Organic Free Range Egg FAQs
Please see below for some frequently asked questions about Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs. If you don’t find your question here, feel free to contact us and we’ll do our best to answer you.
Where can I buy Pete and Gerry's
We are sold in a wide range of stores throughout New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the South. And we’re rapidly beginning to appear in more and more locations in other markets. Please check our store locator for a store near you that sells Pete and Gerry’s organic eggs and organic liquid egg whites.
I can't find your organic eggs in my favorite store. What can I do?
Great question! We find that store managers are eager to carry products that their customers ask them for, so we suggest letting your store manager know that you would like to see our organic eggs at your store. You can also drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’re happy to see what we can do to help.
Are your eggs 100% organic?
Absolutely! All of our free range eggs are 100% USDA Organic and Certified Humane.
What makes them organic exactly?
It’s mainly the feed. The feed our hens eat is 100% USDA Organic Certified. So that means there are generally no pesticides used to grow the corn, soy and other products in it. And it is all GMO free. Some natural pesticides are allowed by the USDA, in special circumstances. USDA Organic does not allow the use of synthetic pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. This would include chemicals such as Roundup (glyphosate). Our organic grain farmers employ mechanical and cultural tools to help control pests. These include insect traps, careful crop selection (there are a growing number of disease-resistant varieties), and biological controls (such as predator insects and beneficial microorganisms). However, from time to time in the rare event of an insect or pest infestation, they do have a carefully selected list of approved, natural pesticides which they can use. Also, the grass that our free range hens forage on is never treated with chemical pesticides or fertilizer.
Do you give your hens hormones?
We do not. And the use of hormones is illegal for anyone raising poultry. Unfortunately, that is not the case with other types of farm animals.
Do you give your hens antibiotics?
This practice was adopted by factory farms to deal with the constant filth and disease that is their chicken filled warehouses. They will typically treat healthy hens with antibiotics as a prophylactic measure.
Our barns are airy, uncrowded, clean and safe. If in the rare circumstance a hen is discovered to have a health issue requiring antibiotics, and this is very rare, she will be segregated from the main flock and treated. Her eggs will not go into our cartons until she is fully recovered and off any medications.
What does Free Range really mean?
Free range means what it sounds like, which is during most times of the day and year, our hens are free to roam outside as they please. This is very different from Cage Free, which sounds good, and is better than being in a tiny cage, but still basically means that you are in a massive warehouse of a barn with hundreds of thousands of other hens, in floor to ceiling caged enclosures, with no access to the outdoors. So not exactly idyllic.
We do have to insure that our free range hens are safe from predators and disease from wild birds, so we don’t allow them outside if ground predators such as fox or coyote are seen in the immediate area. And during migratory bird season, we protect our birds from exposure to diseases such as avian mites or Avian Flu.
You can get more information about Free Range here.
Is it the same thing as Cage Free?
Not even close. Cage Free is rapidly becoming the new standard (though converting all of the factory farms from battery cages to cage free will take a decade or more) but it’s nothing like free range. In fact, it doesn’t even mean what it says. The hens are still packed into giant industrial scale warehouses with floor to ceiling cages (generally called “aviary systems”). The only difference is that they have a little more freedom of movement within the system. That’s not insignificant given how cruel the current battery cages are, but it’s a far cry from one of our “floor barns” where hens can go wherever they want, perch, hang out with pals, or go outside to forage for insects or dust bathe. Cage Free is just a factory farm with a slightly less cruel cage system than before. Learn more here.
Is that as good as Pasture Raised?
Pasture Raised is another term that has emerged in recent years. While there are no universal standards around it, in general, it means what it sounds like which is that hens have grass to forage on, just like Free Range. The debate comes in with respect to how much space is “enough” for hens, based on an average amount of square footage per hen. Our free range hens have an average of 2 sq. ft. per hen of pasture. But that’s for every hen in the flock. It is rare for more than 25% of the flock to be outside at any one time during the day, so then they would have 4 times that amount. Pasture Raised generally offers even more space than this, but that space does not come free. So the eggs will typically cost more as well. We think that we have found the right happy medium with Certified Humane Free Range that balances the needs of hens, farmers, and consumers. Learn more at this blog post.
How many family farms do you work with? Where are they located?
We have over 40 independent, family owned and operated farms in our network. These are small free range farms usually run by two parents and their kids. We are very proud of the fact that our company can provide a realistic living for those families that still want to actually farm in a world of industrial scale agriculture.
You’ll find a lot more information about our free range farms and their locations on our website.
Are your small family farms fairly treated?
