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 farm in a world of industrial scale agriculture.
Our network currently spans the Northeast and Midwest, and we’re always expanding our reach. You can find a map of our partner farms here.
What are free-range eggs?
Simply put: free-range eggs are laid by free-range hens! Each of our partner farms follows the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) Certified Humane Free Range standards. Being free-range means that during most times of the day and year, our hens are free to roam outside as they please.
Are Nellie's eggs organic?
No. Our free-range hens are fed conventional grain from reputable suppliers, but we cannot guarantee that this feed is free of pesticides or GMOs, and therefore it cannot be considered organic. Our eggs are a great choice for customers who would like eggs from hens treated with kindness and to the Certified Humane Free-Range standard, but at a lower cost than organic eggs. However, our sister brand Pete & Gerry's offer another option for customers who are concerned about pesticides and GMOs. They offer Pete & Gerry's Free-Range Organic eggs. These hens are fed exclusively organic grain which is free of any pesticides or GMOs. Our organic eggs are a little more expensive because of the feed costs, but we feel it is a fair price for bringing organic eggs to market without shortcuts. You can find out more about Pete & Gerry’s eggs here.
Where can I buy Nellie's Free Range Eggs?
We’re proud to say that our eggs are sold in grocery stores, supermarkets, health food stores, and other locations nationwide. Please check our store locator for a store near you.
Can I eat Nellie's eggs past the expiration date?
Unfortunately, we cannot recommend that you eat our eggs after the date printed on the packaging. In general, we use a “use by” date on our cartons. This means that the eggs should be consumed on or before that date. Use of a “sell by” date is not federally required, but may be required by certain states. If your carton does specify “sell by” near the printed date, then the eggs can be consumed within 15 days of that date.
What does free-range mean?
Each of our partner farms follows the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) Certified Humane Free Range standards. Being free-range means that 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 typically does not involve any amount of outdoor access. We do have to ensure that our free-range hens are safe from predators and disease, so we can’t allow them outside if ground predators such as fox or coyote are seen in the immediate area. During migratory bird season, we protect our birds from exposure to diseases such as avian mites or avian flu. On rainy or cold days, our hens enjoy dust bathing and socializing in their spacious hen houses.
What is cage-free? Is it the same thing as free-range?
Not at all! Cage-free does represent an incremental improvement over the current industry practice of battery cages where hens can’t move. But despite the name, Cage Free is still caged. The new aviary systems being rushed to market to meet the demand for cage-free are gigantic floor to ceiling metal enclosures full of layers, catwalks, and doors. It’s a bit better of a life than not being able to move, but the hens never see the outside and these are still very much factory farms with all the inhumane practices intact. Check out this blog post to learn more about the differences between cage-free and free-range.
What does pasture-raised mean?
Pasture-raised is another term that has emerged in recent years. While there are no USDA standards supporting the term, responsible producers are providing the hens with grass pasture to forage on, just like free-range.
The debate comes in with respect to how much space is “enough” for hens. Our free-range hens have a minimum of 2 square feet per hen of pasture, and that’s an average for every hen in the flock. It is very rare for all of the hens to choose to be outside at any one time during the day. Most of them prefer the shade, water, feed, or social opportunities inside the barn, so the girls that feel like venturing out usually have a vast expanse of a field all to themselves to explore. Some folks who produce under the “pasture-raised” term offer even more average space than this, but that space does not come free and is often reflected in the price of those eggs on the shelf.
We think that we’ve found the right balance with Certified Humane Free-Range for our hens, farmers, and consumers alike. Learn more about the difference between free-range and pasture-raised here. Under our sister brand Pete & Gerry’s brand, we offer Certified Humane Pasture-Raised eggs. Learn more here.
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 happens to hens when they are too old to lay eggs?
