Rabbitbrush Rambler: Celebrating National Egg Month

Some people may have a hard time deciding whether they want scrambles, once-over-lightlies, soft-boils, hard-boils, omelets, whatever. But have you ever looked at the options for eggs in a dairy case at the store? It’s little wonder that shoppers just give up and buy what’s handiest and cheapest.

Those eggs, I fear, came from big industrial-scale egg factories, where chickens are incarcerated in tiny cages and each deposits about five eggs a week or gets the heave-ho to the meat department. Back in the factory, meanwhile, the eggs go through a mechanical trapdoor onto a belt and get viewed with lots of others in a machine by an inspector, and then the eggs are put in cartons and the cartons get a stamp that looks like a code, showing what date the eggs went into the cartons and the plant where the eggs were manufactured.

Then the cartons might, or might not, get a sell-by date which should be three or four weeks after the eggs went into their cartons. (Being a cranky old lady, I want to see that date on any I buy.) Then the cartons take a long trip to a warehouse, perhaps half way across the continent, and then a shorter trip to the store. 

This system is very efficient, but the chicken’s existence at the egg factory was much less than desirable. I think that a bird deserves a better life, even if the egg itself would cost me a few pennies more.

Prehistoric people were happy to eat the ultimate free-range eggs, whatever was to be found in ground nests that other animals had missed. Historic Indian tribes like the Ute then came along and ate free-range eggs of ducks, geese, turkeys, meadowlarks, snipes, and chicken-like grouse and quail, cooked or uncooked.

Somehow, Hispanic settlers coming up New Mexico’s El Camino Real and homesteaders rattling along in covered wagons across the prairie brought their domestic chickens with them, in cages I suppose. Early recipe books assure me that those pioneers liked eggs and probably didn’t worry much about the pedigree or the way the birds were raised as long as they survived. That has changed.

At stores now, a dairy case has stacks of grade A or grade AA; medium, large, extra large, or jumbo; cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, omega-3, USDA organic-fed, or vegetarian-fed, except for bugs that might have been snatched in the chicken yard. Decisions, decisions.

Along with all the cartons of white eggs at the store, we also see some browns. Connoisseurs claim that brown eggs taste better or are more nutritious, but the difference in shell color is a matter of breed. They sometimes get raised free-range or have upscale feed that can raise the cost, too.

Then there are some white eggs that have puzzled me because once in a long while I’ve bought a carton with shells that are thicker and are harder to crack. Thicker shells come from younger chickens, I’ve learned, which suggests a glut or a shortage somewhere along the production line.

In the Valley we can find eggs that are fresh and humanely produced and are sold by SLV Local Foods Coalition’s partners or Mennonite farms. Some farms that sell to Colorado Egg Producers give their chickens a whole barn to exercise in. 

Now I’m remembering my Grandma’s chickens. I knew nothing about their breed, but they were always properly fed and watered and able to exercise in their coop and outdoor pen, and I knew how fresh those eggs were because it was my job to gather them, including any hidden under a bird. So I will choose to buy the eggs, whether on a store’s shelf or elsewhere, that are most like those at my Grandma’s. That’s a promise.