This is a very important question. There has been some press lately about how broiler chicken farms, under contract by some of the large meat chicken brands are being badly mistreated by their corporate contract holders. This is shameful.
We are a B-Corp company and treat our farmers as true partners. You can learn more about it here.
May I visit one of your small family farms?Yes you can visit our small, organic, free range farms. Learn more here.
What causes different egg shell colors?
Egg shell color is determined by the breed of hen and is often related to the color of the feathers over the hen’s ears. Brown hens, like we have, typically lay brown eggs and white chickens lay white eggs (although there are a few breeds of white chickens with brown ear-feathers that lay brown eggs).
We even have a few flocks of Ameraucana Heirloom hens on our farms, who lay eggs with pastel blue shells.
Note that the shell color is not related to the nutrition or quality of the egg inside.
I've read bad things about male chicks. What happens at Pete and Gerry's?
To fully answer this important question about male chicks, we’d like to explain a little bit of how our farms work.
We are deeply committed to how our free range hens are treated from the day they are born. We take ownership of our hens when they are delivered to us at 16 or so weeks old. Prior to joining us at our farms, these hens are hatched at a hatchery and raised by small family farms in free range pullet houses. The hatcheries which supply our hens are operated by companies who own the rights to the genetics of their hens. These hybrid breeds have been developed especially for egg-laying productivity and it is what makes commercial egg farming possible at the prices consumers currently enjoy. They are not bred to be suitable for meat as those are very different breeds. We do not have the resources or expertise to produce our own breed of egg laying hens, so we have to work with these hatcheries.
Once the chicks are hatched, they are sorted by gender. The female chicks will become egg laying hens and are transported at one day old to the pullet house. Unfortunately, there is no role for male chickens of this breed in egg farming. And, male chickens from laying breeds are not suitable for meat because they mature very slowly. Additionally, they cannot be kept with the hens. In a cage free or free range environment, the roosters tendency to fight would create a terrible, inhumane environment for hens. So, given that there is no viable market for the male chicks, the hatcheries euthanize them. To do this, the hatcheries use one of the practices recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association. We do not have control over which practice they use and it varies depending on the hatchery. However, none of the practices are very appealing. We wish that there was an alternative, but there currently are no hatcheries available to us that produce chicks without male chick culling.
However, we do not believe that we can stand by idly and pass the blame onto hatcheries. They are producing chicks for farmers like us and so we must own some of the responsibility for current practices. As part of our commitment to the humane treatment of hens from the very beginning of their life, we are serious about doing our part to end this practice. We have spoken with company leaders at the hatcheries and advocated for the end of male chick culling. The hatchery/hen genetics industry is very consolidated with only a few companies worldwide. They are headquartered in Europe where there has been much greater political will to force change. For example, the German government has stated that male chick culling will be phased out in Germany over the coming years. Germany, the Netherlands, and the European Union, in partnership with the hatchery parent companies, are providing financial support to various university research efforts occurring in Europe. There are several in-egg technologies to sex the eggs, which are rapidly progressing in testing and we expect some of them to be in widespread use in the coming few years. We maintain contact with researchers at the University of Leipzig, Germany and Project In Ovo in the Netherlands and plan to offer financial support to them. Their work is focused on commercializing a prototype in-egg sexing technique.
In addition to working with researchers, we are working to partner with non-profits such as Compassion in World Farming to support their efforts around this issue. Finally, we are partnering with Unilever, who has taken a leadership role on this issue, to coordinate efforts and bring positive change to the U.S. We hope to hold a summit later this year with key U.S. players to ensure that we are all doing everything we can on the issue. Commercializing the technology and bringing it to the U.S. is going to require a team effort and we are taking a leadership role in this effort.
While we cannot change the entire egg industry at once, we are committed to building a sustainable business at a scale large enough to create meaningful progress in the way laying hens are raised and treated in the U.S. Currently, over 90% of eggs consumed in the U.S. are produced in horrific caged environments. We are optimistic that as consumers become more interested in how our food is produced we will continue to see improvements in the humane and ethical treatment of farm animals from their first day to their last.
What happens to sick or injured hens
We rarely have this issue because our free range flocks are quite healthy and well cared for.
Nevertheless, our farmers keep an eye on their flocks all day long. Whenever we find a hen that is sick or injured, we segregate her, treat and then return her to the flock when she’s back to full health.
In general, we have far less challenges with disease and injury than conventionally raised, caged hens because we don’t overcrowd, the girls have access to the outdoors, fresh air and water, and can socialize with their hen cliques.
