Chris and I don't buy meat or eggs at the store as we raise all of our own, but we do enjoy checking out what's available on the co-op and grocery store shelves. Recently we were poking around the aisles of a not-so-local co-op, looking at what they have in the way of meat and egg products. I almost walked past the egg cooler but stopped when a colorful carton of a dozen perfect brown eggs caught my eye. I examined the box through and through, reading all of the various health claims and of course checking out the goods.
The egg carton I held in my hands was indeed beautiful. As Chris can attest, I am highly swayed by the aesthetically pleasing so I can easily see someone like me picking up this dozen eggs without even thinking. The box was labeled with buzz words such as cage free, organic, no hormones or antibiotics, fresh, humane, etc. These words don't bother me as we also use buzz words on our cartons such as pasture raised, and GMO-free.What got me was the picture on the box, a photograph of a little girl with sun kissed skin and locks holding a chicken in the middle of a verdant pasture. Hmmmmm.
In the farming business there is a lot of deceptive marketing but I think this type bothers me the most. The cage-free chickens who laid the eggs that sat in the carton I held unfortunately did not have the opportunity to roam in the fields and visit with cute kids. Free-range or cage-free chickens are most likely still raised in large, overpopulated barns where beak clipping is permitted and the only binding word in the free-range model is "access to the outdoors" which does not guarantee that they will actually go outside. I have seen these operations and although the chickens are not confined to a wire cage, they are cramped and most likely have a hard time even finding the door to the great outdoors.
Don't let the word organic fool you either. If you are worried about what your chickens are eating, good for you, you should be, but just because a hen has been eating organic grain all of its life does not mean that it has been outside or been treated with respect.
In any event, it really is best to meet your farmer, know your farmer, and visit your farmer often with questions. Don't hesitate to ask to see the animals at your chosen farms, this is how you'll know if your farmers are doing the job that you expect from their marketing. So before you buy, do a little research as free-range, organic, or cage-free eggs may not be all they are cracked up to be.
Here at Walpole Valley Farms we do not believe in keeping our chickens in cages or all "cooped" up. As I write this blog I occasionally glance out the kitchen window to see our hens hunting and pecking for bugs, worms and grubs, beaks fully intact. That's what they like and that is respect.