The Big Q Beyond the New Chicken Cruelty Disclosures–What Are the Effects on Egg Nutrition?


There’s a big disclosure today of another animal cruelty undercover investigation, this one involving egg-laying hens.

The Humane Society of the United States says it is “shining a light on the dark world of suffering for millions of egg-laying hens.” It does that through an undercover investigation of big producer Kreider Farms, which the organization says “confines millions of hens inside barren battery cages that are so cramped, the animals can barely move an inch for their entire lives.”

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof broke the news of the investigation in a column today. He expressed outrage about the treatment of the chickens, suggesting it made him lose his appetite for eggs. “Granted, it is not easy to settle on what constitutes cruelty to animals. But cramming 11 hens for most of their lives into a cage the size of an oven seems to cross a line. Somehow, fried eggs don’t taste so good if you imagine the fetid barn in which they were laid.”

I agree, but I wish he had gone a step further and considered the impact of the inhumane treatment of the animals inevitably on the nutritional quality of the eggs they produce. It always amazes me that we as a society associate quality, and cost, of products like sweaters or cars, with the quality of their raw materials, the attention to detail of assembly, the treatment of the workers and other such qualitative factors. Yet food we assume is all the same. And as a result of that attitude, cheaper seems inevitably better, so places like Kreider Farms keep trying to cut costs any way they can, including what they do for the hens.

The whole qualitative thing is something that is pretty obvious with eggs. It shows up most obviously in the color of the yolk, which in good eggs is a deep orange. It also shows up in thicker shells, and more of a noticeable egg yolk taste. Just as with real milk, signs of quality becomes apparent pretty quickly, in the cream line, the taste, and the presence of a yellowish hue, signifying high amounts of beta carotene from cows grazing on grass.

Over the last few years, I’ve become as attuned to my eggs maybe as my milk. I try to scout out producers that allow their chickens to roam about and eat grass and weeds and bugs and worms.

Just yesterday I was at the Upper Valley Food Co-op in White River Junction, VT, for the express purpose of buying eggs. When I can’t get to one of the farmers markets where I like to buy eggs, I try to go to the Upper Valley Food Co-op because it carries eggs from more than 30 different local producers. It has a chart on the wall with key information about each producer–what the chickens are fed, whether the feed is organic, what kind of housing the chickens are provided, and whether they get outside. At any one time, there are eggs from maybe a half dozen of the providers, though sometimes there are just two or three. Yesterday was a good day, with eggs from about eight producers, and I bought eggs from three different farms that all indicated they allow the chickens to get outside and that they have a varied diet that includes some grass, and in one case table scraps. The first few eggs I’ve tried look and taste very good.

I tried some supposedly “pastured” eggs available at Whole Foods a while back. I think they came from Texas, but I found them pretty disappointing in appearance and taste. Makes sense–it must be difficult to mass produce pastured eggs on a scale appropriate for Whole Foods.

But to the point of nutritional quality, there are some recent research findings indicating that real pastured eggs have much higher levels of key nutrients than the factory items –as in 50 per cent more naturally occurring vitamin E and three times more beta carotene, all present with one-third less cholesterol and one-fourth less saturated fat.

We know well that cattle, pigs, and chickens produce varying quality meat, depending not only on their breed and how they’ve been fed, but likely how they’ve been treated. A few farmers I know say they raise their animals “with love,” in part because it leads to better quality meat, and they try to avoid difficult rides to the slaughter house.

So while basic decency would suggest you don’t mistreat chickens or any other animals, I’d say there is another equally compelling reason–to improve the quality of the food they produce. That’s a difficult concept to get across in a food system dominated by factory producers that would rather people not think about such distinctions.

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50 Comments on "The Big Q Beyond the New Chicken Cruelty Disclosures–What Are the Effects on Egg Nutrition?"

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mark mcafee
April 13, 2012 2:53 am

OPDC produces several hundred dozen Pastured Eggs every week. They are all presold at $9 per dozen at two farmers markets. People literally beg for them.

These are real pastured organic eggs that come from chickens grazed on pastures that have been grazed by OPDC milk cows. The flavor is terrific and the yokes are CAL-Trans Safety Vest Orange.

