Written by Melanie May
Not all eggs are created equal. Do you know the difference between free-range eggs and organic eggs? Do you look at the labels on the boxes and the stamps on the eggs when you are shopping? Before we crack on, let’s take a look at some differences.
The difference between free-range and organic eggs
Due to legislation, organic egg producers are not allowed to label their eggs as ‘free-range’. This is even though hens reared under organic regulations are actually more free-range than those labelled free-range. Confused? Don’t worry. So were we. So we did some research.
Eggs labelled ‘free-range’ are permitted to use genetic soya for feed and sprays and pesticides in grain production. Yolk colourants, synthetic proteins and antibiotics are also permitted. There’s also less space requirements for roaming and housing the birds.
Eggs labelled ‘organic’ are not allowed to use genetically modified materials for feed and are not allowed to use sprays or pesticides in grain production. Colourants or synthetic proteins are not allowed and antibiotics are only permitted in exceptional circumstances. Organic hens also have more space to roam outside and inside than free-range hens.
As you can see organic hens are free-range plus follow organic farming practices. So, although you won’t see the term ‘free-range’ on an egg box, if you see the term ‘organic’ you know that they are free-range hens and they are organic too.
The reason you can’t have ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’ labels on the same box is that they are two different production methods.
So now you know.
We wanted to find out more about organic eggs, so we sat down for a chat with David and Paula from Butlers Organic Eggs, a family business in Carlow, to find out more about their cracking product and what we as savvy consumers should be looking out for when buying eggs.
Let’s start by chatting a bit about the people behind Butler’s Organic Eggs. Introduce yourselves.
We are David and Paula Butler, founders of the company and over the past 13 years, we have become specialists in producing organic eggs. Butler’s Organics produce organic eggs which are wholesaled throughout Dublin, Wicklow and Carlow. The breadth and depth of knowledge and experience gained over those years is invaluable and ensures the process in production, grading, packaging and delivery are carried out in the most professional, efficient and effective manner.
David was primarily managing the business himself up to June 2018 when I took a five-year career break from my role as Communications & FOI officer at the Institute of Technology Carlow to focus on management, administration and marketing. This allowed David to concentrate solely on operations i.e. the welfare of the birds and deliveries.
So why eggs? What made you decide to set up Butler’s Organic Eggs?
David, originally from Bray, Co Wicklow used to go on deliveries with his father Noel across Dublin for a company that wholesales chicken. We are not sure if it was a coincidence or not but David always wanted to return to where is dad was reared in Hacketstown and work on the farm. He attended agriculture college and always had an interest in the land. After years of working in various jobs such as the ESB, Cablecom, etc., he realised the only job for him was working on the farm and he researched farming opportunities. He started the business in 2006 with 250 birds in a certified organic field at the back of the house. He really did learn from scratch how to run a business and manage birds and now manages over 3,000 organic birds ensuring top quality organic eggs.
Tell us a bit about the production of Butler’s Organic Eggs, what makes them different from conventionally produced eggs?
We work hard to ensure we have the best welfare for our birds and produce a quality organic egg. The organic production method is by far the best way to produce eggs. Our organic birds are free-ranging across beautiful organic Carlow pasture all day and then head into their spacious sheds with scratch area and an on demand supply of specialised organic feed and water from our own well.
Organic flocks are smaller in size than free-range, therefore their space both indoor and outdoor is much bigger than all other production methods. Best of all organic is the only production method that does not use pesticides or chemicals. It’s better for the birds, better for the environment and better for our customers.
Are there any benefits or positives to Butler’s Organic Eggs compared to non-organic eggs?
Completely! Organic eggs are the best-tasting eggs compared to all other production methods including free-range. The happier and more stress-free the bird the better the egg. Hens are very sensitive and need to be stress-free. The smaller flock sizes in organic means the birds will go outside and range across the organic pasture. Free-range and other production methods are allowed much bigger flock sizes which means it would be harder to keep birds stress free. Also organic is the only production method where no pesticides or chemicals are used, therefore are the only eggs that are naturally free from chemicals.
Can you let us in on the secret to your success?
The organic production method, stress-free birds and sticking with it through all the ups and downs. Any form of interruption, whether it is a change in lighting, birds getting a fright from noise, disruption in feeding times, etc., the percentage lay will reduce rapidly.
Having a good relationship with our customers and showcasing how we produce our organic eggs through our website and social media also reinforces the brand and quality of our organic eggs.
We love watching and listening to your beautiful hens on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It is so great to be able to see the birds and the farm where they roam.
Tell us about the biggest challenge you’ve had to face with the business.
Reduction in production! As mentioned before if the birds are disturbed in any way the percentage lay will go down rapidly. This was something that David learned over the years – just when you think you have everything perfect the lay could go from 90 per cent to 60 per cent in a few days. The challenge is to then work out why. It could be anything from light to feed and it is hard to identify at times. Years of experience have helped us identify things quicker but if your eye is not on the ball 100 per cent of the time the lay will fall.
So what would be your favourite part of what you do and why?
Being responsible for producing an artisan Irish produce. It is fantastic when we get an email or a phone call from customers who are loving our organic eggs and say they taste as eggs tasted years ago. Only 3 per cent of eggs consumed in Ireland are organic.
Has much changed since you first started? How has Butler’s Organic Eggs evolved?
We have evolved very slowly over the years to ensure top quality organic eggs and the best possible welfare for the birds. The organic production method is expensive as we have to invest a lot more than the free-range, barn or caged methods. Organic feed costs nearly twice that of what free range cost. Our poultry units and outdoor pasture need to be much bigger with smaller flock size. From 250 birds to 4,500 birds over 14 years, it has been a learning curve but worth it. The 4,500 birds are housed over three poultry units. This amount of birds is tiny compared to the large producers.
What does the future hold for Butler’s Organic Eggs?
We believe in a healthy work-life balance and are happy where we are for now. We are working on a revised branding campaign and we will continue to ensure our customers are getting value for their money by producing the best egg ever!
Since our interview, Butler’s Organic Eggs has been shortlisted in the Retail Award category for the 2020 National Organic Awards and has become a member of Good Food Ireland.
Tell us about your favourite egg recipe or way to use Butler’s Organic Eggs.
You will laugh because we are not great at cooking. It’s very simple food for us. What we love best is a fried egg on creamy mash potatoes with beans on the side! However, our fabulous neighbour Greta makes the most amazing vegetarian quiche and drops it down to us regularly!
Do you have any egg buying, storing, cooking tips for our readers?
- Eggs should always be stored pointy side down (NOT UP). There is an air pocked in the egg which needs space, hence should float to the larger side of the egg – keeps egg fresher for longer.
- Eggs have a 28-day sell-by date, however, Butler’s Organic eggs are sold out each week so you are getting a very fresh egg.
- Do not leave eggs in the heat or direct sunlight!
- Organic Eggs are by far the highest quality egg you can buy and YES the birds are outside.
Thank you so much, David and Paula, and best of luck with the 2020 National Organic Awards. We are off to put a fried egg (organic, of course) on a mound of mash!