What happens to the hens when they are too old to lay eggs?
To begin with, we have definitely thought long and hard about the best way to deal with our hens at the end of their laying days. There are several options to consider. First, we could keep them ourselves. In order to feed and house our retired laying hens for the remainder of their lives, we estimate that the cost of a dozen eggs would be at least $12.00 at the shelf. We feel that this would not be affordable for our consumers.
Additionally, it would prevent us from achieving our broader aim of building a sustainable business at a scale large enough to create meaningful change in the way laying hens are raised and treated in the U.S. The next option is adoption. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find a way to make this work either. We have found that there is some interest locally in adopting hens, but not nearly enough for us to move several thousand hens in time for the new flock to arrive. Our last option is for the hens to be sold for food. Even this option is not without difficulty because laying hens have far less meat than broiler hens which are bred specifically for that. Many commercial egg laying hens are simply euthanized and landfilled at the end of laying. As farmers, that seems terribly wasteful to us.
So, while we know some consumers will be unhappy to know that our hens go on to be used for food, we do feel it’s the most responsible thing to do. At the end of a flock’s natural laying cycle, we contract with several poultry transportation and processing companies to purchase our birds. These companies send crews to our farms to pick up the hens. The crews are trained and certified in the humane handling of poultry. At this point, the hens belong to that company, but we have worked with them to ensure that our birds are going to acceptable follow-on markets. There are currently two main markets for our birds with each receiving about half of the overall quantity. One is live poultry markets where consumers are able to select live birds for consumption. The other is a US federally inspected processing plant which specializes in processing “light poultry” including laying hens. This plant uses the latest technology to ensure that the hens are quickly and humanely slaughtered.
For consumers who want eggs from hens that are never slaughtered, our eggs will not be a suitable option. We encourage these consumers to raise their own hens for which there are excellent resources available online.
While it’s important for us to continue to move the bar on humane egg production, we also feel that it’s important to remember that over 90% of eggs consumed in the U.S. are produced in horrific caged environments. For those hens, their best day is the day when they are finally put out of their misery.
We believe Adele Douglass, the founder of Certified Humane, said it best, “Our hens only have one bad day.”
Do you wash the eggs? Does that impact quality?
Due to FDA regulations and food safety requirements, we must wash our eggs before our consumers can receive them. We use a light, organic approved soap to wash our egg shells. After the eggs are washed, they are sanitized with a mild chlorine solution. Our quality assurance team monitors critical control points like wash- and rinse-water temperature, detergent levels, etc. This does remove the cuticle (or bloom) from the egg which is a natural protective coating, but we must wash them per FDA requirements.
Should I eat eggs past the best before date?
According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA): “Many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hen lays them. Egg cartons with the USDA grade shield on them must display the “pack date” (the day that the eggs were washed, graded, and placed in the carton). The number is a three-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year (the “Julian Date”) starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. When a “sell-by” date appears on a carton bearing the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 45 days from the date of pack.”
Use of either a “sell-by” or an “Expiration” (EXP) date is not federally required but may be required by some states.
Because storage location and other environmental factors can affect egg freshness, we can not recommend consumers to eat our organic eggs after the best before date printed on the packaging, though it is still up to your discretion if you would like to eat them.
Yolk color and nutrition
Natural fluctuations in yolk color can be due to flock age, the weather, the time of year, and even flock location. The bugs that the hens peck at also can play a part in the yolk color because they increase the amount of protein in their diet. Each hen is unique and their eggs typically reflect that as well.
We routinely check our organic eggs for color and that they are generally much darker than caged, commodity eggs, representing their more natural and varied diet, but sometimes there are lighter yolks as well due to all these variables.
How many eggs does a hen lay per day?
It’s right around 1 per day for most. A flock will average around 307 eggs per hen over the first 52 weeks of laying. This will decrease a bit as the hens age.
What causes double Yolks?
Double yolks are fairly rare (about 1/1000) and double yolked eggs tend to be very, very large. They typically are graded as a ‘Super Jumbo’ because they are so large. These eggs primarily come from younger flocks that are just learning how to lay eggs. All of the farm fresh organic eggs go through the sorting machine together and once they are identified as Super Jumbos they are sent to the first packing station where they are hand packed because they are too big for the machine to pack.
They are then packaged as Jumbos even though they are technically Super Jumbos. All day the hand packing station runs filling Jumbo cartons with Super Jumbos. These Super Jumbos are over 50% double yolks. As these cartons are filled, they all go into the same case. So, even though they are rare, double yolk eggs often wind up in the same cartons.
Why do you put your eggs in plastic cartons?
