Ask an Egg Farmer

Linda
Linda

I brought free-run brown eggs last week and fried some this morning, and they tasted fishy!  What is with the fishy taste?

Any eggs that come from hens that were fed a diet high in flaxseed could smell ‘fishy’, as a result of the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that flaxseed naturally contains.  Increasing the flaxseed component in hen feed is one of the most common ways for hens to produce Omega-3 eggs; the ‘fishy’ smell actually comes from the omega-3 fatty acid, even in fish.

EFA
EFA
Charlotte
Charlotte

Is there a program to adopt hens that are of no further use to the layer industry, like there is in the UK?

There is currently no such program to adopt end-of-lay hens in Alberta.

EFA
EFA
Charlotte
Charlotte

Can you be more specific about how these animals are killed when they are discovered to be of no use to the industry, or when they become too sick to continue laying eggs?  What exact method is used to kill the chickens?

When a farmer finds an individual hen that is sick or injured, to the point that is must be euthanized, the most common method is cervical dislocation.  When it comes to end of lay, Egg Farmers of Alberta has been leading the way in terms of pioneering the development of two new technologies for more humane euthanasia.  The first is a Modified Atmospheric Chamber, which uses CO2 gas, and the second is Low Atmospheric Pressure Stunning.  EFA works closely with Alberta egg farmers to ensure that they are always meeting or exceeding American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) standards.

EFA
EFA
Mickey
Mickey

What methods of euthanization are used on male chicks in Alberta, and how can I find out which method is used by a specific egg farmer when I am choosing which eggs to buy?

Male chicks are humanely euthanized at the hatchery, before the day-old chicks are sent to a pullet grower.  Those hens are sent to egg farmers when they reach 19 weeks of age and start laying eggs.  All registered Alberta egg farmers use an approved and humane method of euthanasia, whether at end of lay, or when a bird is sick or injured.  The more than 17o egg farmers in the province sell their eggs to a grading station, who inspect and package the eggs before selling them to retailers and restaurants, so the eggs cannot be traced back to a specific farm.

EFA
EFA
Diana
Diana

How much would egg cartons cost to buy?

EFA represents the farmers, who sell their eggs to the grading station, where they are cleaned, graded, and packaged for retail.  In Alberta, Burnbrae Farms and Sparks Egg Farms are the two main graders, so you would have to contact them if you’re interested in purchasing egg cartons.

EFA
EFA
Jen
Jen

Why are only brown chickens used in free-run and free-range housing, and only white birds used in traditional housing?

Egg farmers use a variety of white and brown breeds in all types of housing. Common brown chicken breeds tend to be more calm, which is a benefit for managing birds in a loose housing system.

EFA
EFA
Luisa
Luisa

Could you tell me how hens and roosters are euthanized?

Whenever a chicken is euthanized, whether it’s a sick/injured hen on a layer farm or a male chick at the hatchery, they are humanely euthanized by trained personnel.  There are also a number of international research initiatives underway with the goal of developing an alternative to, and eliminating the need to, euthanize male chicks.

EFA
EFA
Davinder
Davinder

How much does an average egg farmer make in a year?

That question is hard to answer, since no two egg farms are the same.  Most Alberta egg farmers operate their layer barn as part of a larger farm, with a variety of animal agriculture and crops, which together form their business.  It really depends on the size and makeup of the entire farm, and the egg barn may only be a piece of a much broader puzzle.

EFA
EFA
Georgina
Georgina

Does the farmer actually make more money per dozen eggs, when they produce free-range organic eggs?  I pay about $6 per dozen and I am thinking that the farmer might make 50 cents profit per dozen.  Would this be true?

Canada’s egg industry operates under the supply management system, where the price farmers get paid per dozen eggs is based on the national average cost of production.  Farmers producing specialty eggs tend to receive a higher price, since the cost to produce specialty eggs is typically higher.  For the free-range organic eggs you buy, the cost of organic feed is higher, birds running around (in and outside the barn) require more feed and water since they burn more energy, the barn has a larger footprint that requires more electricity to heat, etc…  As an FYI, supply management only sets the price that farmers receive from the graders.  The graders then negotiate the price they get from retailers (ie: grocery stores and restaurants), and the retailers are free to set the price that consumers pay for their eggs.

EFA
EFA
Eli
Eli

Do eggs from brown hens typically have a more frequent occurrence of blood spots than those from white hens?

