Grass-fed/pastured hens are raised on pasture, as opposed to being kept in confinement and fed primarily grains. Eggs from pastured hens contain up to 20 times more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than those their less fortunate cousins, factory hens.
Pastured hens' diets are naturally complemented with bugs, earthworms, and other such critters that give their eggs a huge nutritious oomph. Although not necessarilly organic, pastured hens are usually much healthier and happier than their space-restricted and antibiotic-pumped industrial cousins.
Pasturing is the traditional method of raising egg-laying hens and other poultry. It is ecologically sustainable, humane, and produces the tastiest, most nutritious eggs.
Pastured eggs also have 10 percent less fat, 40 percent more vitamin A, and 34 percent less cholesterol than eggs obtained from factory farms.
The hens are moved from paddock to paddock in the rotational management system by use of electrified poultry netting. This allows for new areas to be explored every few days so the hens can obtain vital nutrients and insects. It also provides excellent protection from predators.
Our layers are of the Americauna breed. They are called the Easter egg fowl. They lay colored eggs: blue, green, pink, and olive drab. These birds vary in size and color, some may have whiskers and others muffs of feathers that cover their ears.
The Ameraucana came into existence by default through a decision made in 1976 by the APA. Prior to 1976, the world had two kinds of Araucana chickens: the tufted, tailless bird and the bearded, muffed fowl. At the APA convention in 76’ the standards committee settled on the tufted, tailless chicken as the standard for the Araucana breed. Almost immediately the breeders of the bearded, muffed chickens formed their own association called Ameraucana which gained acceptance into the APA as a legitimate breed in 1980.
Ameraucanas are sweet, docile, good-natured chickens indicative of their name and international pedigree. Linguists call the word “Ameraucana” a portmanteau which means word blending. The word “Ameraucana” comes from the blending of “American” and “Araucana.” The word captures beautifully the history and temperament of the Chilean Araucana chicken blended with an American pedigree to produce the appropriately titled Ameraucana.
The adult Ameraucana has feathers on the sides of their heads called a muff and feathers under their chins called a beard. They have a pea comb and small wattle. Unlike their close cousins, the Araucanas, Ameraucanas have a full-fledged tail. Ameraucanas come in many different colors which makes breed identification difficult for first-time buyers. If you want a pure bred Ameraucana, experts recommend that you buy chicks only from reputable breeders. See for a list of breeders.
Pastured vs Omega-3 vs Conventional Eggs –
What’s The Difference?
The Different Types of Eggs Are a Confusing Mess
There are several different types of eggs, which can leave people confused.
What all of them have in common is that they come from chickens, but they vary depending on how the chickens were raised and what they were fed.
Conventional Eggs – These are your standard supermarket eggs. The chickens are usually raised in an overfilled hen house or a cage and never see the light of day. They are usually fed grain-based crap, supplemented with vitamins and minerals. May also be treated with antibiotics and hormones.
Organic Eggs – Were not treated with antibiotics or hormones and received organic feed. May have had limited access to the outdoors.
Pastured Eggs – Chickens are allowed to roam free, eating plants and insects (their natural food) along with some commercial feed.
Omega-3 Enriched Eggs – Basically, they’re like conventional chickens except that their feed is supplemented with an Omega-3 source like flax seeds. May have had some access to the outside.
Conventional vs. Omega-3 Eggs
A study compared the fatty acid composition of 3 types of eggs: conventional, organic and omega-3 enriched.
Omega-3 eggs had 39% less Arachidonic Acid, an inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acid that most people eat too much of.
Omega-3 eggs had 5 times as much Omega-3 as the conventional eggs.
There was very little difference between organic and conventional eggs.
It is clear that hens fed an omega-3 enriched diets lay eggs that are much higher in Omega-3 than conventional eggs.
This is important because most people eat too little Omega-3.
Unfortunately this study didn’t measure other nutrients, only the fatty acid composition.
Conventional vs. Pastured Eggs
In 2007, Mother Earth News magazine decided to test the nutritional value of pastured eggs and received such eggs from 14 different farms.
They were measured in a chemical lab, then compared to the USDA standard conventional egg.
As you can see, eggs from pastured hens are more nutritious than the conventional eggs you might find at the supermarket.
They are higher in Vitamin A, E and Omega-3s. They are also lower in Cholesterol and Saturated Fat, but I don’t think that matters.
Other Terms For Eggs
There are other more loose and confusing terms, including Free Range and Cage Free, which may or may not be any better than conventional eggs.
Free range could mean that there’s a small window on the hen house where the hens have the option of going outside.
Cage free just means that they aren’t raised in a cage. They could still be raised in a smelly, dirty overstuffed hen house.
Take Home Message
At the end of the day, pastured eggs are your best bet. They are more nutritious and the hens were allowed free access to the outside and ate a more natural diet.
To sum up:
Pastured > Omega-3 > Organic > Free Range/Cage Free > Conventional
This just goes to show that what we eat isn’t all that matters… it also matters what our foods eat.
The "Egg-mobile" is the perfect way to keep our hens safe, provide them with a home, and still maintain the constant motion we try to keep here at Sweet Grass Pastures. The "egg-mobile" is a mobile chicken coup built on top of a frame with wheels. This allows us to move the chickens every few days and provide them with fresh grass and bugs. We also follow closely behind our herd to try and mimic the natural migration of fowl behind herding animals. The cows and horses provide the birds with fresh manure (which is full of tasty bug larva crucial to the health of our chickens), and the chickens dig through the manure around the field making sure that the nutrients are spread evenly throughout the pasture. Everybody on our farm serves a vital purpose.