Providing a healthy, balanced diet is one of the most important parts of our job as egg farmers. To be healthy and produce nutritious eggs, hens require a variety of nutrients and access to fresh water.
At Burnbrae, we work with an expert poultry nutritionist who formulates the hens’ diets with a mix of quality ingredients. To learn more about what Burnbrae egg-laying hens eat, we went right to the source – Dr. Dave, our poultry nutritionist.
Dr. Dave, what are the common ingredients in a typical hen diet? Why those particular ingredients?
“Typically, egg-laying hens are fed a balanced diet including soy protein, canola protein, grains like corn and wheat, animal protein products, fat, minerals and vitamins. All of these ingredients supply important nutrient sources for the health, well-being and ability of the hens to produce quality eggs.”
Are there special diets for hens to produce different types of eggs – Omega 3 eggs, for example? Are there others?
“Yes, indeed. There are special diets fed to hens to produce the different types of eggs that you can find in the supermarket. Naturegg Omega-3 eggs are produced from hens fed flaxseed in their diet. The flaxseed contains omega-3 oils which are deposited into the egg.
Lutein-enriched eggs are produced when hens’ diets are supplemented with crushed marigold petals, which are rich in lutein. The lutein is deposited into the egg yolk which makes it a dark orange color.
Some eggs have nutritional claims in that they contain a “greater percent dietary value” of certain vitamins, compared to levels normally found in eggs. These higher vitamin levels are achieved by feeding some hens higher-than-normal amounts of vitamins, and those vitamins are then deposited in greater quantities into the egg. It is important to understand that all hens receive vitamin supplementation at sufficient amounts so that they stay healthy and produce quality eggs.
Packages that claim eggs as “animal by-product free” are produced from hens consuming feed that does not contain animal proteins. Because birds have evolved as omnivores, including an animal protein source in the diet is important for optimal hen health, and most egg-laying hens are fed small amounts of such protein.”
Does diet impact the size and quality of the egg?
“Yes, it can. The protein content in the hens’ feed can affect egg size. Differences in egg quality can also be affected by ingredients in the diet. Some of these differences could be yolk color, shell thickness and quality, the type of fat deposited, and the quantity of individual vitamins and minerals in the egg.”
What influences the flavour of an egg?
“This is a difficult question to answer as “flavour or taste” differs amongst people. Even in controlled tests, not all taste testers detect flavour differences in eggs that came from hens that were fed and/or raised differently. Some feed ingredients will affect egg flavour such as fish meal and rapeseed meal which can impart a fishy flavour; but feed nutritionists formulate feeds to avoid this problem. Many people believe that “pastured” eggs taste best. This may be due to the hens eating wild grasses and bugs as part of their diets. Since most of the taste of the egg comes from the yolk, some spice oils can cause some flavour differences. Some people find that Omega-3 eggs taste better than typical eggs. In summary, the flavour of an egg can be affected by what the hen eats.”
Are free-range/pastured eggs nutritionally better for you than eggs that come from hens raised in a barn?
“Not necessarily. In all reality, the nutrient content of many egg products sold in retail stores are quite similar. Hens are managed and fed to produce eggs that meet the nutrition profile set by CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency). It’s important to know that free-range and pastured hens are also fed a grain-based diet similar to hens raised inside. If we wanted to change the typical nutrient profile of eggs, we would need to make significant changes in how we feed all hens. Such changes could include the type of fat, the amount of plant pigments, or the amount of vitamins added to feed.
Regardless of where the hen is raised and what ingredients are in her diet, eggs provide several essential nutrients to help all Canadians meet their daily nutrition requirements.”
Are hens fed differently depending on the time of year?
“Hens may be fed differently in different seasons, but that is generally not necessary. We occasionally change the “recipe” of their diet based on supply and availability of ingredients added to feed. Through a hens’ life, her nutritional needs change – similar to how human nutritional needs change as we grow and mature. That’s why the feed composition is professionally managed to maintain the health of the flock and to produce high quality eggs.”
Why should consumers care about how hens are fed?
There are many types of eggs that are marketed with different nutritional claims, and that can create confusion in what eggs to purchase. Consumers can make more informed decisions about the eggs that best fit their needs and lifestyle, when they have a basic understanding of how hens are fed differently to produce those eggs.
Everyone at Burnbrae Farms understands that healthy hens produce great eggs – and we’re glad to have help from experts like Dr. Dave to ensure our hens eat a balanced diet every day!