Labeling Eggs

Labeling Eggs

I was recently trying to design the “perfect” label for our eggs, and this has brought up discussions about labeling and marketing. When you look at egg cartons in the store, there are various terms thrown around that most people don’t fully understand, half the time I don’t even understand. Most of this is based on a difference in perception vs. reality.

Instead of trying to fit all this information on a small label, I thought I’d expand it into a post, but then realized even one post wasn’t enough. In order to describe how our chickens live, I first have to explain labeling terms and more about chickens in general. This post will focus on the terms you see on labels.

Let’s start with the term cage-free. When I first heard cage-free I was a bit confused because I thought chickens ran around the farm like in story books and tv. Turns out I was wrong. Some chickens are kept in small cages with little or no room to move. According to the Humane Society, “On average, each caged laying hen is afforded only 67 square inches of cage space—less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper on which to live her entire life.” Knowing what I know now about chicken behavior, this practice is neither humane nor healthy. So the question is, what does cage-free mean? It means that the chicken is allowed enough room to move, walk, stretch, and be a chicken. However, those chickens may still be kept in flocks of thousands with no access to outdoors.

The next term people often see on egg cartons is Free-Range or Free-Roaming. The only difference in this term and cage-free, is that the chickens have access to the outside. According to the USDA, “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” There doesn’t seem to be a requirement of how long they must be outside each day or if every chicken even goes outside. Also, just sticking their head though a hole seems to count as access to the outside.

Pasture-Raised is typically chickens raised on pasture. They live in movable houses and are rotated to new pasture periodically. This is the healthiest and safest way to manage flocks of chickens. So, if you are dealing with store bought eggs or meat, go for those.

Antibiotic-free and Hormone-free simply mean the laying hen was raised without antibiotics and hormones. Although, it should be noted that US Federal Law prohibits the use of hormones in poultry and pork, so all chicken should be hormone free even if not labeled as such.

Other terms often on labels deal more with the diet of the chickens.

Enriched with Omega-3,means the chickens were fed a high Omega-3 diet which allows the eggs to have more than an egg from a hen fed a standard diet.

I’m not going to lie, “Vegetarian Fed” confuses me a bit. The label makes it sound like a good thing, but in fact it’s not. Well, I guess in a way its good, since it means the chickens can’t be fed weird meat byproducts that sometimes get fed to industry chickens. The thing is, chickens are omnivores. If you let a chicken loose to eat as it chooses, it will eat grains, vegetables, fruits, bugs, and even snakes and frogs. Let’s be real, their sharp little breaks are that way for a reason. By feeding them a vegetarian diet, they are missing out on key nutrients and that will effect the quality of meat and eggs. It also means they are most likely not foraging for yummy treats, which means they probably aren’t given access to a place to forage (aka pasture, nature, outside). The healthiest food will always be food from animals that eat what their bodies were designed to eat.

I saved the best for last, Organic. There mixed feelings about the term organic in general, but we won’t get into that right now. In chickens, organic means that they are fed an organic diet, live free-range, and receive no hormones or antibiotics. Unfortunately, given the vague definition of free-range, these chickens could be less healthy and nutritious than their pasture-raised non-organic cousins. Organic and pasture-raised would be the best when looking at labels.

Now if you really want to know and trust your eggs, the best way to do that is find a local seller and ask them about their chickens. Chicken people tend to love to talk about their chickens! Also, don’t be turned off if they say theirs aren’t organic, pasture-raised, or even free-range; chances are their chickens eat and live better than any industry chicken.

Real Life and Little Things

Real Life and Little Things

Sometimes I feel like we are in an endless spiral.

Every time we make progress in one place, we fall behind somewhere else.

We have been here 6 months and there is not one single room or project finished.

I’m not kidding.

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We are living with holes in the walls, awkwardly placed furniture to cover said holes, and temporary fabric as drapes.

Outside is even worse! Wood, animal feed, tools, and random other items are covering the back porch. Moving from a house with a garage to one without is hard!

