I was recently given the amazing opportunity to travel to Silverton, Oregon to find out first hand what it’s really like inside a farm whose sole purpose is to raise chickens for egg production. It was an eye opening experience, and not in the way I’d expected.
I’ll be honest: I’ve never given a great deal of thought to the whole cage-free vs. caged debate. Sure, I’ve purchased cage-free eggs many times, if only because it made me feel as if I was making a small contribution to the plight of chickens everywhere. But what is free range, anyway? And what does it mean to me? Thanks to the American Egg Board, I was about to find out.
I arrived at the Portland airport where a driver was waiting with my name on a sign. I got a real kick out of that! He drove me to the Oregon Gardens Resort where I had a chance to shower (<—–this was excruciatingly important after being on a plane all day) before meeting everyone for dinner. We all met in the lobby – “we” being eight other food bloggers, the owners of Willamette Egg Farm and their wives, representatives from the American Egg Board and Edelman PR firm, as well as Jeffrey Saad and Howard Helmer.
We boarded a tour bus and headed to Domaine Margelle Vineyards, where our gracious hosts – the owners of the vineyards – greeted us with a table set up in the middle of the vineyard, complete with their amazing wine and delicious cheeses.
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We then had the chance to see the grapes up close, where the process of growing and harvesting grapes was discussed:
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Next we headed to the home of the vineyard owners, where they’d transformed their dining room just for us:
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And had chefs prepare us a fabulous dinner on site:
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I was fortunate enough to sit between Jeffrey and Savor the Thyme at dinner! Here is a photo of Jeffrey and me. He clearly hadn’t had enough wine yet!
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Thankfully, that was rectified!
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It was a really fun night, with great food and even better wine. But we had a lot of work to do the next day, so it was early to bed (“early” being 1 am east coast time…yikes)!
The next morning we headed out to tour the egg farm. We made a quick stop, though…time to be on the local news! We filmed a quick live segment that, sadly, I have no footage of (if a tree falls in the forest…). But here are some pics of us hanging around, waiting for the cameras to roll.
Here is Jeffrey, me and Howard…
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Prudence Pennywise, me and Savor the Thyme
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The tv crew…
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After all that egg-citement (<——I know, cringe-inducing!!), it was finally time to head to the egg farm!
Before I get to all the fun pictures, I thought I’d share just a few things that really surprised me about the farm and the way that chickens are raised.
- Being an animal lover and a proponent of treating all creatures humanely, I had incorrectly assumed that it would be difficult for me to see the chickens “cooped up” in cages with nowhere to roam. Instead, I was surprised to find that although the chickens were not allowed to roam freely, they were clucking happily and didn’t seem to be bothered at all. I know, I know…how can I tell that a chicken is happy, right? Well, I can’t…but from what I saw first-hand, my impression was that they were healthy and seemed to be doing just fine.
- The air quality in a caged house is significantly better than in a cage-free environment.
- The birds in a caged hen house are much cleaner; the birds are completely separated from the litter (manure).
- I was surprised at how clean the egg houses were, even the cage-free. Yes, it smelled like there were thousands of chickens living there, but my mind had conjured up some pretty unsanitary conditions before the visit.
Still not convinced? Here’s a great video that shows first-hand what it’s like inside the egg farm!
Before we headed into the hen houses, we had to dress in sanitary uniforms, complete with booties and hair coverings.
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Inside the cage-free house, there are 7,000 hens living all in one large room. Cameras could be used, but only without a flash so as not to spook the birds. Another thing about cage-free living that stuck in my mind: the birds in this environment aren’t able to establish a “pecking order”, which stresses the birds and makes for a lot of pecking…not good.
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Here you can see the outside area of the cage-free house. Most of the chickens stay inside, but you can see that some like to roam.
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A feed bin on our way to the caged houses…
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And here we are inside the caged houses. Note that here the hens are white, which is the color egg that most consumers demand.
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After that we toured the production facilities, had lunch and had an hour to spare before the cooking demos began back at the hotel. It was a really interesting and educational day that opened my eyes to what is free range, and, more importantly, what it’s not. It’s not the superior choice to egg farming; neither is the caging the birds. Both have pros and cons, but neither are perfect. But now I have the knowledge to make an informed decision about the kind of eggs I choose to buy, which is important when I make these choices on behalf of my family. I was really pleased to see that the first priority at Willamette Egg Farm is that their birds are clean and healthy. Healthy birds produce quality eggs!
Later this week I’ll be posting about the rest of the tour, mainly what it was like to cook with Jeffrey and Howard! I learned the easy way to make an omelette, the right way to poach an egg, and the right technique for fluffy eggs every time, and now I’ll share it with you!
Also, if you haven’t entered, be sure to check out my egg-citing giveaway, courtesy of the American Egg Board!
Have a great day!