brought you conventional eggs, laid by hens imprisoned in tiny, floor-to-ceiling battery cages inside massive warehouse complexes, are now either converting these same factories to “Cage Free” or building new ones, as you can see in the photo above and in this astonishing video.

And what is going into all of these “Cage Free” egg factories? You guessed it – cages. Bigger, more complex cages than before, but cages nonetheless, with no doors to the outside. The “farm” depicted in the photo and video is expected to produce 1.5 million eggs per day. I’ll repeat that, 1.5 million per day!

There is no question that placing 10 giant buildings the size of aircraft hangers on a flat piece of earth in the middle of nowhere allows for some serious labor efficiency in terms of handling and processing eggs. But we don’t think consumers would consider it farming. At our small farm, we deliberately stopped building new barns, becoming less efficient in the process, because we wanted instead to partner with other small farms around the country like our own.

Because we don’t want to be confused with the now misleading term Cage Free, at Nellie’s Free Range, we have adopted a Free Range standard certified by the respected Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) organization. Our floor style barns have no cages, period. There are doors every few feet, allowing one and all to come and go when the weather allows. We even have policies of our own for humane care that exceed those set by HFAC.

Please watch our video that helps explain the important difference between Certified Humane Free Range and Cage Free so you can be as informed as possible about the eggs you buy.

"Nest Run" eggs just out of the egg packer on the farm

Adventure of the Egg – From Farm to Table

How does an egg make it from one of our Nellie’s small family farms to your home?

At the Farm

The journey begins in a nesting box, inside the barn, where one of our hens lays her egg. She will typically lay one egg per day, usually in the morning hours. From there the egg will slowly roll down the inclined, padded surface of the nesting box to the conveyor belt that runs the length of the barn. It will usually sit motionless on the belt until about 11AM when the farmer turns on the belt and gets ready to pack eggs in the packing room. The conveyor delivers the egg, along with several thousand others from that morning, to the packing station. A packing machine gently loads the eggs from the conveyor into plastic trays. The farmer, and if they are lucky a family member or two, run the packing machine, pull out any cracked eggs, and carefully stack the trays of eggs onto a pallet. Each pallet contains 900 dozen eggs. The pallet is then rolled into the adjacent cold storage room that is kept at 45 degrees.

On the Road

Once a week, one of our fleet of Nellie’s “Rooster Cruiser” trucks will turn into the farm and roll up to the small loading dock next to the cold storage room. At that time, the week’s worth of eggs, somewhere between ten to twenty thousand dozen, depending on the farm, will be loaded onto the truck. The truck will make a few more stops at other farms in the area until it is full and then proceed to one of our two processing plants in Pennsylvania or New Hampshire.

In the Plant

At the plant, the egg will now be rolled into our “nest run” cold storage area. When we are ready to run the eggs from that farm, the egg trays are loaded into our egg washer where they first go through an Organic citrus-based solution. Brushes do a gentle scrub before they get a sanitizing rinse.

At this point things get pretty technical as each individual egg is photographed and cataloged by the computer. The camera is looking for specs of dirt, cracks and other imperfections. It is also gauging the size of the egg so that down the line it will know to send them to the correct packing station for Large, Extra Large, Jumbo and so on. Each egg is also tapped lightly by a tuning fork at this stage to test for hairline cracks that the camera cannot see. Broken or otherwise problematic eggs are pulled from the line automatically. A little less than 1% of them are simply thrown out to become pig feed for other farms and other are sent to a “breakers” line where they are cracked into our liquid egg products. The intact eggs move up the line to the packaging station based on their size and are automatically placed into cartons, never being touched by human hands. From there they go into master cases and are put back onto a truck.

To the Store

From here, the trail can get a little complicated. Sometimes, our trucks will deliver right to a grocery chain’s central warehouse and they will redistribute them to their individual stores. In other cases, we might deliver them to an independent distributor to haul for us. And in some cases, we might even deliver our eggs to a big factory farm where they are “cross docked” and loaded onto other trucks that do individual store delivery. That’s because we don’t operate a big enough fleet to drive to individual stores, nor would we have enough eggs of our own to deliver even if we did. So in those cases where a big caged egg company is also the sole egg distributor for a given location, we have to “ride along” with them. That’s why you can see our trucks backed up to these mega farms. It’s not because we’re picking up eggs there, it’s because we’re delivering them there! Not an ideal situation, but for us, the only way to get our eggs where they need to go.

On Your Table

The final leg of the journey is from the store’s back room out to the egg shelf, and then home to your kitchen table. The typical time from nest to table is about 25 days. That is well within what USDA recommends for fresh egg consumption and still leaves plenty of time for you to store in your refrigerator before eating. We print the “Best By” date right on our carton as to when we recommend you consume the eggs by. But don’t worry, eggs are very resilient to spoiling and it’s possible to eat them beyond that date and be fine. We don’t recommend that of course, but typically you only lose a little bit of freshness. A good test if you’re not sure of an egg’s freshness is to drop it into a bowl of water. If it sinks, it’s still fresh. If it floats, that means that the egg has had time to develop air pockets between the shell and the egg and it’s time to toss it.

Once your eggs are safely home from the store and in the fridge, it’s time to cook them up!  If you’re looking for recipe inspiration, here are some of our favorites.

hen behind bars

Cage Free Tipping Point

It was just two years ago that we thought we might never see the day. Only about 10% of eggs produced were cage free or free range. The rest came from Dickensian factory farms with millions of birds on site, all mercilessly crammed into tiny cages.

Farms like Nellie’s were sounding the alarm, loyal customers like you were heeding the call, and there were even a few vague pronouncements to convert to cage free… eventually, by big companies like Costco. But that was about it. It still seemed a long way off that we would have more than a fraction of our eggs coming from cage free farms.