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And you know nature thinks its fun to make things more difficult. I am in a fight with an over grown jasmine vine that I am seriously loosing. Then there is the weird wild cucumber vine that took over after I cut down one of the many overgrown roses. Turns out the cucumber thrives when it gets the sun the rose bush had been blocking.

Okay, thats enough complaining.

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So instead I am going to focus on the little things. The little areas that are cozy and the little projects that have been finished. The little things that make the rest bearable. The little things that bring joy and beauty. Because one day everything will be finished and I will miss these days.

I will snuggle up in Isaac’s little tent and read him the hundreds of books he insists on bringing me (he loves his books!) Because what more do I need than a place to snuggle with my little man.

I will spend too much time focused on the perfect lettering and spacing on labels. Then carefully staging and photographing eggs and cartons. Because those eggs are the beginning of bigger things.

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I will stand in the yard and watch the chickens forage, the garden grow, the dogs, cats, and little man chase each other (yes, in a happy playful way) and just not look at the chaos on the porch. Because I rather be out there in the middle of things, enjoying what we are building.

These little things are worth everything else. One day the walls will be fixed, the porch will be clean, and the vines will be gone and I can sit and relax.

 

Surprises

Surprises

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So this little farm has been full of surprises!

The owners before us had been using it as a weekend place for years, and the land needed a lot of love. We assumed that besides the overgrown Rosemary bush and the house we would basically be starting from scratch with nothing.

We moved in the end of December and everything was brown and sleeping. We focused on the house and I mentally planned what to do outside.

February rolled around and it was warmer than usual, and thats when I got our first surprise. There were flowering trees! They were out in the pasture that was so overgrown that I couldn’t get to them, so I had to observe from a distance and wonder what they were. Then a few days later the tree outside our bedroom window flowered… We had three HUGE pear trees! Can you imagine my excitement?! Well I don’t want to get your hopes up and then crush them like mine were. Thanks to the cold that followed our warm February, and the lack of care they have received they didn’t produce much fruit and what fruit they did produce was destroyed by a fungus. I still have hopes to manage them in a future and maybe next year they will bless us with a bounty of pears.

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Like I said I had great hopes for those pear trees so I eagerly awaited spring. As the leaves started growing and grass got greener, I watched for new plants to surprise me. I’m not sure what I thought there would be, but I was curious.

Then the sad little broken stump by the pond started to grow, and a similar looking tree out in the pasture and another by The Gate House! The Gate House tree is producing the beautiful pears that grace our cover photo… and the other two trees are still mysteries. The fruit shape looks much more Apple like than pear, but the trees are in such bad shape its hard to tell. Again I have great hopes for them in the future.

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Around this time plants all over the place erupted in white flowers. They were nestled under trees in the pasture and from a distance we thought maybe they were azaleas. To my surprise one day the plants next to the drive bloomed those same blooms and visions of Blackberry Cobbler danced through my head. This place is over run by blackberries!!

I thought the surprises would end there, but just the other day I found Muscadines.

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There is nothing better than nature surprising you with so many treats. Right now these treats are a terrible temptation, I know we won’t get large quantities of anything, but  I look forward to the future harvests.

About the Land

About the Land

IMG_0540Since I introduced the current residents of bona terra, I thought it was also worth introducing the actual farm and its story.

We first saw the farm online when searching for land, we ignored it because it was too expensive. Then my mom found it online and was determined for us to at least look at it. I finally gave in. The house is a little weird and was over priced. Since we know how this ends, I’ll skip the boring bits and say that it was meant to be and we were the only ones that would want this place. We finally agreed on a much more reasonable price and closed mid-November, we moved in the day before Christmas Eve and have fallen even more in love with this place.

We had been looking at land for a long time and one of the reasons this place was so great was the two houses already here. You see, while we are currently the only human residents, as soon as their house is finished, my grandparents will be joining us.

