Colorado Egg Producers

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Which Came First...The Chicken or the Egg?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

As Colorado egg farmers and the Colorado Egg Producers (CEP) Association join in the celebration of National Egg Month, we are reminded of the age-old question – “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”. While the answer is highly debated, one thing is certain, eggs are an essential component of the American diet. Weighing in at 75 calories, eggs are a powerhouse of nutrition for their size and caloric content. Each egg has 13 essential nutrients – including the highest quality protein, choline, folate, iron and zinc.

CEP is a membership organization representing seven family farms throughout Colorado. CEP is committed to doing what’s right for its community, as illustrated by the regular donation of thousands of eggs to food banks throughout the state. Egg farmers throughout Colorado pride themselves on providing eggs to Coloradans. We are also proud to offer consumers the choice between cage, cage-free eggs, organic, nutrient enhanced, brown and white eggs.

“National Egg Month is the perfect opportunity for Colorado egg farmers to help educate Coloradans about the importance and history of eggs,” said Jerry Wilkins of the Colorado Egg Producers Association. “And there is no better place to start than at the beginning. While we may not be able to tell you if the chicken or the egg came first, we are proud to provide you with the background and history of egg production courtesy of our friends and partners at the American Egg Board.”

In Colorado, farms range in size from 25,000 to 1 million laying hens. Each of the approximately 3.8 million laying hens in the Colorado produces between 250 to 300 eggs a year. In total, that is about 1 billion eggs a year, produced right here in Colorado.

You may wonder how we got to this point, so let’s start at the beginning. Birds and eggs have a long history that dates back to as early as 3200 B.C. Historians believe that chickens came to the New World with Columbus on his second trip in 1493.

Fast-forward to the 1920s and 30s. During this time frame, many farmers had hens from which they supplied their own families with eggs and sold the extra at local farmers’ markets. As the egg business became profitable, some farms started building up flocks of as many as 400 hens. The hens roamed around outside and used a coop for roosting. For the hens, living outside presented several problems including:
• weather;
• predators;
• “pecking order” issues where bigger, aggressive birds would eat more of the food, leaving less for the other birds; and
• diseases.

Several advancements were made to address these problems including selective breeding, special medicines to prevent parasites, and scientifically controlling the birds diets. Even with these advancements the hens were only laying about 150 eggs a year and had a mortality rate of about 40 percent.

Research on hens living indoors showed many benefits. Large, specialized hen houses, while expensive, produced much healthier hens which increased egg productivity and reduced hen mortality to 18 percent a year. However some issues still existed including sanitation, waste control and the pecking order. The eggs produced were usually dirty and exposed to some of the same waste bacteria as the hens.

In the late 1940s, researchers looked into raised wire-floor housing for hens and got good results. The separated wire housing, now known as the cage system, was quickly adopted by farmers. One of the greatest improvements that came from the hens being raised off the floor was sanitation. Neither the hens nor the eggs came into contact with waste and waste removal was much easier. The “pecking order” issue because the more timid hens were able to eat and drink as much as they required, just like the more aggressive hens.

“Most importantly, it was discovered that healthy hens lay high-quality eggs, and a lot of them. With the new system, hens each produced about 250 eggs per year and the mortality dropped to 5 percent,” explained Wilkins. “This is a truth that Colorado egg farmers live by today. It is easy for us to answer to the question – which came first, the chicken or the egg? For Colorado egg farmers, the chickens always come first. We care about how all of our chickens are treated. While no system is perfect, we ensure our chickens receive the best care possible within both the cage and cage-free systems. As an association, we were the first state to develop and implement an Animal Care Doctrine. Each of our producers and members has signed this Doctrine and are committed to the best possible care of chickens based on scientific principles and animal husbandry standards.”

Over the years, the industry has done nothing but improve. Advancements in technology and equipment as well as increased automation allows egg farmers, including those here in Colorado, to provide high-quality eggs at a lower cost to you – the consumer.
 

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