Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why are egg yolks yellow?

This is a question we are often asked and it's easily answered. The colour of the yolk reveals what the hen has been eating. The carotenoids in the hens' feed make the yolks yellow. They occur naturally in things like grass, vegetables and fruit. The greater the quantity of these substances in the hens' diet, the stronger the colour of the yolk. The hens ingest yellow pigments in corn or grass, but if they have no access to green fodder (such as hens in cages or sheds) additives are put in the feed to enhance yolk colour.

Some of those additives may trigger allergic reactions in some people and we think that all egg producers who use additives to boost yolk colour should have to clearly state that on their labels. There is currently a review of Australian food labelling laws under way, and we will be making a submission to suggest that if feed additives are used it should be mandatory for them to be declared on the label. If companies don't want to do that ....simple .... don't use additives.
Why we love yellow egg yolks

Our preference for golden yellow egg yolks is rooted in history. Pale yolks were always a sign of sick hens, worm infestation, or poor feed. Only healthy, well-nourished hens store carotenoids (preliminary forms of vitamin A) in their yolks. Bright golden-yellow yolks show that the hens are well supplied with essential carotenoids such as lutein or canthaxanthin. These protective substances are widely found in nature; they not only give the yolk its yellow colour, but also prevent the oxidation and destruction of fragile, vital substances such as vitamins in the egg.
Europeans are not unanimous where the colour of egg yolks is concerned. There is a real North-South divide where  northern Europeans prefer pale yellow yolks, but as we go further south the preference of consumers for golden-yellow yolks grows. On the shores of the Mediterranean, only bright, orange - red yolks stand a chance of reaching the plate.

Not all carotenoids find their way into the yolk. The well-known beta-carotene, for example, is completely converted to vitamin A and metabolized by the hen. Beta-carotene has no effect on yolk colour.

Canthaxanthin, another carotenoid, is different: Birds only convert about 30 per cent of it into vitamin A. The rest is stored in the egg yolk as a protective substance, causing the yolk to take on a golden-yellow hue. As long as this is ingested as part of the hen's naural feed it's fine. Allergy problems can be generated when manufactured and concentrated Canthaxanthin (or other colouring additives) are included in the diet.
There's more information about feed etc in our ebook on the Freeranger website products page

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Our farm has a low Carbon Footprint

For some time we have been taking a look at the carbon footprint of the farm and doing some rough comparisions with other egg farms - both free range and cage farms.
Some in the industry try to claim that cage farms are more sustainable than free range or organic farms - and their bleating has been reinforced by a study presented a few years ago by Cranfield University in the UK.
It purported to show that organic egg production needs 14% more energy than non-organic and increases most environmental burdens by 10% to 33% (except pesticides), but the land area needed more than doubled. Comparing non-organic systems, it says that keeping 100% of the hens in cages incurs 15% less energy than 100% free range, with similar differences for most other burdens, although abiotic resource is 10% higher for caged birds and land use 25% less.
It seems to have been research which was designed to show that cage farms are environmentaly friendly!
What it clearly didn't take into account were things like the footprint created when the cage farm is initially established - the tonnes of concrete, steel, cooling equipment etc. etc. and the ongoing power costs associated with the massive sheds. (They don't have to worry much about cooling the sheds in the UK, but here right through summer the sheds have computer-operated climate control systems.)
At the Churchill Island Farmers' Market on Saturday we started promoting the low carbon footprint of our farm with leaflets like this:

Freeranger Eggs are renowned for being tasty, versatile and packed with goodness … and they are also green!

Freeranger Eggs are laid on an environmentally friendly farm by hens kept in small flocks. They lay their eggs in mobile roost houses and each flock is protected from predators by Maremma guard dogs. Choosing Freeranger Eggs helps you make a positive difference to the world – as well as the taste of the food you eat. Our strict food miles policy, use of solar energy and traditional farming techniques gives the farm a carbon footprint which is less than half that of most free range farms - and at no extra cost. Our carbon footprint is probably less than a third of the major cage farms.

More than half the 200 acre property is covered with remnant native vegetation and we encourage native grasses in our paddocks.

Make a difference – buy Freeranger Eggs
for more information see our website:

Monday, October 19, 2009

GM ban in Ireland - WHY NOT HERE?

The Irish Government will ban the cultivation of all GM crops and introduce a voluntary GM-free label for food - including meat, poultry, eggs, fish, crustaceans, and dairy produce made without the use of GM animal feed. The policy was adopted after some years of paying lip service to the problem.
See more at

Genetically modified foods pose a series health risk for us all and it's sad to see Australian Governments allowing the major chemical companies to put our cropping areas at risk of contamination from GM crops.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Exporting Eggs?