We decided to stop selling our eggs at a loss at $6 per dozen and just charge what we needed for a profit. We soak all grain in raw milk prior to feeding and the shells are extra hard as a… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 13, 2012 4:03 am

“It has a chart on the wall with key information about each producer–what the chickens are fed, whether the feed is organic, what kind of housing the chickens are provided, and whether they get outside.”

Would be great if all producers of plant and animals do this.

The link for ‘research findings’ isn’t working.

deborah evans
April 13, 2012 1:10 pm

Try this: I found the chart at the end of the article pretty interesting. It includes eggs from Salatin’s Polyface Farm in the comparisons.

Kristen P
April 13, 2012 4:11 pm

What do people think of Joel Salatin advocating the using soy (albeit organic and non-GMO) for his pastured poultry profits?

Ora Moose
Ora Moose
April 13, 2012 4:51 pm

David, I have my own chickens and they are organic fed and free range all day in season, which helps cut down on the store bought feed quantity and cost.

In late fall and winter they molt and stop producing eggs for weeks – but they still eat, which costs even more because they aren’t getting free supplement greens and bugs from foraging.

Right now it costs us $32 for a 50 lb bag of organic feed. I’ve never tried to figure out what the cost per dozen is for us home chickeneers, but it’s certainly not… Read more »

Ora Moose
Ora Moose
April 13, 2012 5:14 pm

Here’s a good link for anybody looking to start a home chicken venture, or is just interested in an overview of basic facts:

That website is a great resource.

Forgot to add that White Barn Farm sells their own eggs, free range and organic.

Ron Klein
April 13, 2012 6:22 pm

I can only address that question in general terms. Even on pasture, given the density with which Joel and others raise birds, supplemental protein and other nutrients are often required. I ran muscovey ducks and domestic turkeys at low density behind my dairy animals. These birds are fantastic foragers—but I still needed to supplement with a feed ration even in a small amount (mixed grain and soy actually)-and a source of calcium-to maintain robust health. I know for ruminants that raw soy, though toxic to monogastric mammals (which is why we roast it for… Read more »

Deborah - Pacifica
April 13, 2012 9:11 pm

I can definitely attest the big differences between store bought eggs & fresh eggs from your own backyard. When we lived in Phoenix we were allow to have up to 12 chickens in our backyard even though we lived in the city proper. We built an amazing coop by adding on an enclosed (with chicken-wire) chicken yard onto the side of a storage building we had in the back corner of our yard. By cousin helped with the framing out of the support beams & the all sides, except the floor were encased with chicken-wire. … Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 14, 2012 12:00 am

Educating people of how their foods are processed/raised/fed will cause the masses to speak out and push for change.

D. Smith
April 14, 2012 12:28 am

Yeah, well there’s two sides to this “costs more to produce” thing. I had a sister who lived in Stockton, CA (who often shopped in Sacramento) so I told her to look for OPDC milk and eggs. She called me and said “I can see why people who are struggling cannot eat well, or what is considered well these days, at $16 / gal for milk and $9 / dozen for eggs.” My sis had enough money to pay those prices if she wanted to, but she said “I don’t think so, Maynard. … Read more »

April 14, 2012 12:57 am

yeah, well, someone who has enough $$ in hand to pay what the farmer needs to pay his own overhead, yet won’t open her purse, is welcome to go spend that same $$ on health-care.

There’s a master’s thesis to be done by someone who’ll put together the figures since 1850 ( when they started sod-busting on the prairies ) co-relating prices of silver, gold, wheat, milk, eggs and fresh red meat, a glass of beer … etc. … with a workman’s wage for the day.

Jesus said “in… Read more »

D. Smith
April 14, 2012 1:14 am

She didn’t mind paying what a farmer needs. She just wasn’t going to pay for EVERYTHING he needs. But the bigger point she made was that we all keep bitching about having to pay out welfare, food stamps, health care, yada yada for those who can’t afford it themselves, and yet GOOD HEALTHY food is out of reach of those who could benefit from it most and you know the gubment isn’t going to make pastured eggs (for instance) available through the food stamp program (but they can buy soda pop and potato chips). THIS is… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 14, 2012 1:25 am

D.Smith, I am so sorry for your loss.

