Monday, July 29, 2013

How about those yolks, folks!

Did anyone happen to catch NPR's story about Ari Shapiro's pale egg yolks while traveling in Africa recently? (The Salt: Help! My Egg Yolks Are Freakishly White)
The article had been sent to me by one of my egg customers asking me what I thought about the story as they know I'm a stickler for raising good eggs from laying hens living outdoors, scratching in the dirt, eating bugs and chemical-free plants along with non-GMO grains. Hang around me long enough and you'll hear (or read) my rants about the bullsh!t industrial egg producers--especially the organic ones--print on their cartons that really ruffle my feathers, such as cage-free, vegetarian feed and no hormones
The manager of the lodge where Shapiro was staying offered the explanation as to why American eggs have brightly colored yolks was "because they're pumped full of hormones". I want to debunk this myth about chickens and hormones once and for all.

First, hormone use in poultry is illegal. Yes, it's also illegal in veal calves, but industrial producers still use them. Why? Because they promote faster growth. However, this is not true for poultry. Feeding or injecting growth hormones into chickens will not make them grow faster or lay more eggs....period! And even if they  did, the hormones would have to be injected into each bird. Shooting up a few hundred animals is a lot different than injecting tens of thousands of birds that reach harvest weight in weeks, not months. Heck, even the completely organic pastured broilers raised here at Painted Hand Farm are ready for harvest in sixty days. So hormones or steroids just aren't needed.

Although I knew that the color of the yolk is entirely dependent upon the layers' feed, it never occurred to me that in other parts of the world commercial feed wouldn't include our traditionally abundant yellow corn that comprises the majority of industrial chicken feed here in the U.S. Over the years I've heard stories about Certified Organic CAFO egg producers adding dried marigold leaves to their rations to bump up the color or even small flock producers who house their birds in a barn dumping lawn clippings to add greens to their hens' diet for richer yolks, yet it would make perfect sense that chickens fed the African feedstock staples of sorghum and white maize would have paler yolks.

Ironically, in reading down through the comments on the article, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania  elaborated on the difference between "kisasa", (meaning "modern" in Kiswahili) pale-yolked eggs that are commercially available and the eggs that come from local villages where chickens merely scrounge around for food, which do indeed have bright yellow yolks.

But the part that had me the most excited about this story was the veteran NPR radio journalist's comment, "I buy my eggs from my neighborhood farmers market, and the yolks are the color of a setting sun."  I knew he was talking about my eggs!

So when he showed up at market this week, I was extra excited to hand over a dozen of my brown beauties to him knowing well that they had been appreciated and missed. This is the part of my job that make life as a farmer truly rewarding.
Ari Shapiro and his egg farmer at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market in Washington, D.C.

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