My husband came home from doing errands Saturday morning with a dozen eggs from the local feed store. Eggs? Really? AND you paid $3 for them? Did you not notice the four dozen of our own eggs we have in the refrigerator ? Immediately evil thoughts began racing through my head: Traitor! Are our girls' eggs not good enough for you? You cheated on our chickens!!!
But then he explained that he thought it might be interesting to take a look at the local 'competition' and see how our eggs stacked up. Oh. Okay, well that makes sense.
So what do you think? How did our backyard eggs stack up to local free range chicken eggs?
The eggs were labeled 'free range brown eggs'. They were not graded or sized, which is acceptable per Virginia regulations.
At first glance, these eggs looked NICE. All were good-sized and uniform in color and shape - unlike ours that come in all different shapes and sizes and every color under the sun. I would be hard pressed to find two of ours that look similar, much less twelve! So far, it was looking like that was $3 well-spent.
Of course I decided to cook some up for breakfast. The yolks were a nice sunny orange color, so that was a good sign. But egg yolk color can easily be 'faked' by loading up your chickens with foods containing carotenoids, such as marigolds, corn and alfalfa, etc. So yolk color isn't necessarily an indication of egg quality.
Then came the true test. I cracked the eggs into the pan.... and all but two of the yolks broke. That never happens with our eggs. The whites were also extremely runny which surprised me because that usually indicates an egg isn't very fresh. But the eggs tasted fine. They definitely had some nice flavor, they weren't completely bland like supermarket eggs. But...maybe it was my imagination, but I think OURS have a slightly better taste.
A few eggs were fertile (showing the bull's eye), and there was a blood spot in one, possibly indicating rough handling. So the eggs weren't being candled before being sold, which is pretty standard for local small farm eggs. That's more of a commercial egg farm 'thing'. Some of our eggs are also fertile and I see an occasional blood spot in ours as well. So we were tied on that front.
But now it was time for the ultimate test. A Float Test to test freshness. And confirming my suspicions, every egg I tested was already starting to rise up on one end!
The eggs were not fresh. I tested the rest and they all turned out with similar results, one end already starting to rise up off the bottom of the glass, indicating that these eggs were at least 2-3 weeks old, I would say, depending on when or if they had been washed, if they had they been refrigerated, etc.
So..the eggs were not fresh. Not even close.
My conclusion -
1) The eggs may or may not have actually been free range, there is no way for me to prove or disprove that, and no way to know how the chickens are treated or what kind of conditions they live in short of visiting the farm. All free range really means is that the chickens are not in cages 24/7 and are allowed to roam freely at least some of the time - but that could be on a cement slab, and at some farms, literally that's what 'free range' amounts to. A vision of chickens lazily roaming around a bucolic green pasture scratching for bugs under apple trees is what comes to mind, but usually that is not the reality, sadly.
2) The yolk color may have been the result of true foraging or may have been boosted with corn or marigold added to the feed. (The eggs did taste as though the chickens ate a varied, healthy diet however.)
3) The eggs were several weeks old, so had already lost some of their nutritional value.
My concensus: I'll stick with our eggs, thank you very much. Not only do I know what our chickens are eating and how they are treated and housed, our eggs often are only hours old when I cook them. Despite eggs being labeled 'local' or 'free range' or 'pasture fed' or 'organic' .... You can't fake fresh.