Wednesday, June 18, 2014

From Farm to Table: Burnbrae Farms Tour - Part Two

What a legacy.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit and tour Burnbrae Farms in eastern Ontario with twelve other bloggers from across Canada.

Oh, and what a time we had.

Aside from the great food, great company and oodles of laughs, I learned a wealth of knowledge not only about the chickens, but all that is involved in running a successful egg farm. As I mentioned in my last post, although I grew up not too far from several working farms, I never put much thought into how a product goes from point A to point B. Chicken lays an egg, farmer collects egg, does some stuff with it and off to the store or farmers market it went to be enjoyed by yours truly at breakfast a few days later. 

Folks, it's so much more than that. 

Pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee, and let your friend Jenny expand your mind. Just know I would totally have flashing lights around the word 'expand' if I was computer savvy, so for tech issues, or lack thereof, just humour me.  

There are about five major processes that are conducive to egg production from start to finish. 

And it all starts with the chicken. 

A pullet, or female hen less than a year old, begins producing and laying eggs at around 19 weeks. Without getting too technical, pullets and hens will produce just as many eggs without the help of a rooster. A rooster is only needed to fertilize the egg to make more baby chicks. 

The average hen produces more than 280 eggs a year - that's about one every 1.5 days. 

Burnbrae Farms has two types of chickens; The White Leghorn, which produce white eggs and the Rhode Island Red, which produce brown eggs. Despite the colouring of the shell, there is absolutely no difference in the eggs whatsoever in flavour, nutrition or cooking performance. 

With over 300,000 hens at their facility, it should come as no surprise Burnbrae Farms is Canada's number one egg producer, number one specialty marketer in Canada (Omega-3, Omega Pro, Organic, Free Run, and Nature's Best), as well as the number one leader in liquid eggs (NaturEgg Simply Whites and Egg Creations). Burnbrae has also been recognized by the Canadian Grand Prix New Product Award 13 TIMES for its innovation in eggs. 

That's something to cluck about. 

Now the process. 

Once a hen has laid her eggs, they are collected and stored in a large, refrigerated area. They are then transferred to a cleaning station where the eggs are loaded onto a belt and washed in a 104ºF bath to remove any dirt and bacteria. This is the main reason eggs in North America must be refrigerated. Once the protective coating of the egg, or 'bloom', has been removed, it becomes highly susceptible to all bacteria and organisms that cause spoilage. If you've ever been to most European countries, you'll find their eggs are stored smack in the middle of the aisle, not refrigerated. This is because the bloom is still intact, keeping them protected. 

Eggs then move onto a process called candling. Back in the days of Yore (a time frame I use when I'm not completely sure of when it was), farmers used an actual candle to project light through an egg to find any imperfections. Today, they use an automated light system under a conveyor belt that jostles the eggs along to spots any internal defects such as meat spots or poor quality yolk. The light also detects any imperfections on the outside (i.e. cracks in the shell).

Once eggs get the thumbs up, they are put through a grading system. This is sort of like the beauty pageant portion of the process, if you will. Eggs have to be meticulous at this point if they want to end up on one's table for brunch. 

Grade A eggs are sold in supermarkets for consumer consumption. These eggs MUST be free of any leaks, cracks, imperfections and internal defects. Basically perfect eggs in every way. 
Grade B eggs are mainly for commercial use such as hospitals, schools, bakeries. They are perfectly fine and acceptable, but may have hairline cracks, wonky shapes or slightly internal imperfections such as flattened yolks. 
Grade C eggs are the lowest grade and are used in the production of processed egg products only. These are not sold in any grocery stores. 

Burnbrae grades 25% of their own eggs; the other 75% are from about 40 other local farms. Each individual egg is imprinted with a two unique codes - one of which can be traced back to the actual farm they came from in the event there is a problem with a batch. 

