Fertilized eggs, non-fertilized eggs, hens, roosters, free-range, caged, organic, non-organic…it can all be so confusing and with reason; brown eggs, white eggs. The white “thing” inside the egg; what’s that all about?
Rather than the usual article type format I usually write I thought that with all these questions I would do a question/answer format and that way you can scan it for the part that most interests you. Hope you find the answer you’re looking for!
Q: When I buy eggs at the grocery store are they fertilized? No. In order for an egg to be fertilized a rooster has to mate with a hen. There are no roosters present where hens lay eggs for mass consumption. If the package says “fertile” though that means these eggs are from a small production farm and the hens had freedom to move about. These eggs are probably certified humane. More on that topic later. Fertile or not does not matter for human consumption.
Q: How is an egg fertilized? The rooster mates with the hen (which takes all of 30 seconds!) whereupon a sperm sack that can last a week is introduced. Since a hen lays an egg just about every day those that come in contact with that sack become fertilized. Only fertilized eggs can become baby chicks!
Q: Why are some eggs brown, some white? That depends on the breed of chicken. There are hundreds of types of breeds.
Q: What is the difference between free-range, caged and certified humane? In most cases free-range hens used for egg production are able to move on the ground, however it is very, very over crowded and usually indoor. (Imagine leaving a sold out concert.) In most cases, these birds get to live one year and then are slaughtered and a new batch is brought in. Caged birds are kept confined to tens of thousands in long sheds with 50 or more to each cage. They exist on wire flooring starting at one week old and have no room (zero) to stretch their wings or bodies. With no windows in the hen house, the lights are kept on in most commercial facilities about 16 or more hours a day. A hen will only lay an egg when they sense light, natural or commercial. Certified Humane is a new distinction to allow people to choose the best option if they care about the animals, their treatment and quality of life. After all, they are working for us! The Certified Humane label is what you want to look for. It’s green, blue and white. Certified Humane hens get to live naturally which means nesting, perching and dust bathing. And they are fed a healthy vegetarian diet.
Q: What is the difference between organic and non-organic eggs? Non-organic eggs come from hens that are fed genetically engineered corn, animal by-products and antibiotics. In most cases these eggs come from confined hens. Organic eggs come from hens that are fed organic corn and organic soybeans, sometimes flaxseed (Omega 3) and other organic seeds. This distinction does not mean they are free range or certified humane.
Q: What is that little white thing in the bowl when I crack an egg open? This is not a would-be baby, which many people including myself have thought! It is just the membrane that attaches the yolk to the inside of the shell.
Q: When a hen lays an egg, does the narrow end come out first? No, the wider end comes out first and an egg gets it shape from the shape of the hen’s uterine wall.
Q: How many eggs do we eat in the U.S. annually? The United States goes through about six billion 12-packs in a year.