A Conversation on Sustainable Egg Farming

Egg farming and hen housing were topics that bloggers were able to explore with farmers, animal veterinarians and retail purchasing directors during the Best Food Facts 2020 TASTE Tour. The tour was part of Optimizing Sustainability, an initiative of The Center for Food Integrity. As farmers make decisions about how they raise animals and produce food, they need to consider the variety of inter-related impacts – benefits and tradeoffs – that result from various production practices.

Best Food Facts hosted nine digital influencers for a virtual tour. The tour, originally planned to be in-person in central Iowa, was reformatted into three virtual discussions focused on these topics:

  • Sustainable Egg Farming, providing dialogue on hen housing and impacts on animal well-being, food affordability and natural resources
  • Sustainable Crop Farming with a focus on crop practices and environmental stewardship
  • Sustainable Food with conversations about food waste, processed foods, biotechnology and food affordability

Learn more about Optimizing Sustainability.

Erin Sellin, who blogs at Dinner, Dishes and Desserts, asked Bruce Dooyema of Center Fresh Egg Farm what was a common misunderstanding people have about the ways eggs are produced.

“Being a farmer all my life – I don’t care what kind of weather situation –  if there’s something wrong in a chicken house the farmer is going to be there to take care of it so that he takes care of his hens. His livelihood depends on it,” Dooyema said. Center Fresh Egg has farms in Iowa and one in Mozambique.

Sellin said before the tour, her perception of how eggs were produced is that the hens were all in one small place and that the care of the animals was not a top priority, but her perspective changed  through the tour.

“They are doing everything they can to make sure that the hens are taken care of in the most sustainable way possible for both the farm and the hens themselves,” she said.

Cameron Hall, farm manager of Iowa State University Robert T. Hamilton Poultry Research and Teaching Facility, also answered influencer questions about caring for hens and producing eggs sustainably.

“One of the acronyms that we really try to focus on to think about our job here on this farm is FLAW – feed, light, air, water. Anything in our toolbox that helps us to focus on providing quality feed, providing the light to those birds, quality air and quality water, that’s all going to go into the sustainability for me,” he said.

Janet Helms, DVM, is the global sustainability developer with IKEA Group. “A consumer wants to know that the animal is cared for. Coming from a suburban background, would say that all the farmers that I’ve ever worked with care about the animals under their wings, the animals that they’re providing care for,” Dr. Helms said.

The influencers learned about different types of hen housing systems and the benefits and drawbacks of each.  Learn more about the different types of hen housing.

“The thing I want my audience to know about hen care is that there are a lot of pros and cons to all different types of ways to raise hens,” said Lisa Lin who writes the blog Healthy Nibbles and Bits.

“In terms of enriched colony egg farming, although hens are raised in a more confined space, it does allow the farmer a greater ability to monitor and manage the health of chickens because they’re not running around, said Lin. “There’s also pros and cons to cage-free and pasture-raised farming. The cage-free and pasture-raised egg farming, although they allow chickens the ability to roam about freely, we also need to be concerned about how chickens under those egg farming systems might also be exposing themselves to dangers,” such as predators and disease.

“There’s a lot of pros and cons. Not any particular system is the perfect system. So we just need to think about, think through the pros and cons of each,” Lin said.

Other experts who also participated in the tour were Colby Newbold, director of dairy and frozen purchasing for Fareway Stores, Inc., and Dr. Dan Thomson, professor of animal science, Iowa State University.

Cathy Trochelman blogs at Lemon Tree Dwelling and said she was glad for the opportunity to take part in the virtual tour.

“It’s so hard to know where to get your information from and it’s really nice to hear from people who are directly in the business because that’s really the perspective that I believe I can trust,” she said.

The tour was part of Optimizing Sustainability, an initiative of The Center for Food Integrity that supports understand and prioritize factors to decisions that are most sustainable. In addition to the tour, Best Food Facts examined sustainability impacts and the topics of grass-fed and grain-fed beef, pesticides and GMOs. Learn more about the project and read all of the influencers articles.