The Chicken Before the Egg

Words by Gus Tissink from Bidfresh Hamilton

Who doesn’t love eggs? We have a long history with eggs and that kind of makes sense really if you consider how nutritionally dense they are and that they just taste good! They have been a breakfast staple for centuries, dating back to prehistory times. The Egyptians and Romans made many baked goods using eggs, and it was not unusual for meals to start with an egg course, often preserved.


Today we might enjoy something as simple as eggs on toast or soldiers for breakfast, but the humble egg is so versatile and has many culinary applications from clarifying consommés or ‘fining’ wine to emulsifying vinegars and fats.


But not all eggs are created equal, and depending on how the chicken is raised, one egg might not be equally tasty as the other. More importantly, you may not appreciate the way the chickens are actually being raised.


This is an emotive decision for some, and should be, but most importantly consumers should educate themselves. Colony cages have been approved as the new caged system to replace the phased-out battery cages. In essence, colony cages are larger versions of battery cages that are capable of housing more hens. It’s arguably an improvement on the traditional cage farming methods. Colony cages give birds access to perches, nesting and scratching areas so that they can exhibit more of their natural behaviours, but they are still confined to a cage. Colony cages are already being phased out in parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany, the Walloon region of Belgium, and Austria in favour of other farming methods. It would also appear that in New Zealand farmers have chosen to invest in barn or free range over colony because the initial capital costs can be more and with a lower return.


There are many similarities between barn and free range. Sheds are generally fitted with the same equipment, including nest boxes and perches, and friable litter on the floor for dust bathing and scratching inside. Access to the outdoors for free-range birds is given through pop-holes placed along the shed walls for outdoor range access. Where pop holes provide an outlook that is attractive to the hens, this can help encourage hens out onto the range, allowing them to actively explore their environment.


Naturally, barn and free-range produce a lower number of eggs compared with cage and colony, and with that comes a higher cost. Additionally, there have been other factors within our egg industry, including a lack of day-old chicks from hatcheries and recent issues around disease that have been driving prices up. All of this aside, eggs have the lowest carbon footprint of all the main proteins and are full of nutritious vitamins and minerals, making them the most complete and economical food source.


I made the decision nearly two years ago to move away from cage/colony eggs and only supply barn or free-range eggs to the hospitality market, not just because I believe animal welfare is important, but I believe it makes a difference to the quality and eating experience of eggs, and why wouldn’t it? We know for ourselves that we are products of our environment, so it stands to reason that healthy, happy hens equals better tasting eggs!


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