THE BLOG

The Chicken and the Egg - What's Behind all the Variety?

04/02/2013 07:00 EDT | Updated 06/01/2013 05:12 EDT

So I was in my local grocery store the other week buying eggs. If you're like me, you just kind of go for what you know when you're shopping - favourite crackers, favourite yogurt, favourite cereal - you don't really look at what else is on the shelves anymore.

But this particular day, it was as if I was seeing the egg section for the first time, and it's a wall. A wall of eggs. Free-run eggs, free-range eggs, grain fed eggs, omega-3 eggs, white eggs, brown eggs, organic eggs, Comfort Coop eggs...comfort coop?

What do all these classifications really mean? How on earth does a consumer make a decision? I decided to do a little digging.

The Hen House

The Comfort Coop eggs I saw are produced by Farmer's Finest, a division of Alberta's own Sparks Egg Farms, a leading egg producer in this province.

Egg production has changed a lot since the Gilani family bought Sparks in 1976 and that is largely due to consumer demand, both for eggs with specific health benefits, and for improved animal welfare. The result is that wall of eggs in the supermarket. Here's a quick rundown of what they all mean.

Comfort Coop eggs come from chickens raised in small groups (four to six birds) housed in large cages with nesting boxes, scratching pads and plenty of room to bustle about expressing their natural behaviors, including their impulse to congregate and socialize.

Free-Run eggs come from chickens raised in a big, open-plan barn where they roam about freely with not a cage in sight. The barn has perches and nesting boxes at various levels so the hens can roost and lay eggs where they like.

Free-Range eggs come from hens that have the same living environment as free-run hens, but with the added benefit of access to the outdoors where they can scratch about, eat insects, peck in the dirt - you know, chicken stuff.

Organic eggs come from hens that are fed certified organic feed, which is grain that contains no additives, antibiotics, medications or preservatives, and is also pesticide and GM-free.

Omega 3 eggs come from hens fed a fortified, multi-grain feed designed to boost Vitamin E and Omega 3 content in the egg. Flaxseed, which is high in Omega 3 acid, is a big component of the feed. Sparks uses a blend that includes 10% to 20% ground flaxseed.

Grain Fed eggs come from hens that are fed a special no additive, no preservative, no antibiotic, no hormones, no medications all-grain diet that includes barley, corn, oats, wheat, soya and flax. The diet is aimed at making a tastier egg.

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Egg-citing Facts

Facing the Wall

The price difference between some of these products and the regular run-of-the-mill carton of eggs can be quite staggering. My local store, for example, has small, store-brand eggs on for $2.69 a dozen, while a name brand of large organic Omega 3 eggs go for $7.29 a dozen.

Nutritionally, there's not a lot of difference among all these types of eggs (other than the Omega 3), and there is NO nutritional difference between brown and white eggs (brown hens lay brown eggs, white hens lay white eggs, it's that simple).

So making your choice can depend as much on your budget as on your personal taste and social conscience. And that's okay - the point is that for the first time in a long time, we have options as consumers, options that we helped shape through our desire to have something better than before.

Check out these Chicken Facts:

  • There are more chickens on Earth than there are humans.

  • Chickens can cross breed with turkeys. The result is called a Turken.

  • The greatest number of yolks ever found in a single chicken egg was nine!

  • The record for laying the most eggs in one day was seven.

  • A chicken will lay bigger and stronger eggs if you adjust the lighting in their cages to make them think each day is 28 hours long, instead of 24.

  • Chickens eggs come in colors sometimes (other than white and brown). Some breeds lay eggs in shades of blue or green. Ready-made Easter Eggs!

  • The fear of chickens is called Alektorophobia.

Learn more about chickens and eggs at Aggie Days, taking place April 13 and 14 at the BMO Centre, Stampede Park. Admission is FREE for everyone! And make sure you become a fan and follower of the Aggie Days Facebook and Twitter accounts for all the latest news!