The Surprising Truth Behind "Pasture-Raised" Eggs
What it takes to raise a true pasture-raised egg...
Did you know that we rotate thousands of hens across millions of square feet of pasture each year? Matter of fact the hens in this video are rotated across 2 million square feet of pasture each year. This may sound like a big job but that's only the beginning...
Each and everyday we also have to move all the shelters that house the nesters, feeders and waters - all this weighing up to 5,000 pounds per shelter. As we move the hens we also have to setup portable electric netting in order to ensure hens are protected from ground predators. This means we setup and take down thousands of feet of portable fencing each season. To supply hens with fresh water we've went to the effort of installing over 4 miles of underground waterline throughout our pastures. We also have to travel out to the pasture to collect thousands of eggs each afternoon. It takes a lot of infrastructure, planning and people to make this happen.
This video actually shows you our daily pasture move:
So why do we go to all this effort?
For us raising hens on pasture is more about the holistic purpose of improving our land and keeping our pastures healthy. As the birds move about they cleanse the pasture by eating bugs and reducing pests and parasites while at the same time these hens are fertilizing our land. As the hens scratch in the pasture they provide opportunity for new plant species to grow which helps promote the plant diversity that a healthy pasture needs. This constant rotation also provides the birds with a fresh salad bar of food each day as well as clean healthy living space. This all results in fertile soils, healthy plants, healthy hens and the very best eggs! This is how we define a true pasture-raised egg.
But there's something you should know...
As more consumers have begun to recognize the superiority of pasture-raised eggs, this has attracted large brands with large scale contract producers. These brands are cutting corners while still labeling their eggs as "pasture-raised" and charging you a premium to buy them. How are they getting by with this?
Basically these large scale producers are building large permanent "confinement style" chicken houses (30,000 birds per barn) in the middle of a pasture field. These massive barns have doors that theoretically allow access to the pasture. These brands will boast that each of their birds get access to 100 square feet of pasture space per bird. While this sounds great, the truth is that only a certain percentage of birds will even go outside the building each day. If and when the hens actually do go outside, they will typically only roam a limited distance from the barn. So while the hens technically have "access" to pasture, ultimately very little of the pasture is actually utilized.
Don't be fooled when brands claim up to 100 square feet of pasture per hen. At Seven Sons we know from experience that if we only provide our hens with 100 square feet of pasture space per bird, our pastures would be eaten and trampled down by the chickens. Since our hens actually utilize the pasture, we have to provide them with a minimum of 200 square feet per bird just to keep the pasture growing healthy. The fact that these large sale operations actually still have standing pasture surrounding their buildings is proof that their hens simply are not utilizing a very high percentage of the pasture.
These large nationwide brands now have "pasture-raised" stocked on shelves in almost all upscale supermarkets.
To know if you're getting the real thing always ask these 2 questions:
- Are the hens rotated daily to fresh pasture whenever possible?
- Is each hen provided a minimum of 200 square feet of rotated pasture space?
If you cannot get a straight answer to either question, then you probably are not buying true pasture-raised eggs. We encourage you to purchase from local and regional farms where you can visit and see for yourself how your eggs are raised.