Organic Cage free eggs vs backyard chicken eggs

UPDATE AS OF 6/2014: Since the original publication of this post in 2012, Costco has changed the company with whom they obtain their third-party Humane Certification. Formerly, they were Certified Humane by Humane Farm Animal Care. Some time since then, the certification was changed to United Egg Producers (UEP) humane certification program. The difference, as far as I can tell, is slightly disturbing. UEP does allow both live chick grinding and beak trimming, considering those practices “humane”. I certainly don’t. However, that does not mean that the chickens are being trimmed or chicks ground. It just means the producers are not prohibited from those practices. I have seen no change in the inside or integrity of the eggs in comparison to our backyard chicken eggs.

Before we got our chickens, we heard other owners of backyard chickens tell us how the eggs from their chickens were so different from the eggs they’d been buying at the store: tasted better, looked better, etc. We were maybe a little surprised to find there wasn’t much difference for us, because it turns out we’d been buying {relatively} responsible eggs all along.

We were buying cage-free organic eggs from Costco. Why Costco and not a local farm? Because my kids eat 3-4 eggs per day. That is 21-28 eggs per week even without using eggs for recipes and cooking. I cannot afford $6 per dozen at local farms. Two dozen of the Costco cage-free organic eggs cost $6.99.

First, it’s important to know the types of eggs you can buy at the store.

Cage-free: just means that the birds weren’t in a cage. This doesn’t mean they had access to the outdoors or that they were not overcrowded, just that the place in which they were contained did not have wires. It could be a barn or a warehouse or anything. And there is no certification, auditing, or established overseeing program to verify that the chickens are truly cage-free. An egg producer can put “cage-free” on the package and it can be a complete lie.

Organic: mainly specifies the type of feed the chickens were given, and that they were not given antibiotics which would have allowed them to survive infections from overcrowding. If the eggs are certified through the USDA (the ones we bought were certified), the chickens were also required to have access to the outdoors, but there is no requirement about how long they are “allowed” outside per day or even if it is daily. However, the USDA does audit and verify the conditions of facilities who are given this certification.

Our eggs also had a “Certified Humane” seal on them, a program certified by Humane Farm Animal Care, at the time of this original post publication. Since then, Costco has switched to using the United Egg Producers certification program. See note at top of this post for more details.

Labels that mean pretty much nothing at all when it comes to buying eggs: vegetarian fed, natural, free range, free roaming, and cage free.

Why do those labels mean nothing? Because there is absolutely no regulation on who uses them or verification in place to prove the label is accurate.

A great source for more info on egg labeling: EggIndustry.com

When it came to the eggs we were buying from Costco, we lucked out, though!

The two Plymouth Rock hens that we have in our backyard are truly free roaming. They roam all over our yard from sun up to sun down. They put themselves to roost in their coop at night, but the door is open so they wander out again first thing in the morning. When I leave to teach Pilates at 5am, they are always up already! They scratch on the ground to eat bugs and we give them leftover green table scraps. We also feed them organic layer’s mash once a day or so (sometimes every other day), because we don’t seem to have enough bugs to fully satisfy their appetites. We also add oyster shell to help their eggs’ shells be sturdier because we experienced a few “soft” eggs that one of our hens laid with no shell! It’s the weirdest thing.

Anyway, back to the Costco eggs versus the backyard chicken eggs. Here is what the two eggs look like in a frying pan:

Costco eggs vs backyard chickens

The egg at the top is the Costco egg, while the egg at the bottom is from our chickens.

The main difference is that with the backyard chicken egg, you can see more distinctly that there are 3 parts to the egg. I say “more distinctly” specifically because there are still 3 parts to the Costco egg — it’s just a little more difficult to see in the picture and in real life. The 3 parts merge faster with the Costco egg. This 3-egg-part phenomenon is supposed to be characteristic of a free ranging “happy” chicken.

The taste: pretty much the same. We have done this experiment again and again, always with the same results. The backyard chicken eggs usually have a little different flavor, but I think that’s mainly due to whatever table scraps we’ve given them most recently. No matter how well the Costco chickens were treated, they probably didn’t have kale and strawberry scraps in addition to their feed! :-)

Other small differences: the Costco eggs are slightly larger and the shells are much thicker. Since we started giving our chickens oyster shells, their shells have become harder but still not as hard as the Costco eggs.

Right now our chickens give us 1 egg a day each. We have 2 chickens. Our current coop can only hold the 2 of them, so we aren’t in a position to buy more at this time. We do still have to buy eggs from Costco to supplement. But after doing this comparison for several months, my thought is that of all the places we could be buying affordable eggs, this is a great compromise for us when it comes to price and the humane treatment of the chickens. From what I can tell, in my unprofessional observation, Costco is doing a good job of providing responsible eggs at a good price.

Comments

  1. Jessica Allen says:

    Thanks for the info on what cage free really means. Once again, I’ve been fooled by labels. Since we won’t be getting chickens anytime soon, guess I’ll start buying eggs at Costco. Do you know if Central Market has good eggs? Ugh, all the decisions!

  2. I wouldn’t be feeding the chickens garbage (left overs). Laying mash and shells suffice. The free roamers also produce a darker yolk than caged birds. Old farmer.

  3. Hi! When I Googled “Costco cage-free eggs” to double-check and make sure they were as cool as I was led to believe, your post was one of the first that came up. Great information. Had not heard about the three-part business——very cool to know.

    Great blog, by the way. When I started perusing it, I kind of assumed you were on the West Coast. You are, in fact, just down the road from me, though. What a nice surprise!

    Looking forward to reading more of your stuff. :)

    Cheers,
    Marie
    (in Denton)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for posting this! I’m just beginning my research on the best organic eggs to buy and your info is very helpful!

Infinite Sweepstakes