Then came the McDonald’s announcement that they would convert over the next decade. A few of their fast food competitors matched that, and then suddenly it seemed every major restaurant chain in the country made their own announcement. Yet, because eggs were only a small part of their menus in most cases, the vast majority of caged production was still going to feed the much larger grocery retailer part of the market for the foreseeable future. So real progress, but still largely the status quo.

And then to many people’s surprise, Albertsons, the second largest grocery company in the U.S. (2200 Safeway, Albertsons, Shaw’s, Pavilions, Star, and Vons stores) announced they would go 100% Cage Free within 10 years. The very next day, Kroger, the nation’s largest grocer (3400 Ralphs, Dillon’s, Fry’s Food Stores, Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Smith’s Food and Drug, and QFC stores) also announced. Soon after, Ahold (Stop & Shop, Giant Eagle) followed. Add Costco, Trader Joes, BJ’s, Target and seemingly more every day – it is truly a tipping point in the industry. It will take a few years to get there, but there is no turning back now.

We are positively thrilled by this! It is vindication of years of hard work and advocacy by those supporting humane farming practices.

Of course, as we have cautioned before, this does not mean that the folks who used to produce millions of eggs a day on cruel industrial-scale farms have turned over a new leaf. It just means they have yielded to the marketplace to no longer produce in the cruelest possible way. They are now busy tearing out their battery cages and replacing them in buildings of the same scale with huge metal enclosures called combi-aviary systems. That allows them to keep the hens in a big cage (albeit a cage that at least lets hens move from place to place vs. the old tight confinement) as well as occasionally open small doors near the bottom that provide access to the floor level – but significantly not to the outside. Birds labeled cage free, do not get to go outside as a rule. And there is no real oversight that the cages even have to be opened at the bottom on any regular basis. There is no overcrowding standard. And there is no one allowed into these facilities to check if anything is really humane about them.

Again, we salute this significant step forward for the welfare of hens. But most consumers would still be alarmed at the scale of these places and the density of hens crammed inside. Some facilities will have between 500,000 and a million birds in a single “barn.” And they will continue to have to feed the hens antibiotics to ward off the spread of disease that is common to overcrowded agriculture operations.

At Nellie’s, we will continue to produce ethical Free Range Eggs on small, independent farms. That means we go the extra mile in every area of animal welfare, food safety, and the welfare of our farmers. Nellie’s is Certified Humane, which means we get inspected by the most respected third party non-profit certifier (Humane Farm Animal Care) every year. It absolutely costs more to farm this way. And our loyal customers have always believed it to be worth it. Thank you.

 

Certified Humane

Cage Free ~ Is the Tide Turning?

It’s that time again for New Year’s resolutions. And a few big companies are doing it. McDonald’s is doing it over the next decade. Burger King, Starbuck’s, Panera and Taco Bell plan to be there by 2017. Dunkin Donuts, General Mills, Costco, Michael Foods and even Royal Caribbean have all made announcements recently. They are all going cage free for their eggs. Evidentially, Corporate America has finally gotten the message that their consumers don’t want inhumane treatment for the animals that produce their food; thus the beginning of the end for a horrific practice may be at hand.

This is mostly great news. Currently, 90% of the eggs sold in the U.S. still come from “farms” (read: massive warehouse complexes) full of “battery cages” where hens spend their lives in disgusting enclosures the size of a piece of writing paper, stacked high, one on top of the other. And that will continue to be true for quite a while yet – years in all likelihood. But, change is on the horizon. The European Union simply banned these systems years ago. California has also done it. Massachusetts is considering it. Until the practice is altogether banned in the U.S., there will still be a market for the cheapest possible eggs, which means tiny, cramped cages.

It’s also true that while big egg producers are seeing the writing on the wall and are either building or converting space to cage free production; that new “farm” of theirs probably still isn’t what consumers think a farm should be. The caged producers have not turned over a new leaf. They will continue to try to deliver the cheapest eggs possible to the marketplace and are simply adjusting to, at the most basic level, society’s increasing discomfort with their worst practices. For example, a new facility being planned for “cage free” production in Texas will house up to 3 million birds in a single location. This is not going to be sustainable, human scale farming, not by a long shot. True, the birds will have a bit more freedom of movement, but only within what are essentially just bigger cages (yes, that can be considered “Cage Free” by the USDA) and they will never have access to the outdoors with dirt, grass or sunshine.

Truly humane farming requires a higher standard. At Nellie’s we are Certified Humane Free Range by the non-profit Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) organization, the highest standard of care in the industry. Certified Humane Free Range means there are no cages of any type in our barns, big or small. Our hens have access 24-hours a day to feed, fresh water, fresh air and places to nest and roost. Because they are not in over-crowded situations, we do not need to add antibiotics to their feed to avoid the spread of disease. They also can go outside via easily accessed doors to adjacent pasture and field (outdoor access may be limited when either weather conditions or risk of things like Avian Influenza warrant it).

McDonald’s will probably continue to buy their eggs from giant industrial egg factories so that they can continue to put an Egg McMuffin on the menu for the artificially low price of $1.00. Nellie’s eggs are produced by independent, small family farms. This is the only model that is sustainable for the future of agriculture after society’s failed experiment with farm industrialization.

We salute the decisions by McDonald’s and others to respond to their customer’s concerns and make long overdue changes to their egg supply. However, the improvement is still just a small step toward truly humane, and sustainable farm operations. To know you are buying humane, free range eggs from a responsible, human-scale producer, look for the Certified Humane logo on all your eggs.