Types of Eggs

I got a question today, asking if organic eggs were commercial eggs, or if there is a difference.  THis question brings out one of the most annoying fact surrounding the sales of eggs in Canada (and elsewhere, but I don’t have a vested interest in those places….).    What annoys me is the confusion about the types of eggs that are available…..as the egg farmers have bent over backwards to provide all the different types of eggs, the terms to describe eggs have become overlapping, and confusing.

Size, Color, Housing, Nutritients....Choices, Choices

So…here is retail egg – 101.  In general eggs you can buy are commercial.  Those you get from backyard flocks are not.  Even the ones you pick up from farmers markets or farmers’ little shops are commercial.  The majority of eggs from the store are produced by professional egg farmers….people whose primary job is to spend all their working hours looking after hens and producing eggs.  Some people who sell eggs at markets or farm gates are professional too…but some are not.  This in no way means that they are substandard, it just means that they don’t have enough hens to make a living on.  Small groups of hens are cared for after the owner gets home from being an electrician, or a truck driver, or what have you.  These birds can be well looked after, but they are not the main focus of the person’s waking life.

The other criteria for eggs have to do with either a) what the birds are fed, or b) how the hens are housed.  Omega eggs are produced by birds that are fed higher levels of flax or fish oil, to get a high level of omega-three fatty acids in the yolks of the eggs.  There are also eggs high in lutein, eggs with extra vitamins and the egg farmers are constantly working on incorporating other nutrients in eggs they produce.

Free run eggs are produced by hens that roam free inside a barn.  They lay eggs in nests, and are not in cages.  Free range eggs are produced by birds who roam free inside a barn, and have access to an outside run.  Organic eggs are free range hens that are also fed pesticide free grains, do not use antibiotics if the hens get sick, and do not use fungicides, most disinfectants, rodenticides or insecticides in the barn.  All other eggs are produced by hens that live in caged housing systems (see my post “Inside a Real Egg Farm”).

These may be next......

Free range, free run, and organic can be either brown or white, but are usually brown in Canada, due to customer preference.  Omega eggs are sold in both brown and white varieties, as are high vitamin eggs and lutein enriched eggs.

Just to complicate things further, eggs come in many different sizes, and different carton sizes.  Again, if you buy them in the store, they are commercial eggs, and have to meet many quality and food safety criteria before they can be part of the marketing system in Ontario.  So….you can buy an 18 pack of extra-large, omega enriched white eggs, or you can buy a half-dozen medium-sized organic brown eggs.  Simple, right?

Mike the Chicken Vet.


2 responses to “Types of Eggs

  1. You have a great blog going here, I’m glad to see a reasonable view point on commercial egg production in Ontario. I have just one minor comment to make and that is for Organic hens, you said that they “do not use antibiotics if the hens get sick” as an organic inspector in Ontario I actually know that is not allowed in organic production. “6.7.4 Medical treatment for sick or injured livestock shall not be withheld to preserve their organic status. All appropriate medications shall be used to restore livestock to health when methods acceptable to organic production fail.” see it here http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/ongc-cgsb/programme-program/norms-standards/internet/bio-org/principes-principles-eng.html#a077. So there shouldn’t be any cases where hens who require antibiotics don’t get them, organic just requires that there be preventative actions taken first and that any eggs produced after an antibiotic treatment not be sold as organic. Other then that small correction I find your blog very interesting and helpful when trying to explain agriculture to consumers.

    • Thanks for chiming in Joel;

      I do realize that there is always the option to use antibiotics. My only concern is the HUGE financial disincentive to do this in organic production. If you have spent 30 weeks paying 300-500% the cost of normal feed, and you treat the flock which removes any premium on eggs you get for the next 40 weeks, I’m not sure that it is possible for a farm to break even for the year….let alone make any income. I realistically can’t expect a farmer to do that…..for a year’s worth of income for a farm, it would be a difficult decision unless the disease was devastating. The program is worst for hens, because it is almost never logical to treat less than the entire flock, as opposed to cattle or even pigs, who can be separated, and have a sub-group recieve treatment.
      Thanks for reading, and I encourage you to let me know your opinions on anything I talk about….you have a perspective on egg production that is very interesting to me.


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