I see you in the grocery store (a place I go rarely, but living in New England, there's only so much you can grow and preserve), staring at the egg section, baffled about all the egg choices available. What is free range versus pastured? What about organic versus vegetarian fed? What's all the fuss about?
There are many articles out there addressing these things, but here's a good visual summary:
Yes, you want to feed your family well, but if you buy fresh, local eggs from a farmer you know, then you have to worry about almost none of these things. First, if it's a small fahmstead, you can see the chickens and know where they roam and what they eat. Ask your farmer about their practices, anyone raising their chickens well will be proud to tell you all about them. Pastured chickens have higher levels of Omega 3 in their diets and eggs because they're eating a variety of bugs, grasses, etc. No need to add supplements to their feed because they're getting it naturally. Egg color is not indicative of nutrition, they're all about the same. For example, a dozen of our eggs can contain many different shades of brown, peach, speckled, green and blue because of the different breeds of chickens who lay them.
We don't worry about salmonella or bacteria much here because of our sanitary practices. The chickens lay their eggs in nesting boxes that are cleaned out daily and fresh wood shavings are added. Our girls are very picky about the level of shavings in their boxes--too little and they won't lay, too much and they kick it out, so I have to be vigilant about monitoring. Then there's the rooster, who decides to make mischief occasionally and hops into the nesting box, kicks all the shavings out, clucks like a laying hen, then leaves. Weird, but he's a good roo and protects his girls, so I'll allow him his eccentricities. Lastly, you may occasionally notice a little residue on an egg--this could be a tiny piece of wood shaving, feather or dirt. We don't wash our eggs because it's not good for them. When a chicken lays an egg, it comes with a protective coating on it (you can't see it or feel it, but it's there) to seal the pores from bacteria. If there were a baby chick inside, this would be crucial to protect the baby. But since we don't allow our eggs to incubate, this isn't a problem.
The problem with grocery store/large egg manufacturers is that they wash the eggs when they collect them. This removes the protective coating and opens the pores up to be susceptible to bacteria. Add that to unsanitary conditions (hundreds of thousands of chickens in a small space breeds disease) and you end up with large recalls of recent. We don't worry about it because we're small, sanitary and honor the chickens natural ability to be chickens. We don't interfere with the chickens, they have space outdoors to roam (outside all day, only come in to lay eggs during the day) and forage for food. We don't have to treat for mites because they're not a problem--the chickens have space to dig holes in the woods and give themselves dust baths, a natural mite remedy. And we don't wash the eggs so that the protective coating stays on them.
We collect the eggs each day, put them in egg cartons and straight into a dedicated egg fridge. Eggs actually don't need refrigeration, but we refrigerate because we want to stop any potential incubation if it's a fertilized egg. We do keep a rooster around but it's more for protection than fertilization, he's a great warning system when a hawk or other predator is nearby and gets his girls to safety. You won't notice if the eggs is fertilized or not because it would take three days to develop. But since we put them straight into a fridge at 39 degrees, this is never an issue.
It's a lot of research to make informed food choices, but we encourage you to do it. Know what you're putting into your body, know where your food comes from. Sadly that this was common practice 60 years ago--back then, poor people birthed their babies at home, breastfed, raised large gardens and chickens to feed their families. Wealthier, more educated people bought processed foods, birthed in hospitals, fed their babies formula, all as a status symbol. Now it's reversed--it's the educated people like us (I have two Bachelor's degrees, my husband has a Master's degree) who are making holistic choices to birth, raise and feed our families. We wish the same for you--educated consumers eating real food!