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 14, 2012 1:27 am

It is my understanding that over 90 or 95% of the soy is GMO. How can anyone be sure it isn’t GMO that is in the feed?

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 14, 2012 1:28 am

Thanks for the link.

April 14, 2012 3:28 am

my sincere condolence about your sister’s passing. Us baby-boomers are finding out it isn’t an Endless Summer, after all

good healthy food is out of reach first and last because of a money system based in usury. It is indeed waay too late for reform of that situation. The genius of the truly free market is that it’s instaneous feedback … we pay $18.50 here in Vancouver for one gallon. That’s overdue to go up. In the 5 years we’ve been going, the price of silver quadrupled while our Agistment fee only went up 50% …… Read more »

Kristen P
April 14, 2012 6:18 am

OPDC: with soy in the feed it is still $9 per carton to make a profit. Interesting.

April 14, 2012 6:22 am

We run a small farm in Northern California and have nearly 300 heritage breed layers. Our eggs sell for $8 per dozen which sell out weekly. Our eggs are soy-free organic and the feed is sourced in the USA. So we are not feeding organic grain from China like most producers. At $8 a dozen we are barely paying our feed bill especially in the winter when the hens slow down. On a soy-free diet the hens lay 1/2 as many eggs. I should be getting $16 a dozen to make the same profit as my fellow California farmers.

From… Read more »

Kristen P
April 14, 2012 6:22 am

Thank you for that Excellent and Informative answer, Ron. I sincerely appreciate it.

Kristen P
April 14, 2012 6:31 am

I don’t care what Pollan says. When only a small percentage of the population can afford real food, it’s elitist.

April 14, 2012 7:05 am

As long as he discloses that he feeds soy and/or corn, it’s up to his customers to decide if they want to buy them. I’m sure many folks will be fine with that. My GD breaks out in a nasty rash if she eats eggs from chickens that have been fed soy or corn – even if the chickens are on pasture through the year and have a lovely orange yolk.

In our area, the demand for eggs from soy and corn free chickens far exceeds the available supply.

Ron Klein
April 14, 2012 12:43 pm

“When only a small percentage of the population can afford real food, it’s elitist.” Agree and, I think it is beyond elitist and an issue of national-if not international-proportions. The costs of production are rising rapidly for many reasons-and attempts to cut costs to keep prices more reasonable are flat out tough.

It has been sobering for me to look at our costs-and in conversations with our producer neighbors-to realize that some farmers often cannot afford to purchase the very products they produce. Thankfully for many at least one family member still has a town… Read more »

April 14, 2012 4:03 pm

Huh? I hope you’re not implying that we should stop eating the good, healthy stuff because not everyone can. How about: those who can should exclusively consume the healthy stuff until all of the stuff is forced to become healthy?

I personally think the elite name-calling was initiated by people who made their fortunes off of the industrial food system.

For the record, this “elite” local foodie finances her raw milk and grass fed eggs and meat by the savings from having given up soda, Doritos, Drakes cakes, and so on. Amazing how much food money is freed up when… Read more »

April 14, 2012 4:20 pm

Wow. $8 and $9 a dozen???? I mean sheesh. I can certainly understand needing to make a profit, but it looks to me like if you can’t make a profit at current dollar amounts by charging $5 or $6 per dozen you need to re-examine how you do things.

As for farming, laying chickens give you by FAR the most bang for your buck. (buck buck buck) If you can have them, you certainly should. I could sell you pullets for $9 each and make a profit on that!

Mary McGonigle-Martin
April 14, 2012 4:27 pm

Lots of activity with raw milk. Why so many outbreaks?