In the UK, demand for free range eggs has become so great that distributors are looking overseas for more eggs – and one has even asked us for stocks! As Freeranger Eggs only produce around 450 dozen eggs each week and we have a food miles policy which limits our distribution to within one hour of the farm, export is not something on our agenda.

Apart from that, I don't fancy driving to the airport every day with a van full of eggs to send off to the Poms!
It's an indication that demand is outstripping supply – but another more sinister indication is that the RSPCA and Compassion In World Farming have agreed to relax their definitions. RSPCA have allowed an increase in the stocking density for hens for their 'Freedom Food' brand (which is a big money spinner for them in UK) and will now permit an outdoor density of 2000 hens per hectare – double the previous level. For some reason CIWF has given its stamp of approval.

This is just another con by the RSPCA, similar to here where RSPCA accreditation allows hens to be debeaked in its accredited barn and 'free range' flocks. Most consumers have no idea that the RSPCA allows and even encourages de-beaking even though the Model Code of Practice specifies that the practice should be a 'last resort'.

In 2008, over half of the shell egg market, by value, in the UK was from free-range eggs. This increase in consumer demand for higher welfare eggs has lead to fears from the industry that this cannot be fully met by UK producers. It is believed that if British producers cannot meet the demand for eggs, then lower welfare eggs from overseas wll be imported to meet the deficiency. (In the EU there is an even higher stocking density of 2,500 birds per hectare)

Consumers here will need to be vocal if any signs start to emerge that Australian standards for free range eggs are to be watered down. The current stocking density limit in the Model Code is 1500 birds per hectare but the Free Range Farmers Association standard is 750 birds per hectare.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

New Draft Standard for egg producers

Tighter regulations on egg producers are being considered in an effort to improve food safety. The details are in a draft standard prepared by Food Standards Australia New Zealand and if it is adopted it will further restrict the sale of dirty eggs and will require all eggs sold in Australia to be individually marked to identify the farm on which each egg was laid.

At first glance it seems a bit bureaucratic, but, as a small-scale egg producer we welcome this initiative which should help to improve the system.

There are so many eggs sold on roadsides and an on market stalls which pose huge potential health problems for consumers because the backyard operators have no idea about food safety – the eggs are often dirty and have not been stored at the correct temperature. They generally have no food safety program in place, they use second hand packaging and local health inspectors usually turn a blind eye.

As long as these new standards apply to ALL egg producers, no matter how small they should go a long way towards bringing honesty back into the system.

Adding a farm identification mark to each egg is already required in Queensland and it doesn't present much of a problem - it's just another step in the process. But I do wonder how these standards will be enforced to ensure there is a level playing field for everyone who sells eggs. It's hardly fair if some of us do the right thing and then have to compete against others who cut corners by not having a food safety program, use secondhand cartons etc etc.

Here's the submission we have made to FSANZ:

As a small producer of eggs, we agree with the introduction of tighter standards designed to achieve better food safety outcomes for consumers. The current, largely voluntary requirements, have put consumers at risk.

We have been particularly concerned that backyard producers are not subjected to the same food safety and packing requirements as registered producers. There have been estimates that as many as two million dozen eggs each year are sold on roadsides, at markets and direct from properties by operators who have no food handling training, do not have a food safety program in place, are not inspected or audited and meet no labelling or packaging requirements.

The proposed change to tighten traceability by marking each individual egg will be a great step forward and we are pleased to note: 'FSANZ agrees that any regulatory obligations should apply to egg producers irrespective of the size of the operation. This is reflected in the draft Standard.'

Hopefully this means what it says and is applied to ALL egg producers. Presumably the definition of an egg producer is someone who sells eggs (regardless of quantity) and will not include people who keep hens in their backyards and give away any surplus eggs. Only if they sell eggs should there be an obligation for them to meet any new requirements. One on-going difficulty will almost certainly be the enforcement of any changes.

We also fully endorse the use of only new packaging and are pleased that in the proposal, 'retailers are required to comply with the packaging requirements in Standard 3.2.2 which prohibits the use of packaging material that is likely to cause contamination.' But does this mean that second hand cartons must not be used or is there an opportunity for producers to make individual decisions on what they think 'is likely to cause contamination' ? Unless the use of new packaging is mandatory this loophole will be widely exploited.

In our experience, the managers of many Farmers' Markets (at least in Victoria) try to ensure that egg sellers do have food safety programs in place and are registered with their local councils. The problems are more apparent with the many hundreds of general or 'trash and treasure' markets which often make no attempt to regulate egg sellers.