Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hens a-laying

My chickens stopped laying back in October, and it has been a long winter without them.  Some recipes really need eggs, so I found myself standing in the egg isle of a grocery store last month struggling to choose a carton. I had stopped at a big-box grocery store that was conveniently located to fit in my tight schedule that day, so my options were less ideal than if I had gone to the Co-op.

They had some organic eggs, some cage-free eggs, brown eggs, and "natural" eggs.  Having read a lot about the way our food is produced, I'm aware that chickens fed organic feed are still likely to be raised in a space no larger than a standard 8" x 10" piece of paper, never stepping foot on the ground or seeing sunlight.

Some people think brown eggs are healthier, but they are no different from white eggs.

Cage-free means that the chickens are kept in large spaces without individual cages, but usually with the same equivalent amount of space.  It doesn't mean they have more room to move or that they breath fresh air.

The word "natural" means nothing.  It pretty much guarantees that it is a real egg, produced by chickens, and that's it.

Another label that baffles me is "vegetarian-fed."  Why would anyone insist that chickens be vegetarian?  They are birds.  They eat bugs, worms and grubs, along with grains and even vegetable scraps.  The protein they consume while ranging outside contributes to their overall health, and the nutrient value of their eggs.  You should see them follow me around the garden while I weed and turn over soil, just waiting to spot a moving critter that they quickly snatch up and devour with great enthusiasm.

I finally bought Wilcox Organic eggs, paying top dollar to support the practice of raising chickens "cage free, with access to outdoors, free of antibiotics and hormones."  Still, it was disheartening to crack open the first egg to find a runny, butter-yellow yolk that proved to have very little flavor.

The fact is, people who haven't had home-grown eggs don't know what they're missing.  I can't tell you how thrilled I am to finally, once again, eat eggs with a rich, almost orange, thick consistency, with flavor to match. I know my chickens live a good life (except for the constant threat of death by raccoon), with no hormones, pecking around in the dirt all day (something chickens NEED to do), taking dust baths in dry areas, basking in the sun when it's out, and NOT being forced into a vegetarian lifestyle.  Chickens are very easy to keep and fun to have around.  But, if you can't fit chickens into your life, try to buy from local farms.  Support happy chickens, local farmers, and the best tasting, most nutritious eggs you'll ever eat.

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