Saturday, May 15, 2010

Modern Hunter-Gatherer, Part 2: Eggs, Fowl

Photo courtesy of samiebill1's photostream

(Read Part 1 of this series here.)

'Hunting and Gathering' the healthiest eggs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and other fowl can be very daunting even in a rural lifestyle, and much more so if you are an urban dweller on a short budget.


Let’s start with eggs. Sure, you can buy eggs at most grocery stores that are labeled “cage-free” and some might say “Omega-3 enriched” but are they nutritionally any better than the other, cheaper eggs stacked next to them? Frankly, they are all battery eggs, only the marketing strategy is different. They do not provide substantially better nutrition than the cheaper eggs, so save your money.

In the case of eggs advertised as omega-3 enriched, there are small amounts of O-3 in some feeds that include corn or soy, or maybe a handful of flax seeds thrown in a huge batch. There are no USDA requirements for minimums. Either way, they do not contain the amounts of omega-3 in pastured eggs.

Photo courtesy of steve p2008's photostream

Eggs advertised as ‘free range’ or ‘cage-free’ simply means that they may be crowded several thousand to a pen, with one small door to an outside concrete patch, like above. Most never see grass. Here’s what I do NOT consider free-range although they are marketed as such.
Click here for Video. (These are turkeys in the video, but the caging is the same as chickens.) Here are some real free range birds: Click here for Video.

Nutrition in eggs:

Mother Earth News published a great nutritional study of true free range eggs compared to official USDA data for commercial eggs. The results varied from farm to farm, of course… no two farms have the exact same soil fertility and greens growing.

The average free range egg results vs. commercial eggs showed:

* 1⁄3 less cholesterol than commercial eggs

* 1⁄4 less saturated fat than commercial eggs

* 2⁄3 more vitamin A than commercial eggs

* 3 times more vitamin E than commercial eggs

* 7 times more beta carotene than commercial eggs

* 21 times more omega-3 fatty acid than commercial eggs

Not only are we what we eat, we are also whatever it is that what we eat eats, too. If we eat commercial eggs, we get some of the antibiotics and other drugs that have gone from the chickens into the eggs, and if their nutrition is poor (cheap feed) can the eggs be any better?

Because I live in a rural area, it is fairly easy to find free range eggs, especially at the farmer’s markets. However, I’m very picky because of my thyroid. If the chickens are fed supplemental grain, I want to make sure the grain contains no soybeans. (Soybeans contain goitrogens, which impede thyroid function.) I also want to know if the chickens are allowed pasture that is sprayed with herbicides and pesticides (I avoid those eggs as non-organic), and whether the grass is enriched by growing in good soil.

I know for a fact my egg supplier has some of the best pasture around. He tests the grass with a refractometer, and adds what the soil needs to increase the Brix. I am willing to pay more for those eggs, too. Over in the next town, I can buy free range eggs for almost half the price of Richard’s eggs but they come from several sources and I don’t know what they are fed. They are certainly far better than commercial eggs, and I will buy them when Richard has no eggs.

It is more difficult to find pastured eggs in the winter due to moult, and that varies somewhat with breed, and when they were born. Typical pullets may lay for 11 months before their first adult moult when they cease production for 3 months. Excellent layers moult for a shorter time than poor producers, and day-length (and temperatures) affects laying.

For urban dwellers: I have seen pastured eggs offered online that can be safely shipped. I'd also suggest you try to get a local store to stock pastured eggs, but that may be difficult. The co-op links below may offer some suggestions.

Richard (Moyer Family Farm) not only grazes his chickens on that great grass, he grazes his ducks and turkeys there, too. I bought my Thanksgiving turkey from him, a heritage breed called Bourbon Red. They are leaner in the breast than factory turkeys but higher in nutrition and much tastier. These are free range turkeys: click for video. This year he is raising more duck eggs (which are higher in nutrition than chicken eggs), hence more ducks. I hope he will have duck to sell later.

Note: Two to four billion pounds of poultry feathers are produced every year. Most are ground up as filler for animal food.

Buying free-range chicken and other fowl
As I mentioned in part 1, I see Coleman Natural and Coleman Organic chickens in most health food stores. Their labels say “NO Antibiotics, NO Added Hormones, NO Preservatives…EVER. Always Vegetarian Fed.” Frankly, that doesn’t tell me much. (Besides, they had a major recall not long ago. That always worries me.) How will I know if the chicken is high in Omega-3 from grass, or if it is high in Omega-6 because it was fed vegetarian grain and soy products instead of grass and forage?

Fortunately, most farmer’s markets usually have at least one vendor of processed (often frozen) pastured chickens, and occasionally other fowl. Also much grass-fed fowl is available online (mail-order) from many sites. A good site to locate a source near you is Eatwild.

A dozen or more farmers in a several county area near me raising grass-fed meat and fowl have just started a co-op. Their prices are considerable lower than health food stores, and I see they have local suppliers of beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, and rabbit. I already have an order placed!

They are part of a larger, national independent co-op group. You may find one near you

Just last week I bought a small chest freezer (7 cu. Ft.) for under $180 with a $20 rebate coming. (I also had a 10% off coupon!) I will start to stockpile chickens and other fowl because buying in season and in quantity is cheaper.

To that, I will be adding beef, pork, lamb and fish.
I found pastured summer butter (higher in omega-3) on sale at Whole Foods yesterday and bought a supply to freeze since it is seasonal. I already opened one package and it really IS butter-yellow. The difference in taste and color to commercial butter is amazing, like the yolks of pastured eggs vs. commercial eggs!

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