Don Mescall

Singer - Songwriter - Producer

Choosing the Right Eggs

Choosing the Right Eggs

Organic free range eggs !!!!!!!

My sister Aine keeps 5 hens in the most beautiful conditions, Tommy her husband built a beautiful little stone shed (a small cottage for them, I would move in there myself !), the hens have a huge area of grass and scrub to roam around in, that area also has Christmas tree's planted there so in the summer the hens have loads of shade from the sun and room underneath to dig for their dust bath's. I have never seen such happy hens, I know that's not how everyone can keep hens for eggs but really there has to be such a re-think on the whole egg producing industry, I'm so sickened and shocked to see how badly the majority of hens are kept in these massive egg factories. I was going to include some shocking links to YouTube regarding battery hens but the truth is they are almost too grotesque to watch and I wouldn't want anyone to just stumble on to them without really being mentally prepared.

Anyway these are some facts re eggs that I thought might be useful, My niece's husband Donnacha kindly passed these on to me, he manages a great hotel in Limerick city called the Absolute where I stay, I've been giving him a hard time each time I stay there ,trying to get him to convert to free range eggs, personally I won't eat an egg anymore if its not, I can't, I've seen with my own eyes what these poor hens in cages are put through, its just not fair.


Types of Chicken Eggs

Now when we go into a supermarket and buy our eggs, we're greeted with quite a range of names - Farm Fresh Eggs, Free Range Eggs, Barn Eggs etc. But what do those names really mean?

Farm Fresh Eggs

So, you think of hens happily scratching around the farmyard as a ruddy faced, rustic farmer's wife collects some eggs from a ramshackle hen house? Think again. A farm, in this context, means a huge pre-fabricated shed. An industrial unit. Fresh means less than 21 days old. Eggs is eggs, however. Farm Fresh Eggs are produced by battery caged hens. It's just a very clever marketing con term. Over 60% off all eggs consumed in the UK still come from battery units. Often you eat battery eggs without knowing it, for example most mayonnaise is made using battery eggs. The misshaped eggs etc that won't meet grading standards for retail sale end up in the catering industry - often being pasteurised and processed to increase storage life. Your caged hens live their entire short and wretched lives on a wire mesh floor in racks with space per hen roughly equivalent to a piece of A4 paper. Technically 550cm2 per bird in cages installed prior to 2003 but since then enriched cages are provided. These provide a minimum of 750 cm2 per bird, along with a nest, perching space at 15cm/bird and a scratching area. Hardly luxury.

Free Range Eggs

Now we're talking, surely? These are the hens who wander into the country lane with no knowledge of fear of cars? Sorry, wrong again. Once again we're talking about an industrial unit house but, and this is lots better, with access to a fenced off area outside. Although the stocking density is limited to 2,500 birds per hectare (that's about 64 sheets of A4 paper per hen) most birds will hang around the shed if they do go out.

Hens are flocking birds, they tend to stick together as you'll have seen if you watch backyard hens in a garden. This means the area around the shed becomes stripped of vegetation and a dustbowl. Our free range hens have the benefit in principle but the sheer numbers and their nature mean they really can't take much advantage of their undoubtedly better conditions.

Barn Eggs

Now we think of those barns of yesteryear (picked up the trend yet?, traditional = good in food marketing) with some hens wandering around, safe from the weather and fox. Oh dear, it's not quite so wonderful.

Our barn is yet another industrial unit housing thousands but the hens do have the benefit of different levels, perching space and nesting boxes. 1 nest box per 7 hens who are crammed in at 9 per square metre. One and three quarters of a sheet of A4 paper per hen. Luxury?

Organic Eggs

Organic eggs are simple those from hens kept in a free range system but fed only on organic food, ranging on organic land and they must not be fed growth-promoting antibiotics.

Comparing the Different Systems

In 1997 the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), a Government funded body, compared the pros and cons of different production systems.


Laying Cage System

Pros: Easy to control environment eg temperature, feed, water and light - Space restriction suppresses hen aggression - Small hen colony size - Good disease control - No threat from predators

Cons:Lack of space/facilities prevents certain normal behaviour eg dust bathing - Cage structure may cause feather and foot damage - Confinement leads to weak bones and bone breakages

Perchery (Barn) Systems

Pros: Varied physical environment where normal behaviour can be expressed - Protection against predators - Freedom to move within the hen house - Provision of nest boxes, perches and dust bathing facilities - Improved bone strength due to increased activity - Birds can escape aggression by moving within the hen house

Cons: Beak trimming may be required to prevent bird aggression such as feather pecking and cannibalism - Management of waste droppings more difficult - Hens can be injured by falling between perches at different levels - Increased risks of parasites

Free Range Systems

Pros: Freedom to move freely and express wide range of behaviour - Opportunity to graze on vegetation and varied diet - Opportunity to dust bathe in soil - Improved bone strength due to increased activity

Cons: Beak trimming essential to prevent bird aggression such as feather pecking and cannibalism because of large flock sizes - Risk of predators - Disease risk due to access to droppings and contact with wild birds - Adverse climate outside

Conclusion - What Eggs to Buy?

It's really rather simple, organic eggs are best, free range second followed by barn eggs. Please, vote with your purse and don't buy eggs from caged birds. However, if you want eggs from hens kept as you would like them to be, you have two real options.

1) Keep your own hens - this way you know their conditions.
2) Buy off small suppliers at the farm gate who are happy to show you their hens. Just up the road from us we can buy free range eggs at a price around or even lower than the supermarket. We know they're free range because the small flock are wandering around.

Info from Animal Welfare Council