5 Unexpected things I learned from spending 2 days with 6,000 hens
A few months ago I was invited by Vital Farms to visit some of their farms in the Midwest and it was truly the experience of a lifetime. I got to meet almost 6,000 hens (#goals) and learned more than I ever thought I would about chickens as well as eggs. As the holiday season approaches and we’re all about to jump into cooking mode, I wanted to tell you more about what I learned from my trip. I’m hoping when you’re living at the grocery store throughout the holidays (I know I will be) that you’ll head straight for the Vital Farms label when shopping for eggs.
Cage Free is crap. The thing I learned that most grinds my gears is the SUPER loose terminology thrown around when it comes to our eggs. I’ve sat in front of the egg section at the grocery store and have been fooled time after time by words like “cage free” and “free range.” Cage free means the hens aren’t confined to a cage but might only have one square foot of INDOOR space. INDOOR… as in they never see the light of day. Free range isn’t much better. Free range means they have access to outdoor space but that could be a small dirt patch for minimal time per day. It could mean only one small door for thousands of hens to use and they may not even know it exists. The hens are getting nutrients they need in grassy spaces (bugs and worms - YUM) and free range doesn’t guarantee that by any means. Pasture raised? Now THAT’S what I saw with my own eyes. The hens laying Vital Farms eggs have 108 feet of space PER BIRD and get to roam pastures to get the nutrients they deserve and need. Vital Farms is on the front end of the Pasture Raised term. Pasture raised isn’t even regulated yet but is the newest term for birds who get to graze pastures.
Vital Farms buys their eggs from family farmers. Vital Farms doesn’t own the farms, they buy from small family farmers who adhere to their level of standards. When you buy Vital Farms eggs, you’re supporting farmers with small businesses.
Buying organic eggs matters, but not in the way you think. When I thought of organic eggs before I went on this trip, I thought hens were eating zero chemicals or additives; however, that’s not the case. In easy terms, the USDA says to be an organic egg, the supplemental feed that the hens eat (in addition to grass) has to have BELOW a certain number of chemicals. Vital Farms’ organic eggs are under that percentage, and Vital Farms’ non-organic eggs are riiiiight above that line. Health wise, does it make a difference when you’re buying Vital Farms if you’re eating organic or non-organic eggs? Not really. So why buy organic? SUPPLY AND DEMAND! If organic farming is important to you and you want to see more governmental regulation and tighter policies on organic farming, then spend your money with organic farmers. When we buy organic (if that’s important to you), we support the organic industry as a whole. When more people buy organic, it creates a higher demand for organic products and in turn, more regulated products that are making their way to our shelves and in our mouths.
Hens need some supplemental feed to mass produce eggs (aka to allow these small farms to run a business) but it shouldn’t be all they eat. Seriously, you don’t want vegetarian eggs. You don’t want grain-fed eggs. Here’s what you should be asking yourself any time you buy eggs and see a label on it: WTF DOES THAT MEAN? Hens aren’t vegetarians. Wild hens would be living in pastures eating what? BUGS! They get so much protein they need from digging for bugs and all the glorious critters living in the soil.
There is something to be said for the color of the yolk. Hens (aka female chickens) produce beautiful golden yolks when they’re getting their natural diet (aka spending time outside). Here’s my challenge to you if you think I’m insane: go to the grocery store and buy two cartons of eggs. One Vital Farms and one of the store brand or whatever you normally eat. Grab two bowls and crack one egg from each. You’ll instantly be amazed at the color difference in the yolk. Vital Farms’ egg yolks are a beautiful golden orange color which means the hens laying them are getting their bugs and outdoor nutrients. Scramble them separately and do a taste test. The VF eggs even taste better which is INSANE to me! Also a fun fact: the eggs we’re eating were never fertilized by a rooster so there was literally a zero percent chance of the egg you bought at the store ever hatching into a baby chick. I used to be super upset by seeing egg yolks, thinking that I took life away from a baby chick and that’s not how it goes.
I had the best time learning about Vital Farms this year. I saw the farms with my own eyes, I held the birds, I met the farmers working so hard to support their families and one thing is for sure - I’ll never go back. Farming is a business, even for family farmers. I realized that really when it comes to consuming animal products, the end result for the animals is similar across the board. What’s not the same is the way every animal is treated when they’re part of mass production of an animal product.
I choose to spend a few dollars more on my eggs so I know that when the animals I’m getting my eggs from are on their farms doing their jobs, they’re getting the best possible life. The more pasture raised eggs we buy, the higher the demand, which means eventually, if we all buy eggs from chickens being treated fairly, the industry will be forced to keep up with our choices.
Where to buy these glorious eggs? Target, Publix, Whole Foods, Sprouts and Kroger all carry them! They are often on sale at Target and Kroger.
Thank you Vital Farms for sponsoring this post and giving me the opportunity to experience what makes your company so special. Spending time with Vital Farms hens and farmers was the experience of a lifetime and I am truly honored to be working with this incredible brand to spread the word about bullsh*t-free eggs. (Note: If you don’t follow Vital Farms on Instagram and you haven’t seen their website, it’s worth taking time to do that because it’s so dang witty).
Check out the “Vital Farms” highlight on my Instagram profile for all the videos from my amazing trip!