Our 11 chickens and three ducks are giving us three to six eggs daily! This is pretty exciting stuff for me!
When I found our first egg, I ran leaping for joy into the front yard to show our four kiddoes plus all the neighbor kids playing basketball in the street. They’ve been asking me about egg arrival for months, so I knew they’d share my excitement. They did not disappoint! I did an egg dance that day that was as ridiculous as our hens’ egg songs are loud.
I’m finally using the egg skelter Trevor gave me for Mother’s Day. A skelter is a spiral that winds around a tower, but it reminds me of my favorite form of arcade entertainment: Pinball. My eggs are lined up in my skelter shoot, one after another, waiting for my trigger-happy finger to push a stovetop button and initiate a game of breakfast ricochet. My egg hits the countertop for cracking. Then the skillet for cooking to over-easy. Then an extra crispy, butter-kissed, whole wheat English muffin before disappearing into my stomach. Telling myself that one egg is enough is like convincing an arcade junkie that just one more quarter will be OK.
Farm Fresh Eggs & Refrigeration
My egg skelter sits out of the reach of our two dogs with the unrefrigerated bread, chips and cereal. I knew that farm fresh eggs didn’t need to be refrigerated but I didn’t know why. After a bit of Googling on the topic, I was asking myself a far more sobering question:
Why aren’t we taking better care of our chickens and worrying less about the eggs they give us?
I learned that refrigerated eggs, animal cruelty and life-threatening bacteria are in bed together. Suddenly, my egg skelter made me thankful that I have room to keep chickens for the sake of their health and mine. Outrage replaced a silly metaphor of poultry pinball. Here’s why…
The majority of commercial egg-laying chickens live in battery cages with only 67 square inches of space. The Humane Society of the United States breaks it down like this: 67 square inches is the floor space of a standard piece of paper (source). Caged chickens can’t perch, nest, dustbathe or even spread their wings. As a result they are highly stressed. Yet they faithfully pump out little orbs filled with culinary gold even in these most deplorable conditions.
Are Cage-Free Eggs Better?
Under public pressure, egg producers are switching to cage-free methods for raising egg-laying chickens, but these cage-free birds still suffer tremendously.
Cage-free chickens are “debeaked,” a painful practice where part of the beak is burned or cut off when chicks are just a day old to prevent feather pecking, vent pecking, aggression and even cannibalism that chickens resort to when they live their short lives crammed in battery cages, according to Wikipedia (source).
In Europe, many countries have banned or are phasing out this mutilation of chickens that can cause chronic pain and make eating difficult. Parts of Australia have also banned it. If United States egg producers just provided more space for layer chickens, pecking and cannibalism would occur less than continuing to debeak them, Wikipedia goes on to say. Besides, chickens need their beaks for preening, cleaning and normal pecking.
Cage-free hens are often trucked long distances without food or water and they may never see daylight, so don’t be fooled when you pay a premium for lovely brown eggs marketed as “cage-free.” These eggs are NOT a more responsible purchase.
Salmonella…The “S” Word
When most people think about consuming raw or undercooked eggs, they think of salmonella, and for good reason. AnimalVisuals.org created a fantastic info-graphic that illustrates five reasons why salmonella is a risk in high-density flocks of chickens where 30,000-plus birds are kept. Click here to check it out or read on.
The top five egg-producing plants in the United States have 30,000 or more chickens, and up to 100,000 birds. I work hard to keep a clean coop and run for 11 chickens and 3 ducks. Imagine dealing with manure from tens of thousands of birds housed in complex cage structures. Timely and thorough disinfection is difficult if not impossible!
Battery-caged, stressed birds have weakened immune systems and can’t fight off salmonella well. Rodents and flies that thrive in the manure pits under caged birds also carry salmonella. Airborne fecal dust can also infect chickens.
At the risk of sounding crass, an old adage with a new spin keeps coming to my mind: Our chickens shouldn’t shit where we eat. For lack of space, battery caged birds are forced to defecate where they lay their eggs.
But there’s also debate about whether backyard coops, small farms or free-range birds from smaller egg operations with less than 3,000 chickens are any less prone to salmonella outbreaks.
Smaller operations may just be exposing chickens to salmonella in different ways, like in the dust of hen house floors or in open fields where they are allowed to roam, asserted U.S. News and World Report in a 2010 article that explored whether organic eggs were safer to eat (source). But, smaller farms that do have a Salmonella outbreak sicken less people than huge, six-figure, commercial egg producers that issue massive recalls announced during the evening news, causing public panic.
Why You Should Never Wash Eggs
Manure-smeared eggs from large egg producers are washed and misted with chlorine, as mandated by the USDA, before they are packaged and sold from refrigerated cases. These all white, perfectly uniform and seemingly pristine eggs provide a false sense of security to egg lovers.
But MyPetChicken.com warns that water actually forces bacteria through porous egg shells and removes a natural, protective layer called “bloom” that keeps bacteria out of the eggs and moisture in (source). Any manure on fresh eggs should be buffed off with a sanding sponge, not rinsed away under water or chemicals. Very dirty eggs should just be discarded to err on the safe side.
But abandoning egg washing may not eradicate salmonella in eggs. Salmonella can be found in chicken ovaries too. In an effort to eradicate salmonella at the source, UK egg producers have been vaccinating hens since 1998, according to TakePart.com. There were 14,771 recorded cases of salmonella in 1997 in England and Wales. By 2009, that number dropped to 581 (source).
Europeans don’t wash their eggs either to keep the protective “bloom” on their eggs and eliminate the need for refrigeration. The FDA does not mandate salmonella vaccines for chickens.
In the United States, pasteurized, well-cooked eggs may be the only surefire way to ensure that the eggs you consume are safe. I do enjoy a hard-boiled egg with salt, but I just can’t give up my over-easy breakfast. Thankfully, my girls will soon be laying enough eggs to feed our family and our dogs without help from the grocery store. By choosing to not wash and refrigerate my fresh eggs, I can reduce the risk of contracting salmonella.
I can store my unrefrigerated, fresh eggs for up to one week with the large end up. If you still think eggs should be chilled, consider this: Hens allowed to hatch their eggs lay their first egg up to 10 days before they have a clutch they are ready to sit on. The oldest egg is still a viable chicken weeks later.
Every industry-wide movement for good starts small. If we raise layer chickens to stock our pantries or buy our eggs from responsible chicken owners, we may begin to force large-scale, cruel egg producers to put the welfare of their flock and human health over volume and profit.