The Oregon outbreak sound like Dee Creek all over again.

joelie hicks
April 14, 2012 4:34 pm

it is similar to buying at the huge stores because things are cheaper, people can’t afford to buy things from the independent business owners. But wait until they are gone and there is no choice. Subsidized commodities make things ‘cheaper’ in the short run. If we have internet/cable/ more than one car/smartphone etc. we can probably cut back somewhere to pay a decent wage to our local merchants and food producers. Land around here has been going for 2,000/acre plus. A couple of cafos have offered 5,000/acre. With those kind of costs, how will food stay cheap? $9/doz would… Read more »

joelie hicks
April 14, 2012 4:39 pm

I have news for Bill Marler. The anuses of cows goats and sheep have not moved any closer to their mammaries in the last few years.

April 14, 2012 4:54 pm

I guess California might be that much more expensive than the mid section of the country. I really don’t know, but man, if you tried to charge $5 a dozen for eggs here you would ensure that you had a lot of eggs!

mark mcafee
April 14, 2012 5:00 pm

Those that raise pastured eggs realize that chickens do not produce as many eggs when they do not get some SOY. This is a reality check. Joel is right.

Our ration contains mostly ground organic corn meal and also has some soy meal. BUT…we ferment the entire grain feed with old raw milk for 2 days prior to feeding it. We feel that is the best combination of practices to produce the best possible egg. The yokes are super orange. The chickens get pastures and living bugs and worms ( the vegans hate that part ).

My wife is in… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 14, 2012 5:10 pm

When my kids were small and my husband in the military. We couldn’t afford sodas, chips,processed cakes, etc. I also didn’t buy prepared baby food or disposable diapers (that would have taken away food money) We were on a very limited budget. The only thing we bought on credit was a car. After rent, utilities, car note and mandatory phone were paid, I had to make the food money stretch for the whole month (we were paid once a month). Even figuring the $9 eggs and $15 gal milk to 1980 prices, we… Read more »

mark mcafee
April 14, 2012 5:12 pm


The safety and quality of modern CAFO produced raw milk ( in my experience and opinion ) is effected very much also by the handling of the raw milk ( among many other things ).

These modern CAFO raw milks do not come from one CAFO. They come from 20-50 at a time and is entirely commingled. The biofilms that exist in the long transport systems ( truck tanks ), the milking systems of the CAFO, the hormones, antibiotics, high grain and silage use all add to the pathogen condition and load. When the FDA talks about unsafe… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 14, 2012 5:17 pm


When I was at the farmers market in Sacramento last year, you could get organic pastured eggs for $4-7 per dozen.

April 14, 2012 8:23 pm

I do understand that there are people who really can’t afford better food, but I don’t understand how calling people “elite” who are not at all elite helps. I also understand that there are people who think they can’t afford good food but the fact is they simply made other choices.

April 14, 2012 8:25 pm

Meant to add that here in the great state of CT, raw milk is $9/gal and the good eggs are about $4 to 5/doz.

D. Smith
April 14, 2012 9:19 pm

Thank you for the condolences, Sylvia and Gordon. This makes two sisters since 2006. Lost them both for the same reason. Both had RA and both died not from the disease, but from the treatment. The sister I lost in 2006 was not into health foods at all, no matter how I tried to educate her. But my sis from CA was very into it, since she only lived a few blocks away from a local farmers market. She did buy eggs there for $5/dozen, but that’s about as high as she… Read more »

April 14, 2012 9:23 pm

You can’t directly compare the price of food on the coasts to the mid-section of the country. Much of the feed grain must be shipped in and with rising grain and diesel prices this will only get worse over time. Land and taxes are also more expensive. And the general cost of living is higher.

People are quick to complain about the price of food. But they often seem to think they have a right to higher quality food from a small farmer at the same price as the junk in the store. Junk produced on corporate operations enjoying efficiencies… Read more »

Ken Conrad
Ken Conrad
April 15, 2012 12:08 am

Here are a couple of interesting quotes from the above article.

“… compared to other countries, there’s no other place on the planet that has cheaper food than the U.S. The 5.5% of disposable income that Americans spend on food at home is less than half the amount of income spent by Germans (11.4%), the French (13.6%), the Italians (14.4%), and less than one-third the amount of income spent by consumers in South Africa (20.1%), Mexico (24.1%), and Turkey (24.5%), which is about what Americans spent DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION, and far below what consumers spend in Kenya (45.9%) and… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 24, 2012 3:28 am

Not sure how to put this under nutrition:

I am assuming that the studies they did was with pasteurized milk. It would be interesting to see results with short term and long consumption of raw milk and also the comparison between raw/pasteurized and produce consumption for calcium levels and effects on health.