Once eggs are decided where they are to go, shelled eggs are weighed and sorted into categories, such as PeeWee, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large, and Jumbo. All eggs must meet specific weight requirements. Grade A eggs are packed into cartons according to size and grade. 

Finally, eggs are stored in a refrigerated cooler until shipment. Many eggs are from hen to market in about 7-10 days. 


The housing systems are truly remarkable. Nothing like I thought it would be. 

Once upon a time, I thought chicken farms were like those my neighbour had back home. They had about 10-12 chickens that frolicked among the fields, eating bugs, smelling the flowers - happy-go-lucky creatures really without a care in the world. Once the cold weather came, they seemed to just disappear. I never thought much of it because come Spring, they had more, only younger. I now realize that the best ever Chicken Pot Pie Mrs. Weaver served us must have been Mary, the Red Junglefowl that used to visit us every morning. Bless her juicy, succulent soul. I now know it's best not to name your animals if you're the sensitive type.

Hens on a working egg farm must be in enclosed housing for their protection agains parasites, predators, and the elements. 

Their housing systems are quite pretty impressive as well. The first, and most common type of hen housing in Canada, is the Conventional Housing System. Feed and water are housed on opposite ends of each other to keep them moving and provide equal access for all hens. They are kept in small social circles, which helps with reducing aggression and control disease. 

The second housing system they offer these feathered friends is the Enriched Colony Housing System. This system is very similar to the conventional housing, but are bigger and provides the hens with more space to perch and nest. Enriched Colony Housing has now become the minimum legal standard for the European Union. 

The third type of housing is the Free Run Housing System. This system is as it sounds; it allows the chickens to roam free. In addition to floor space, they can perch as well as nest and dust bathe.

All hens in the Burnbrae facility have carefully controlled lighting, temperature, feed and water. 

I used to feel sad when I would see chickens caged up, but soon learned that I shouldn't. Hens prefer to be in close quarters. In worst case scenarios, even if one hen is being pecked by a dominating hen and is transferred to a safer spot down the cage, she will always find her way back to the flock. It's their nature. 'Birds of a Feather…' and all that jazz. They need it. 

Some other interesting facts about eggs:
  • Eggs have the lowest carbon footprint of any animal protein. 
  • Brown eggs cost more due to the fact that Rhode Island Red Hens are bigger in size, eat more, but don't lay as many eggs. 
  • Mexico has the highest egg consumption in the world. 
  • If every child in the world ate one Omega-3 egg a day, they would have their recommended RDI, or recommended Daily Intake, to keep them healthy. 
  • Eggs contain small amounts of almost every vitamin and mineral required by the human body, aside from Vitamin C. 

I hope you learned a bit more about eggs and why you should never, ever thro- er, I mean and why they are such an important part of maintaining a healthy diet. It's a tough job and I for one am TRULY thankful there are farmers that feed me. The next time you head to a farmers market or farm, thank them. Multiple times. 

I'd like to thank the entire Hudson Family from the bottom of my heart for graciously opening their home and business to thirteen strangers and treating us like we were part of the family. You are truly one of the most hardworking, lovely, and hospitable families I've met in a very long time, possibly ever. Your dedication and passion to what you do is nothing short of admirable and incredibly inspiring. 

And It's not hard to see why your top of the pecking chain. 

Disclosure: I participated in the Burnbrae Farms Blogger Farm Tour program as a guest of Burnbrae Farms and I'm so grateful for the experience. All opinions are 100% my own.

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3 Responses to “From Farm to Table: Burnbrae Farms Tour - Part Two”

  1. What a great post Jenny! There is so much that we didn't know about a common food that we eat every day! I am so proud of our egg industry and all of the hard work and quality that goes into getting egg from farm to table and how Burnbrae Farms is an industry leader!

  2. I loved this blogger trip! We are now fountains of knowledge when it comes to eggs. Know what I miss most? Your laugh :)

  3. I loved this article & the fact that the farm is promoting awareness and education through farm tours with bloggers! It'd be such a great experience to be involved in!