Nellie's Free Range Eggs

certified-humane

Where Does Nellie Live?

Well, of course our namesake Nellie, my pet hen from when I was 7 years old, has since gone up to Hen Heaven (nest in peace Nellie the hen). But all of her friends live across a wide swath of the U.S., on the small family farms that partner with us to produce Nellie’s Free Range Eggs.

Nellie’s Hens Range Far and Wide

Years ago, as the popularity of our special eggs grew and grew, we decided that we didn’t want to become the very thing that had nearly put us out of business – a giant egg farm. Instead, we found like-minded small farmers and farm families that just wanted to make a good living while working on their own independent farms. Furthermore, we wanted to help rural farm communities continue to be vibrant and viable.

As Nellie’s Free Range Eggs continued to grow, partner farms began to pop up all over the northeast, in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania. As more grocery stores started to carry us further south and farther west, we began adding farms in those places too. Our farms now stretch as far west as Indiana and as far south as Virginia. To help our loyal customers see where our farms are located, we’ve created this interactive farm map on our web site. Please take a look!

Go West (and South), Nellie!

The new stores carrying our eggs have increased even faster than our farm partnerships can keep up with however. We now sell our eggs in all 50 states, from Maine to Florida, on over to California and Washington. We are thrilled to offer our remarkable free range eggs to customers across the country. But, we know that many of them would like to buy from a farm closer to them, or even in their own state. That’s because they want to support their own farm communities and to reduce the impact of shipping food long distances. As a Certified B Corp, we support that too, and we’re steadily adding farms to the west and to the south. (Note the little hen footprints on our farm map!)

Thoughtful Growth

While we already partner with over 50 farm families to produce our Certified Humane Free Range eggs, each new farm is added with care. It typically takes several years from the time we start a conversation with a prospective farmer to bringing in their first flock. That’s because it’s essential that we ensure they share our values around sustainable, humane farming. We also need to know that they will be smart and reliable farmers. Egg farming is not easy, and we are careful to make sure that anyone trying it for the first time fully understands what they are getting in to. We provide substantial support to them throughout the long process, on everything from getting a bank loan to learning what to do if a hen isn’t feeling well and needs extra attention.

We are very proud of our farm families and look forward to expanding even closer to the rest of our customers soon.

Where would you like to see a Nellie’s farm? Let us know in the comments below!

Nellie’s Free Range Small Farms Outdoor Access Policy

About a decade ago, we made the decision to stop growing our home farm here in New Hampshire to meet the rising demand for our eggs and to instead partner with dozens of small, family farms that need a market for their free range eggs. That was a great decision, for many, many reasons that I’ve touched on in this blog, but it is also considerably more complex than just building more barns on our property. These are independent farms, spread across the country. So it is vital that we have a great relationship with them to insure that our high standards of quality and humane animal care are never compromised.

One of the ways we do that is by having an Outdoor Access Policy that each farmer agrees to adhere to. Why? Well here’s a little fact you may not know. It’s much safer and easier for a farmer, even conscientious ones like ours are, to keep their hens inside the barns. The flock represents their family’s livelihood, and without their flock, and the eggs they lay, that livelihood could disappear. So naturally, they want to protect it. And while the pasture is something hens clearly enjoy, it’s not as safe as being inside. Threats include predators like foxes and weasels, Avian Influenza from passing migratory foul, cold weather, and even rain and standing water. Hens are a bit like kids, they don’t always know what is good for them and can easily become sick by too much exposure to chilly, cold weather or rain. On top of all that, the farmers want them to learn to lay their eggs in the nesting boxes inside, otherwise, the labor to collect the eggs becomes untenable. So for all these reasons, it can be tempting to keep the girls inside. Most of our farmers enjoy seeing their hens in pasture every day so much, they don’t need to be encouraged to open up the doors, but to make absolutely sure that all our flocks are getting the same humane treatment, we have our policy.

Some of the stipulations include:

  • If the temperature is below 45 or above 93 degrees Fahrenheit, we recommend keeping the hens inside.
  • If there is rain, snow or standing water, we recommend keeping them inside until it clears.
  • During the short period when the hens are laying their first eggs, the farmers need to train them to lay in nests to ensure they do not lay eggs outside.
  • During high-risk periods where a disease like Avian Influenza is a known hazard for that area, in consultation with our team of experts, we may request that they keep the flock inside.
  • Lay times – most of our hens become accustomed to laying in the morning hours. In order to accommodate laying in nest boxes rather than pasture, they may keep the flock inside during the morning lay hours.

They must record their decisions and any exceptions to normal outdoor access due to the above conditions in log books that our auditors can review each week.

This is one of the many ways we are working to help restore human-scale agriculture back to a country with 320 million mouths to feed. It’s a balance between doing everything we can to help the farmers be successful and reduce their risk, while at the same time insuring that we’re farming in a way that is moral and responsible.

Is Pasture Raised Better than Free Range?

-By Jesse Laflamme

At Nellie’s, we recognize that the egg aisle is a confusing place.  We hope that over time, our brand can earn your trust so that instead of having to understand every industry term out there like cage free, free range, or pasture raised, that you can simply reach for our package with confidence because you know we’re doing the right thing for hens, farmers, and for you. My family has been raising chickens for three decades.  We have the hard won expertise that comes from doing something for a long time and constantly improving on it as you go. I think that makes our company very unique in the egg industry. We hope that our customers come to understand that we care so much about our hens that if there was a better way to raise them —­ we’d be doing it.