I had read that the body better absorbs calcium from greens than from milk. I don’t recall where I read it.

D. Smith
April 24, 2012 2:55 pm

This is something I’ve always been confused about, and somehow even in 45 years of learning I still don’t understand. Things like cholesterol and calcium are important for our bodies. It accumulates in the blood, bones, etc. First they tell us we get these things through nutrition (read: food) and then they tell us we don’t.

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 24, 2012 4:25 pm

If ‘cholesterol’ and/or calcium is accumulating in the blood or soft tissues, then there is a malfunction in the body’s regulation system. The body uses nutrients to keep it running smoothly. If any part of the system is malfunctioning it can cause a domino effect for other parts. The types and quality of foods we consume has a great affect on how our bodies function.

For example: low Vitamin D, causes a multitude of issues, one is hypocalcemia; low vitamin D rarely leads to symptomatic hypocalcemia because the secondary increase in PTH… Read more »

D. Smith
April 25, 2012 2:25 pm

Sylvia, I think you might have misunderstood my question, though. IF I want to increase my blood cholesterol levels, how do I do that, if not with food? For years we were told not to eat anything containing cholesterol (a bunch of bunk, of course, which I understood then and now) but if we consume cholesterol and it doesn’t affect our overall, total cholesterol count, what does? What actually increases serum cholesterol levels? I would just like for my reading to be over 200 and even though I’ve eaten in a healthy manner most of… Read more »

D. Smith
April 25, 2012 2:36 pm

Also, I’m sorry to have gotten off topic here. My bad. ;-(

Since this article is about eggs and chicken, I thought I’d post something here that I read yesterday and posted at my forum, too. It’s absolutely amazing to me what people will come up with to rationalize things. Just amazing! Here’s what I posted:

“I wouldn’t follow ANY of this advice if my life depended on it – and it does. These answers are the biggest myths of all.

Don’t wash chicken because it will get your sink dirty and you’ll… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 25, 2012 3:39 pm

I don’t give much credit for cholesterol levels, my husbands were all “normal” and his coronary arteries were occluded 90 & 95%. I know there are good doctors out there, I’ve worked along side of many. I’ve also seen
some things that I wouldn’t have thought I’d see in this day and age. Pills do have their place, I feel they
are handed out like candy and much of the health care in the US is poor.
I may be repeating what you already know,,,

Cholesterol is a sterol, a major part of all cell… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 25, 2012 3:41 pm

Yeah, i saw that story and thought it was ridiculous.

D. Smith
April 25, 2012 5:45 pm

Thanks, Sylvia. It’s such a diverse issue. I really do believe the increased LFT’s are complicating the proper functioning of my liver so maybe that’s why my cholesterol readings are so low. All I know is I think I’d feel better if I could raise the cholesterol above 200.

No, we don’t drink well water but we do have a ceramic filtering system we’ve been using for almost 10 years and I wouldn’t trade it for all the whiskey in Dodge. We have the best tasting, purest water ever, without taking out the minerals… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 25, 2012 9:57 pm

As said before, there is usually more than one thing contributing to anything ‘abnormal’. And what’s normal for one person may not be for another. Over the last years, it seems like there has been an increase in people with fatty liver, which isn’t surprising considering what the SAD is. There is a lot that the physicians just don’t know. Things are being discovered all the time. If everyone would have the courtesy to be exactly alike, it would be so much easier to figure things out.… Read more »

D. Smith
April 26, 2012 1:31 pm

Ha! It would make things a lot easier if we were all exactly alike, wouldn’t it?! But how boring would THAT be? Nevertheless, the person who is helping me with the TCM has looked into the fatty liver thing and doesn’t think that’s an issue, but in TCM you always work with blends of herbs and organ specific glands (like treats like – in this case liver), so we’re going to include some of those things into the end-result blend. It should prove interesting over the course of the next year or so. … Read more »