It was early fall 2013 and our flock was thriving. Our hens Bertha, Ivy, Bean and Oreo had become a part of our family and were dearly loved. They provided comic relief and gave us “eggcellent” breakfasts nearly every morning. They had a coup large enough to house 6 or 8 more, and a secure yard for them to roam freely during the day.
The pen we built for them was made of 6′ tall sections of fencing that was previously used as a dog run. There were enough pieces to cover the top to prevent owls, hawks and any other predator from coming in from above. As we assumed everything was secure, we slowly began to put our guard down and left them out overnight. Big mistake. What was a seemingly very secure pen, was not secure enough to keep out a raccoon. I’ll spare you the details, but all of a sudden we were left without eggs and were forced to grieve the loss of our four feathered sisters.
However, this created another problem for us. Where were we going to get eggs that were the same quality of what we were used to? With the farmer’s market closed down for the season, and no other contact for fresh eggs, I was left going back to the grocery store. I’ll never forget the first time AA (After Attack) that I served my 6 year old the “runny egg” she so often craved. Her exact words “Mom! This is gross!”. While I, personally think runny eggs are always gross, what she meant was that this egg had a pale yellow yolk instead of the bright orange she was used to, and it lacked the rich flavor that the eggs from our hens provided.
After this experience I did some research on the best eggs to buy from the grocer since local free range were unavailable. The egg coolers are filled with cartons that have been excellently branded to make us think that they’re just as good as local or that they come from “happy chickens”. Not true. Here’s a rundown of the regulations companies must follow for their eggs to be in certain categories:
Normal/generic eggs: 5-10 chickens in one 18×20 inch cage without ever having the opportunity to leave the cage, let alone go outside. Just FYI – the average wingspan of a single chicken is about 30 inches.
Cage-Free: While they’re not caged inside the barn, there are no regulations to give them access to the outdoors. Typically housed with thousands of other chickens, they are given the opportunity to engage in natural behaviors like walking, flapping their wings, nesting, etc.
Free-Range: These chickens are probably the most fortunate with an opportunity to go outside, but according to this article, this time is unregulated and not mandated, therefore there’s no telling how often they’re given the opportunity to act like chickens.
Organic: While these chickens are fed food free from pesticides or toxic chemicals, they’re typically housed like cage-free without the opportunity to roam freely outdoors.
See here’s the thing. Chickens are highly social animals. They use their own language to talk to each other, warn each other of danger, call for food, etc. They can also provide great companionship to their human caregivers. If they’re not given the opportunity to roam free and live a life like a chicken should, their egg quality decreases in both taste and health benefits.
They have so much more to offer than this!
Another thing I miss about having chickens is how much they enjoyed receiving our food scraps. Chickens are not picky eaters, and love green vegetation. The best part about this is that their eggs are a byproduct of their nutrition, which is why you’ll find the shells of their eggs incredibly solid and sometimes hard to break and their brilliantly bright orange yolk that is caused by the 75% more beta carotene in these eggs compared to factory farmed eggs. According to Mother Earth News, they also contain approximately 25% more Vitamin E, 20 times more omega 3 fatty acids and 1/2 the cholesterol!
While I can go on and on about how awesome it is to raise your own chickens, I feel like in the end you need to just give it a whirl. There is endless information out there about caring for your chickens, and really it’s very simple. If you have any questions, please hit us up on Facebook or leave us a note in the comments section.