Everyone is talking about them right now and I have received dozens of comments, questions, and concerns surrounding them.
Where can I get eggs that don’t cost $0.50-0.75 each?
Will prices come back down?
Should I get chickens?
What’s the difference between pasture raised and all of the other choices?
What’s true and what’s conspiracy about the current egg shortage?
But what I really want to drive home, again, is the same thing I’ve spent the better part of the last ten years yelling about.
Just like produce has its own season, so do meat, dairy and eggs.
Let’s paint the picture of commercial egg strategy: maintain cost to value with maximum output.
Commercial egg production continues year round because of the extremely controlled feeding, light and temperature. Along with that, the average lifespan of commercial laying hens is about 20 months before typically being culled due to strict layer rotations. In order for each hen to lay nearly 300 eggs per year, ideal barn conditions include 65-70 degree temperature, 14 hours of light per day, 15-16% protein feed, and a few other extensively researched details. The maximum a hen can lay an egg is once every 24-26 hours.
Now let’s take a trip back in time, or to your friendly neighborhood homesteaders house.
Did you know in 1918 the US government actually suggested each home raise two hens per household member in order to sustain itself? Feeding scraps reduced garbage waste, they ate the bugs you now pay someone to spray (whoever decided vegetarian fed chickens is a good thing is a moron-sorry not sorry), they fertilized the soil and there really wasn’t a downside.
I don’t have the energy to research what changed, but I assume Rosie the Riveter propaganda replaced the nice chicken flyers in order to convince women they needed to be at work to be equal and support our country instead. I digress.
These chickens produce about 150-200 eggs per year each, and depending on when they hatch, could produce through the winter, just not one every day.
Alright now local, pasture raised chicken farms, like our friends at Eatwell Farm and so many smallish chicken producers in every neighborhood across the country.
We get it, not everyone wants chickens, so my answer for that, and all of your “where do I get eggs” question is, find yourself an Eatwell Farm. They are using these egg layers to clear the fields of bugs, leftover crops, and lightly till the topsoil while fertilizing it at the same time.
They will have large chicken tractors that can be rotated about the property, protect them from extreme weather and supplement feed as the chickens see fit for themselves. You can do the nutrition facts search to see how much better they are for you, I am trying to get to the seasonal eating part before I lose you.
Ok here we are. Seasonal eating.
Because egg production decreases tremendously in the cold, short daylight hours, we have a few things to think about.
First and best! Buy and use as many eggs as you can from local producers in the spring-fall season, so that they can afford to grow new hens in the fall to keep up with winter demands. It takes almost twice as many hens to keep people sated in the winter. Something we like to say is, get your fill of what’s in season while it’s in season so that you don’t even want it in the off season! Make deviled eggs, egg salads, poached, fried rices, creme brulee, custards. Without getting too deep into nutrition, your body is an amazing storage facility. It is able to store nutrients just as well as it stores fat. In fact, it uses the fat to store them. Eggs are loaded with vitamin A, D, E, and K, all fat soluble, which means they stick with you into the low sunlight seasons and help you maintain balance when you store them up.
Preserve! Save eggs when they are in abundance either in jars with pickling lime, freezing, freeze drying, or dehydrating. Preserving is the best way to enjoy the abundance of any season during the off season. Jams and jellies are the most commonly thought of, however those high sugar options are just the beginning when it comes to saving the bounties.
Next, reduce consumption and use intentionally. Supply and demand tells you that something will be more expensive during a time of scarcity. Eggs are one of the most perfect proteins as a whole food, so first, stop baking with them. Use them in your protein shakes, in your breakfast, and definitely raw in your eggnog- this is going to give you the best of what they have to offer your body as fuel.
Here’s my favorite part. Remember in September-November when apples were cheap and abundant? Hopefully you made a couple gallons of canned applesauce or apple butter than you can now do all of your baking with! Applesauce makes the perfect egg replacement, swapping each egg with ¼ cup. When you make your preserves, make sure to reserve a case without added sugar and spices, only reducing the puree to a thick sauce and you probably won’t even taste the hint of apple. You’ll never have to go without pancakes and pastries throughout the winter this way. Glass jar pickling lime eggs are perfect to pull out for cookies in the winter.
Last thing I want to write about is price. As you know, The Barn and Pantry menu has eggs in just about every single menu item, we are a bougie brunch place afterall. So many of my other restaurant owner friends, as well as customers, have asked if the price of eggs is killing us.
The answer is no, our egg prices have not changed, while our friends are now paying what we pay for the caged ones. We have always paid a sustainable price to our farmers for our eggs. You taste it in the flavor, you see it in the quality, and that is why you love our two egg breakfast so much. Our eggs are not being shipped on big rigs, they have a baby-sock sized carbon footprint, arguably negative, and we work with our farmer to know when to taper our unnecessary use of eggs in order to reserve them for your main protein.
Some people think that means they should be cheaper, right? Wrong.
Foremost, commercial egg farmers are subsidized by taxpayer money. Want to go down a rabbit hole? Learn about subsidies, futures, and commodities.
Smaller flocks take extra time tending to, moving, monitoring and protecting. This is human powered, not automated. They pay your community members a living wage to do that.
They take bigger risks, they have less tax breaks, they can’t buy in the tremendous bulk commercial can (and they wouldn’t want to feed your food that anyway).
They are part of your local economy. I love telling people that the first month we opened as The Heritage Pantry market, we sold $30,000 worth of products. That money went one hundred percent back into farmer and artisan hands within 60 miles of Dixon. Can you imagine if your money always stayed that close to home? How much more vibrant it would be if all the small farms weren’t struggling to barely stay afloat? Read more about the cost of raising egg layers in this Eatwell Farm newsletter recently published.
Ok last last thing. Yes the avian flu is real and has killed a lot of hens. Yes I read the same headlines that you see with the theories around ceased egg production and feed quality, food facility fires, and even the new UCD research that has produced covid antibodies in chicken eggs. Bottom line, there’s no funny business when you know your source. I don’t really care what the commercial commodities are doing because I vote with my money every day.