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Great Eggs in January

Garth Brown |

If you look at the label on a carton of Cairncrest Farm eggs you’ll read that they are ‘truly pastured.’ It’s not my favorite phrasing, but the word ‘pastured’ alone, being unregulated, is cropping up on all sorts of products that don’t deserve it. My hope is that using ‘truly’ as a modifier makes you more confident that the image this evokes - of happy hens pecking their way through green grass - comports with reality on the farm. I know, I am almost certainly overthinking the whole thing.

But what do pastured (truly pastured!) hens do on a day like this, when there’s a foot of snow on the ground? I can throw them an armload of good hay, and they’ll scratch at it a bit, but not enough to make up for the vegetative matter that they normally consume spring through fall. So for the past month their feed has included a bunch of alfalfa. This isn’t a standard ingredient in many layer rations, because it doesn’t produce the most eggs possible for the lowest cost. But I think the benefits more than make up for this slight inefficiency. The quality of the eggs has remained remarkably high, with cohesive whites, and thick, golden yokes. It may not be quite as perfect as one laid in June, but the egg pictured above is still fantastic.

This is one of the unexpected joys of producing eggs. When raising an animal for meat I am confident that feed, genetics, stress, and a host of other variables contribute to the quality of the final product. But the nature of the thing means that all of these have undertaken their largely opaque interactions with each other before I have a chance to assess the results. Data about what worked and what didn’t is harder to collect and can only be used prospectively. With eggs, on the other hand, what the hens are eating one day shows up in the frying pan the next.

Garth Brown

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