Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How do you know?

Last night a friend who recently bought eggs from us called. Her question? Are they suppose to be orange? Or did she leave them out too long on the counter and that's why they are not yellow?
My response: Yes, they are suppose to be orange.
Notice in the picture above that two of the eggs are darker than the one towards the bottom. The bottom egg is store bought. You may also notice that the egg on the upper left"softer" around the edges. The picture is not the best in regards to clarity or color so you may not be able to see it. However a very very fresh egg will be "tight" and the yolk will sit "high"---not slouchy looking. Our slouchy egg is one that has been in the fridge for about a month now and the other egg was laid yesterday.
Since we began raising chickens so long ago we have found that most people do not know what a farm fresh egg is suppose to look like or why it is that way. Because of this, I thought maybe I should post a few bits of information about eggs on my blog--more information than the two egg cookbooks I recommended in another post anyways.

So here goes:

Eggs get their orange color from the grasses and bugs they eat. The actual pigment is called xanthophylls. Especially in the early spring and summer when grasses are at their best and bugs most plentiful a hens egg yolk will be a bright bright orange color. If you are buying pseudo "free range"eggs their yolks probably won't be the super orange of a true free range egg. Now their are natural additives (marigold flower petals for one) that can be fed to the hen to brighten their egg yolk but so far I still have not seen any from the store/large companies that are as bright as a true free range egg.

Color ,as I mentioned above, is effected by what the hen eats and here is something interesting I found on line about hens, their food and how it effects the color of the yolk:

medium yellow yolks are usually from chickens fed corn/alfalfa meal
light yellow yolks are usually a sign of barley or wheat fed hens
white or almost colorless yolks can be a sign of being fed white corn.

Also---not only are color additives against the law but most people prefer light yellow/orange yolks. To that I can attest as we have had a number of people say "thanks---but no thanks" to our eggs because the color grosses them out.

Another thing you may not have been aware of is that I would be breaking the law by selling my eggs as "free range" though my chickens happily ERUPT from their house when I open the door in the morning and range almost our entire 6.5 acres all day. I would have to document and provide data and fill out forms to be able to legally call my hens free range--more work and more government intrusion than I need. Besides we sell local---the buyers can see with their own eyes our chickens ranging our property. As a matter of fact in the evening they will "range" under foot as they wait for their evening treat of some scratch grains.

Free range, like all other organic/sustainable labeling has been "sabotaged" by the USDA because of this regulation---which wouldn't be bad except they do NOT do on site inspections. They just take the producers word for it. Basically what they consider free range is this: A producer must demonstrate to the agency that the poultry has been allowed "access to the outside". This can be nothing more than a hole in the wall opened for an hour during the day. Chickens are well...chickens (just like we used to call each other as children) and they do not like the unknown-. So they will not venture into a place they have never been accustomed to. It can take up to few months for our new chickens--depending on breed-- to learn they can go farther than about 400 feet away from the area they are confined at night. That is with us opening big doors and feeding them outside to encourage their natural foraging. Every new batch of chickens has to be taught this especially if you don't have older birds for them to see that "it's o.k".
So --don't be tricked into paying more at the store for the fancy boxed "cage free" or "free range" eggs.

The last thing I wanted to mention was that The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy recently co partnered a "study" with a rare turkey breeder named Bill Yockey, Slow Food USA and The French Culinary Institute to study the best uses for turkey eggs. According to the article (printed but not on line yet) the Midget White Turkey produces more eggs than most so they open up a range of possibilities for cooking with them. The study found they were excellent in things such as deviled eggs and custards/creams but not quite as nice in lighter foods such as Angel food cake or genoise.

Also: here is an interesting article about a chef and the use of many eggs: Eggs: chef shows chicken don't always come first.

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