Eggs are a healthy and an increasingly sought after form of animal protein. Today's egg farmers have adapted production for quickly-evolving consumer demands. There are a plethora of production practices, hen breeds, egg quality, and egg sizes that go into consideration when eggs are produced before their trip to the grocery store for consumption. Egg farmers work hard to provide consumers with the highest-quality variety of eggs, no matter what kind of eggs they choose.
Most egg farms in the U.S. run more than one production system. Almost all have both conventional and specialty egg production systems operating simultaneously – all committed to providing humane and nurturing environments for their birds. Here are four common production practices that produce a variety of egg qualities.
Conventional eggs are laid by chickens in cages with access to feed, water and security. According to a Packaged Facts report, approximately 90% of the eggs sold through retail in the U.S. are from hens kept in industrial settings, referred to as battery cages. The cages are for production efficiency and are a nesting space for the hens. The birds are more readily protected from the elements, disease and predators.
Organic eggs are produced according to USDA organic standards related to methods, practices and substances used in production. Organic eggs are produced by hens fed rations with ingredients that were grown without most conventional pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or commercial fertilizers.
Consumers most likely to seek out organic eggs include young adults between the ages of 18-24 years old and Asian-Americans. Asian-Americans are selective shoppers and will spend more on foods that support a long-standing tradition of holistic well-being. Plus, Asian-Americans are 31% more likely than average to buy organic foods and are 23% more likely to evaluate the nutrition of products.
Cage-free eggs are laid by hens at indoor floor operations, sometimes called free-roaming. The birds roam in an open area, usually in a barn or poultry house, with access to food and water. Cage-free systems vary and include barn-raised and free-range hens, both of which have shelter that helps protect against predators. Both types are produced under common handling and care practices, which provide floor space, nest space and perches. Depending on the farm, these housing systems may have an automated egg collection system.
Free-range eggs are produced by hens that have access to outdoors in accordance with weather, environmental or state laws. Sometimes called pasture-fed hens, these hens forage for wild plants and insects, in addition to their grain diet. They are provided floor space, nesting space and perches.
Starting up an egg production can be capital intensive, and presents an opportunity for investors looking for safe, steady returns with guaranteed, long term off-take contracts. Companies such as Egg Innovations are combining the above best practices to connect consumers to a steady supply of quality product raised by family farmers.