As a values-led certified B-corporation, we are committed to people and the planet in addition to profit.
Plastic is often associated with negative environmental impacts, but we have chosen these cartons because they are actually better for the environment than traditional molded fiber cartons made of pulp. An independent study has shown that molded fiber cartons result in more than double the carbon footprint of our RPET cartons over their lifecycle. Our RPET egg cartons approach “carbon neutral” and generate significantly less environmental impact than comparable plastic cartons.
Our cartons are made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. In many parts of the country, there’s a surplus of recycled soda bottle plastic; so each carton puts that surplus to good use. The cartons are made from the world’s most widely recycled plastic, so it is readily accepted in most recycling programs. When our plastic carton is recycled again, it’s less harmful to the environment than recycling pulp packaging–consuming far less energy, and water, with no waste or added chemicals.
Also noteworthy is that the paper insert is also recyclable. They contain 10% of recycled fibers, and the paper we use comes from a North American paper mill that is FSC certified (Forest Stewardship Council).
Finally, the plastic cartons protect the eggs better than pulp which is something our customers appreciate. You can easily check for cracked eggs by just turning the carton over.
Why do some eggs float in water?
An egg that floats in water is actually a very old egg and should not be eaten, because it is not fresh! The reason that old eggs float is that the air cell that occurs naturally when the egg was laid has expanded, because the egg has aged. Check the best before date on the carton if you see this.
You are a B-Corp. What is that?
We are very proud to be a B-Corporation, and we’re the first farming company to become so.
B-Corps are committed to creating benefits for all stakeholders (workers, suppliers, customers, community, and the environment). There is a rigorous application process to becoming certified as such. You can learn more here.
What causes blood spots in an egg?
Blood spots are caused by the rupture of a blood vessel on the yolk surface when it’s being formed. A blood spot is in fact an indication of a very fresh egg. As an egg ages, the blood spot diffuses across the white and becomes almost undetectable as time goes on.
Blood spots can occur in up to 6% of all brown shelled eggs. From time-to-time, the incidence of blood spots in eggs increases above the normal, 6% rate, when the hens in a flock get excited by changes in lighting, changes in temperature, or when they catch a cold. Candling methods reveal most eggs with blood spots and those eggs are removed, but even with electronic spotters, (as we have) it is impossible to remove them all. We also carefully inspect the eggs with cameras that check the interior when we package them but due to shell density, color, contrast and depth, some of these eggs do get through. Sometimes, if the spot is small, it can be cut out with the tip of a knife and the egg is still good to eat.
Do you feed the hens corn or soy?While our hens are Certified Free Range, and thus can spend most of their days foraging for bugs and tasty greens, they are not ruminants, like cows, and therefore cannot get 100% of their diet this way. Our supplemental feed does contain corn and soy. The soy provides our hens with the protein they need in their diets and the corn carbohydrates. There are also a significant number of other beneficial organic nutrients and minerals in our feed that help to keep the hens healthy, such as calcium. To learn more about the care we take in developing our feed mix please check out this blog post.We have never received any reports of corn or soy allergies being triggered by eating our organic eggs. But if you have soy allergies, or gluten sensitivity and questions of that nature, The American Egg Board website is a good resource. Their research suggests that despite some soy in hen feed, eggs should probably be considered gluten free and likely have undetectable levels of soy remaining in them.That said, it’s always wise to seek the advice of your own physician with anything related to allergies.
Are Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs GMO Free?
Definitely. All organic products must be GMO free. So the feed our free range hens eat is 100 percent Certified Organic and not genetically modified.
May I join your network of small family farmers?
We’d love to chat with you about joining our Small Family Farm Team! Please send us a message to: email@example.com and we’ll put you in touch with one of our team members here.
Do you de-beak your hens?
We do not de-beak our hens. De-beaking is a cruel and unnecessary practice, which some conventional egg producers use to cut costs by restricting the ability of their hens to eat grain.
We do practice beak trimming, not for our financial benefit, but for protecting the weakest members of our flocks. Our chicks are given a very mild trim at 10 days of age to prevent a sharp hook from developing on the end of the beak. This practice is accepted and recommended by the scientific advisory committee of Humane Farm Animal Care. The scientific committee of Humane Farm Animal Care has determined that a very minor trim of the sharp tip of the beak on or before the chick is ten days of age is humane, and often more humane than leaving aggressive hens with a means to hurt other hens, no matter how much space available to them.
