Alice Pena is a good egg, and she knows one when she sees one, too. Her chickens live a suite life at PNS Farms in the Ritz-Carlton of coops. This year we began sourcing Pena’s certified organic eggs for the restaurant. We like to think that happy chickens make for happy chefs and happy diners.
With this week’s national factory farmed egg recall, we thought it was as good a time as any to check in and find out exactly what makes her eggs so yummy.
“That’s the difference between factory and fresh from a small farm like mine,” Alice explains. “Most of my time is spent on the cleaning part. It’s a delicate process. I can’t imagine caring for 100,000 of them, all crammed together in a pen.”
Pena has 150 brown and red issa hens. “But I keep two roosters to keep them happy,” she quips. Issas are the best for egg laying, producing about 50 -60 dozen a week.
As for the Ritz-Carlton, it’s a cozy barn with concrete floors covered in pinewood shavings. There’s a shingled roof for shelter and wood walls, one of which is meshed to let the breeze in. Fans keep the air flowing fresh. She explains that they love to sleep high off the ground, so there’s a raised platform with ladders for them to climb. Outside, the chickens are free to wander a fenced-in patio with meshed ceiling (“to keep the predators out.”) And you thought your pets were pampered!
“Their yard is filled with guava trees,” she continues. “They get on the trees and eat flowers and fruit as a snack.”
Greens in their diet make for bright orange yolks, not the pale yellow ones from commercial origins. In the morning Pena’s chickens feed on “pasture,” grass and greens that she cuts for them, and “laying feed,” a protein rich mixture of 20 grains, all certified organic. Then it’s scratch in the afternoon, consisting of 3 or 4 grains.
The majority of the chickens’ daily routine happens inside, like feeding, laying eggs, and of course sleeping, so the pinewood shavings are cleaned daily, and changed frequently becoming compost and eventually rich fertilizer… “That’s why my lychees are the sweetest lychees around!”
And what to make of the myriad choices, from organic to omega 3, at the supermarket? It goes way beyond what’s printed on the packaging, says Pena, because the origins of the eggs in any particular dozen are difficult to trace.
“Just know your source…”
We sure do!