For many decades, the egg aisle has been almost entirely caged eggs coming from hens living truly horrific lives. Finally, after years of advocacy and the growing awareness of consumers about this barbaric form of agriculture, things are beginning to change. We expect that caged eggs will be a thing of the past within the next 10 years.  That’s great news for chickens, and for all of us. But, it also means that there will now be lots of less scrupulous companies trying to jump on the bandwagon. In most cases, this will be the former caged producers now producing cage free eggs, but essentially using the same industrial approach they used in the past. It will represent a marginal improvement in hen welfare, because they will finally be able to move around. But the facilities where they are raised will in no way represent what a consumer would consider to be a farm in terms of scale, crowding, cleanliness or transparency.

On the other side, there is also a group of companies competing to persuade customers that our Certified Humane Free Range standard, which you can read about here, is somehow not sufficient or adequately humane.

Outdoor Space Isn’t An Arms Race

The Certified Humane Free Range standard was developed by scientists and animal welfare experts. It calls for 2 sq. ft. of outdoor access on grass per hen. Now, this may not sound like much if you imagine a bunch of hens all occupying their own little 2’ X 2’ patch of grass. However, it’s important to note that this is just an average over a huge flock, and that not all of the hens use the pasture space at the same time. Not even close. Hens are actually a lot like people in this regard. Whether it’s cool outside, hot outside, or a perfect 70 degrees, a great many of them would simply prefer to be inside at any given moment. In fact, in a typical flock, there are hens that never want to leave the barn. It’s safe, comfortable, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and there’s fresh water and feed. As a company, we don’t force hens to go outside. We give them ample ways to access the outdoors, and then let the hens decide. If you spend time watching our girls, you will see a steady stream of hens entering and exiting the barns. At any given point in time, the hens that are outside have far more than 2 sq. ft. apiece. And they are very social birds, so while they don’t wish to be crammed into giant warehouses, or tiny cages, they do want to huddle into little groups and cliques to cluck about whatever is on their minds. So there is always more grass and dirt areas open than occupied.

Pasture Raised brands are advertising that they offer from 35 sq. ft. to 108 sq. ft. per hen and suggesting that 2 sq. ft. is insufficient. More is not better in this case. More is just more. And it costs the farmers more to own and maintain that extra space for no discernible purpose that we can see. Agriculture land is scarce and expensive, so forcing small farm families to operate and maintain an excess of it just to brag about how much square footage each hen gets seems insincere and gratuitous to us.

There is a category of very small farms that can make the larger space work economically. But those are typically mixed use, hobby-style, micro farms that exist in a completely separate economic climate, selling to farmers’ markets, CSAs, and to their local area at considerably higher prices. Mainstream grocery distribution requires a higher level of efficiency in order to even get on the shelf. So we support this other style of farm wholeheartedly, just as we support backyard chicken coops, but they are a very small piece of the larger change we seek.

Our bottom line at Nellie’s is first, what is right for the hens? We believe that we understand that better than anyone in the industry and follow the independently audited standard set by Humane Farm Animal Care for Free Range. Second, we want to do what is right for our farmers, and that means helping them raise hens humanely without undue costs. Third, by doing the latter, we can deliver great eggs to our consumers at a reasonable price

It is an exciting time to be in the business of producing humane, ethical eggs. In my lifetime, I have not seen the industry change this dramatically or quickly. Over the next year, we believe many more consumers will begin to decide what they think a reasonable egg farm should look like. We believe that a small family farm producing to the Certified Humane Free Range standard is the best way to meet our country’s egg demands in a humane, sustainable way. We don’t believe that means there is no such thing as too much space for hens, and we’re pretty sure the hens don’t either. So we will continue to try to balance the needs of hens, our farmers, and our loyal customers as best we can.

What’s with the Plastic Nellie?

A question that we hear from time to time is: “I love your eggs and your commitment to animal welfare and the environment, but why do you use plastic egg cartons? Isn’t that worse for the environment?”

It’s an excellent question. We’ve all come to see plastic as bad. It’s derived from a non-renewable source (oil), it doesn’t decompose for a very long time, and these days, a lot of it is winding into the oceans (see Pacific Garbage Patch and Microbeads Pollution). So it’s understandable that it has a bad reputation.

On the other hand, the molded pulp cartons and the polystyrene foam cartons are not environmental bargains either, for many of the same reasons. So what’s a well-meaning person to do?

We asked Quantis, a Canadian research company specializing in environmental impact of products, to do a complete Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Egg Cartons for us in 2012.

Quantis looked across the raw material sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, and end of life/recycling aspects for RPET (our recycled PET clear package), virgin PET, Recycled Molded Pulp (RMP) and Polystyrene (commonly known as styrofoam). They scored that as a total Carbon/Climate Change footprint score based on all of those life stages. They also scored them on the basis of Human Health, Ecosystem Quality, and Resource Depletion measures.

The RPET carton that we use was determined to be superior, or vastly superior, to both the Molded Pulp and Polystyrene as a whole, and across all of the individual life stages, with the one exception that it had a slightly higher manufacturing impact than recycled pulp. It is worth noting that the worst option, was typically the PET plastic made from virgin plastic. That’s because of the high amount of fossil fuels required both as energy and raw material in its production. This is what large 2-liter soda bottles are made from (so think about that the next time you’re considering buying soda). We take the recycled material from those containers to make our cartons. The tri-fold PET also has an important consumer benefit in that it provides the best protection for the eggs while allowing you to see the unbroken eggs without opening the carton in the store.

Once used, our cartons can then be placed right back in the recycling stream for another trip through the system. Paper pulp can also be recycled. Styrofoam all goes to the landfill to wait for the end of time.

So in total, while we wish we could sell our eggs in wooden boxes or wicker baskets that were re-used over an over, we feel as though we’ve arrived at the best possible solution we can for the time being. We ask that you always recycle your Nellie’s Free Range cartons after use and we can continue to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible. And thank you for bringing our eggs home in a re-usable canvas bag as well.