Although free range hens can be wonderful and nurturing, the truth is that they can also be incredibly cruel and vicious to the weakest members of the flock. The trim prevents the dominant members of the flock from hurting the weaker members when they are older. After the trim, the chicks immediately scramble around, eat, drink, scratch, and peck as normal.
Mild beak trimming is done at our free range pullet farm in a completely humane manner as outlined above.
A great resource for more detailed information about our standards can be found at Certified Humane’s website here
Did I see one of your trucks picking up eggs at a factory style farm?
No, we were not there to pick up eggs! The opposite actually, we were delivering our organic eggs. The reason for this is that many eggs are still delivered directly to grocery stores from farms, which is known as Direct Store Delivery. We prefer to deliver our eggs ourselves right to their warehouse or stores. But in many cases, due to pre-existing distribution contracts, we have to deliver to a big factory-style egg producer who takes our eggs onto their trucks and then makes the delivery. So that is why you will see our organic egg trucks at those locations from time to time. We would never source our organic eggs from those places, but we do have to ride on their trucks sometimes.
Are your organic liquid egg whites pasteurized?
Our 16 ounce container of organic liquid egg whites are pasteurized and are great for most baking applications. Want to find locations where our egg whites are sold? Check here.
You're listed on Cornucopia as a 3-Egg Rating. Why?
The Cornucopia Institute rates producers on a 5-point (egg) scale based on their assessment of that producer’s commitment to small farm values. We were very surprised when we first learned that we only received a 3 egg rating from them. We believe Pete and Gerry’s has pioneered the model for producing eggs in a sustainable, humane way while helping to restore small family egg farming in America. We started from humble roots and have grown to become a leading organic egg brand by doing the right thing for our animals, our farmers, and most importantly our consumers.
Before addressing our rating with Cornucopia, we think a little history of our company may help. In 1997 we transitioned our small third-generation egg farm to organic production after nearly being put out of business by large-scale factory farming. Organic farming literally saved us. In 2003 we became the first Certified Humane producer in America. As the organic trend took off, we were faced with the difficult task of growing our production to meet demand in an ethical way. Instead of simply adding more barns on our home farm, we decided to develop partnerships with other small family farmers looking for a market for their eggs. We launched this partnership in 2003 with our first partner farm and have grown to over 50 family farms in our network. All of our hard working family farmers produce to the Certified Humane Free Range standard which means their hens live in spacious cage free floor barns, unlike other brands that are labeled “cage free” which use multi-level aviaries in massive enclosures and no outdoor access. Our hens have access to grass pasture every day (weather permitting). These farmers earn a good living while producing great eggs on a farm that actually looks like a farm. In 2013 we became the first egg company in the world to achieve Certified B Corporation status based on our commitment to the environment, our workers, our farmers, and our farming communities. You can read more about B Corps here.
As a recent article from the Washington Post highlights, there are some organic egg producers exploiting loopholes in organic standards to produce at a factory scale. We were happy to be mentioned as a producer who is doing things the right way.
The Cornucopia Institute has become an important resource for organic consumers. They are a powerful advocate and watchdog in our industry and we really value the hard work that they do to create transparency within the organic industry and to hold producers accountable. This is great for consumers who can help ensure that they are actually getting what they are paying for, and it’s great for producers like us who do things both to the letter and spirit of the organic requirements. On Cornucopia’s homepage they state that their mission is “Promoting economic justice for family scale farming.” We couldn’t be more aligned with that mission.
Unfortunately, in our case we have found Cornucopia’s auditing and inspection process to be insufficient. When Cornucopia released their original 2010 rankings we were rather disappointed because they did not actually visit any of our organic small family farms. While a 3 egg score still put us in the “very good” category according to Cornucopia, we consider ourselves to be much better than that. In late 2015 Cornucopia made a very brief visit to our office in Monroe, New Hampshire, but they did not actually visit any of our barns or pasture areas. Importantly, our home farm represents less than 5% of our overall organic egg production. Over 95% of our egg production comes from our small family farms who we partner with. These farms are not in Monroe, New Hampshire at our home farm. Cornucopia has not visited any of our partner farms and we feel that that makes it impossible for them to properly assess our operation. Their rankings appear to be biased against any larger-scale egg producers, even if that production is being done by a network of small-scale family farmers. It seems as if we are being punished for having grown our company and farm network sustainably.
We believe that any third party certification or rating should come through a thorough system of on-site visits and audits. Our farms are routinely inspected (announced and un-announced) by Pete and Gerry’s, by Certified Humane auditors, and by USDA Organic certifiers.
We feel confident that any of our 50+ family farms would receive a 4 or 5 egg rating if Cornucopia were to visit them individually.