Let’s start with The Big House. It’s a big white wanna-be Victorian antebellum replica and was built by the previous owner as a replica of his grandmother’s house. From the style of the house and the picture I saw of the original, you could tell that original house had a story to tell. From the layout you can tell it began as a simple farm house with additions added over time. At some point, someone added trim and porch railings to make it appear Victorian. Our version was built about 15 years ago, and was a literal replica, including weird bedroom and bath layouts. It has huge porches, tons of windows and doors, and five…yes five fireplaces! The kitchen is a cook’s nightmare, but I have wonderful plans for it. It overlooks one of the three ponds and once we are done with the kitchen renovation and pond cleanup it will be a delight to cook in.

Between the two houses is the old metal barn, nestled under ancient trees.

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The most interesting part of the farm is The Gate House. We had hopes of renovating The Gate House, but there was too much damage. So we got estimates to tear it down. We had hoped it would have been down by now, but things kept coming up and the house stood there. Then an older man visited us and asked us what we were doing with it. We explained it had to come down… the older man then told us it was the original house on the Robison property (note the street is named Robison, if that gives you an idea of why it’s important.)

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While I would always prefer to save old houses and preserve history, there was still no way to save the house, it required too much work and too much money. So it continued to stand there. Then Memorial Day my mom was out there looking at it and met the older man’s grandson-in-law. The house is currently coming down, but now it’s the family tearing it down and saving what they want and what is sentimental.

They have also helped us since our tractor is broken, and told us stories of the people who lived here and how they used the land. I think they are happy to see us farm the land since this has not been done in some time.

 

Introductions seem in order. 

Introductions seem in order. 

 

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I am Elle. Yeah, thats all I can think to say about myself. If I really had to dig deep and talk about myself, I will tell you I am a wife and mother. I live on a farm in Mississippi, bona terra farm.  I enjoy knitting and reading, but don’t have nearly enough time to do those things. I also enjoy cooking and canning and since those are vital, I make time for them. I am writing this for us, so that years down the line we can look back on everything we have done. If others find it interesting or useful, that is an added bonus. I tend to learn things the hard way and make many errors along the way, so maybe someone can read what we did wrong and learn from it. I have no delusions of being perfect or even close to “normal.” But I’ve been told the craziness is entertaining to watch.

The other residents on the farm include:

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My wonderful husband, Vince. I can’t describe how amazing he is. He saw the craziness and still married the craziness. Sometimes that makes me question his sanity, since no sane person would have married me, but I don’t dwell on it too long incase he comes to his senses. We both studied Classics in college, and met in a Latin class. In the very little spare time he gets, he plays chess and reads old classics and books on history. Yep, we are those type of nerds.

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Our wild little boy, Isaac. He thinks he’s a dog, and the dogs think he is one of them, so it all works out. He recently acquired the skill of hugging the cats without them running away. He also thinks it’s completely normal to have chickens and goats. He copies and “helps” us with all our projects and I love to watch him learn and explore.

There are also the dogs, Isis and Cleo. I grew up with a love of all things Ancient Egyptian, so to clarify, Isis is named after the Goddess Isis and Cleo is named after Cleopatra. The more I write the more I realize how nerdy I am.

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Godric the ferret should be mentioned, he is very old for a ferret. So I am preparing myself the best I can for the inevitable. But look how cute he was when he was a baby!!

The chickens we have now all have names, as they were the backyard flock that led us down the rabbit hole of farming. There is Coco, Poulet, Fluffy, Bunny, Penguin, Daisy, Rosie, and Perceval the Rooster. There I go again with weird names.

Since we moved we adopted the cats Missy and Sophia. As my vet said, “I love how you always adopt the animals no one else will take.” Yep, thats me… but in all seriousness we got them all fixed up and they love being able to roam and explore the farm.

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We also have Millie and Penny twin Nigerian Dwarf goats. We also had Trixie, but she recently passed and we are still waiting for answers about why she passed.

This is the current residents at bona terra farm, but who knows who will join us in the next few months and years.