We have put a lot of critical thought and research into the best way to address 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 for 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 who are bred specifically for that. Many commercial egg laying hens are simply euthanized and landfilled at the end of laying, and as farmers, that seems terribly wasteful to us. So, while we know some consumers will be unhappy to learn that our hens go on to be used for food, we do feel that 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 trained and certified humane handling poultry crews to our farms to pick up the hens. 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, 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 that specializes in processing “light poultry,” including laying hens. This plant uses the latest technology to ensure the hens are quickly and humanely slaughtered. For consumers who want eggs from hens that are never slaughtered, we understand 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.”
I've read bad things about male chicks. What happens at Nellie's?
To fully answer your important question about male chicks, we’d like to explain a little bit about 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 that supply our hens are operated by companies ISA/Hendrix and HY-line, which own the rights to the genetics. 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.
We do not currently have the resources or expertise to produce our own breed of egg laying hens, which is why we have chosen 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 in egg farming. Male chickens from laying breeds are not suitable for meat because they mature very slowly. Additionally, even in a free range environment, a rooster’s 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. We wish that there was an alternative, but there currently are no hatcheries available to us that produce chicks without male chick culling. All this being said, we do not believe that we can stand by idly and pass the blame onto hatcheries. They are producing chicks for farmers like us, 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: 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. 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 nonprofits, such as Compassion in World Farming, to support their efforts around this issue. We are also partnering with Unilever, who has taken a leadership role on this issue, to coordinate efforts and bring positive change to the United States.
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 does “slow churned” butter mean?
Slow churning refers to the amount of time it takes to produce the butter from cream. A slower churning process like ours, which takes roughly an hour, yields a butter with a softer, richer, creamier texture and flavor. Butter churned at higher speeds tends to lose those qualities before it’s even packaged.
Is your butter Kosher?
Our butter is OU-D Certified. You can learn more about this Kosher certification here.
Is your butter gluten-free?
Although our cows consume grains like barley from time to time, the gluten proteins in our cows' diet do not end up in their milk in the same form, which means that our butter is gluten-free.
Are your butter wrappers recyclable?
The box that holds our butter is made from recycled paper and can be recycled once again. Waxy butter wrappers like the ones you’ll find on our butter sticks unfortunately cannot be recycled. However, they can be used in a variety of ways, such as for greasing baking pans or for wrapping homemade candies (they should be washed beforehand). The wrappers are also a great resting place for dirty tools while you’re cooking and will make cleaning up a breeze!
What do Nellie’s cows eat?
For the most part, our cows are grass-fed! While grass-fed is not an industry regulated term when it comes to butter, for us it means that grass makes up the majority of our cows’ diet.
Our dairy farms are independently audited to ensure that the cows are given ample access to green, grassy pastures. This usually amounts to each cow being on pasture at least 175 days (about 5 and a half months) of the year, though our farmers try to bring them out to pasture daily so long as the weather permits. And because a completely grass-fed diet isn’t feasible in most climates, our partner farmers work closely with nutritionists to ensure the cows are getting all the nutrients they need with the help of additional grains such as barley, corn, alfalfa grown by the farmers and fermented into silage.
This guarantees our gals have everything they need to remain healthy and produce high quality milk all year long.
Where are Nellie’s dairy farms located?
We currently work with 100+ small family-owned American dairy farms located in Ohio.
How many cows are in your herds?
The largest family farm in our network has about 200 cows, while the smallest has around 20.
What happens when the cows are no longer producing milk?
Once a cow stops producing milk, she is typically sold to follow-on markets. Farmers will occasionally keep a retired cow or two to live out their lives on the farm, but more often than not, the humane choice is to sell the cow for meat. There are strict guidelines for this process outlined both in the FARM program manual and regulated by law. USDA representatives are present at all meat facilities, and the animal’s comfort is a priority throughout the process. The humane treatment of these animals is not only important while they are on the dairy farm, but during their travel and their time at the meat facility as well.
All this being said, pasture-raised dairy cows like ours often have a longer lifespan, as the fields are easier on their feet and they are less prone to some illnesses, such as mastitis. Cows also really enjoy being outdoors, just like our chickens do, and those with access to the outdoors tend to live happier, low-stress lives.