The incidence of blood spots does vary between strains of birds, but typically about 2-4% of eggs laid will contain some blood.  An increased frequency of blood spots could be caused by various problems with the feed, lighting issues, or unexpected disturbances in the barn.  A farmer often consults with their poultry veterinarian and/or feed nutritionist, in order to help identify and resolve the cause.

EFA
EFA
Kindra
Kindra

Why do you think egg farming is vital to Canada?

Egg farming, and agriculture in general, is integral to being able to provide safe, fresh, high-quality, nutritious, locally grown/raised food for all Canadians.  In 2015, Canadians consumed more than 600-million dozen eggs (well over 7 billion eggs!), marking the 9th straight year that national demand for fresh, local eggs has increased.  There are more than 1,000 registered egg farming families across the country, who are happy to feed their fellow Canadians!

EFA
EFA
Hil
Hil

Is there such a thing as grain and soy free chickens or eggs (similar to grass fed beef)?  If so, can I buy it in Calgary?

If you want to purchase eggs laid by chickens that were fed a purely plant-based diet, then look for Vegetarian eggs at your local grocery store.

EFA
EFA
Victor
Victor

How are egg laying chickens treated?  Are they kept in cages?  How can I make sure that my eggs are raised free-range or organic?

Alberta egg farmers are committed to providing the highest quality care possible to their birds, regardless of the type of hen housing system they utilize, and they must all follow the mandatory national Animal Care Program.  When shopping for eggs, both free-range and organic eggs come from hens raised in free-range housing.

EFA
EFA
Corina
Corina

I enjoy eating raw egg yolks, particularly when served over steamed rice.  Are Albertan eggs safe to eat this way?

When preparing raw or lightly cooked eggs, you must use proper food handling methods.  Grade-A eggs must have clean, uncracked shells.  Wash you hands in hot, soapy water before and after handling the eggs.  Eat the dish immediately after preparation or immediately refrigerate the product until served, keep it cold during serving and consume it the same day it is prepared.  Discard any leftovers.

EFA
EFA
Gina
Gina

I am just starting out with chickens and I got a coop that holds 5-7 chickens.  What breed would be best for Alberta, and where would I get them from?

Alberta agriculture has a wide variety of resources available for small-scale, unregistered egg farmers, which can be found on their website.  You can also call them at 310-FARM (3276).  Just be sure to confirm that raising chickens is legal in your area.

EFA
EFA
Judith
Judith

Could you send me a list of ingredients for the substance used to sanitize/wash eggs?  Due to an allergy, I’m curious if there is corn in the substance?  Also, is the egg’s exterior natural coating removed during the washing/sanitizing process?

All chemicals used to clean eggs at the grading station are food-grade chemicals that are approved by both federal and provincial regulations, which are verified to not contain any priority allergens (corn is not a priority allergen in Canada, so CFIA would not be specifically looking for it).  Also, the egg’s natural coating is removed during the cleaning process.  You should always follow recommendations for storage and handling of eggs.

EFA
EFA
Sandy
Sandy

What are those little specks (sometimes red, sometimes brown) inside an egg, usually in the egg white? Are they safe to eat?

During the formation of an egg, a blood vessel can occasionally rupture in the hen, causing a blood spot to form. Blood spots typically occur in less than 1% of all eggs laid. Eggs with blood spots are usually removed during grading, but occasionally a very small spot is missed. Although an egg with a blood spot is not harmful to eat, the spot can easily be removed with the tip of a knife before cooking.

EFA
EFA
Skyeler
Skyeler

What is the usual annual salary working at an egg farm?

For egg farmers, it really depends on how many hens they have, how many grade-A eggs the hens lay, what type of eggs they lay (ie: regular white, omega-3, free-run, organic, etc…), and what other livestock and/or crops they raise on their farm.  If you’re talking about employees at an egg farm, then it’s whatever wage is negotiated between the employee and the farmer.

EFA
EFA
Susan
Susan

How can you tell if your eggs are fresh, and can you consume eggs that have passed their expiry date?

If stored in their original carton in the middle of your fridge, eggs should be good for about a week beyond the expiry date.  However, one way to test for freshness is to drop an egg into a glass of water – if it sinks it is fresh, if it floats it isn’t!

EFA
EFA
Tania
Tania

What came first – the chicken or the egg?

The egg, obviously!  Of course, the Alberta Chicken Producers probably have a different opinion!

EFA
EFA

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