Backyard Chickens: They’ve Started!

When I got my first egg last week, I snapped a cell phone picture and flashed it around to my friends.  They called me amazing.  Though it was a great ego boost, I wasn’t the one that laid the egg.  Now THAT would have been amazing.

Don't worry... they get bigger.

My 6-month-old pullets had started laying.  It was a tiny egg, compared to a white storebought egg, but it was only the first.  The hens aren’t even fully grown yet.

Four days later, a second hen laid her first egg.  Today, I got three eggs.  One hen left to go.  Right now, I’m averaging about an 18-pack of eggs per week.

The breakfast lineup, 3 from today and 1 leftover from yesterday.

Backyard chicken farming is growing in popularity, as people realize how easy and rewarding it is.  Cheaper?  Well, that depends on what you look for in your eggs.  If you normally buy the white, mass-produced eggs from the cheapest grocery store possible, you’re pretty much going to break even.  But if you look for a little more from your food, you’re going to win by raising your own.

See? It's my duty.

The USDA released this poster in the 1920s, back when people were encouraged to work more to provide for their families, rather than pay into the economy to do it.  (Sorry, that was a rather biased opinion.  But we’re currently using that bias to help us survive in this economy.)

In the coming weeks, I’ll add a couple more blog posts dealing with how you can raise your own chickens, especially in an urban environment.  For now, I’ll focus on the nutritional value of the eggs themselves.

I’ve already received offers from several of my clients, asking to buy my extra eggs.  As one client said, “I pay over $5 a dozen for free-range eggs, and I can’t always guarantee that they’re really free-range.”  To that client, something like this is important to her:

4 months old, enjoying a grass salad.

Or this…

Mmmmm... overripe tomatoes!

(She’s in her Halloween costume.  We’re not quite so earthy that my children run around in medieval costumes on a regular basis.)

Why do people choose free-range eggs over regular eggs?

First of all, let me clarify something.  “Cage-free” means “not kept in a cage.”  It doesn’t mean that the chicken is out playing in the sunshine, or that it has any more allotted space in the barn.  Cage-free chickens may still live in a cramped and filthy environment, wading through feces, unable to really exercise.  “Free-range” means the coop has access to the outdoors.  It doesn’t guarantee how often the chickens get to actually go outdoors, or the quality of the outdoor environment.

To really know how your eggs were produced, you need to research the supplier.  The most credible suppliers will show pictures of their farms, guaranteeing the environment of the animals.  The most credible suppliers are also the most expensive.  Just saying.

So there’s our first reason: humane living.  Now, chickens are simple animals which don’t require a lot of fancy accommodations.  They need to be clean, they need access to healthy food and water, and they need exercise.

Is humane living important to you?  What qualifies humane?  Does it matter to you that the chicken is allowed to eat its natural omnivorous diet, which includes greens and bugs?  (A “vegetarian” diet is NOT a chicken’s natural diet.  Bugs are one of their favorite snacks.)  And are you willing to justify the cost of your food by these criteria?

How about a second reason?  Nutrition.  Now, there are several differing opinions on this.

This article says there is no nutritional difference.  (I have to note that this author is also a naysayer to the natural-foods industry in general.)  This article also doesn’t define what kind of “free-range” environment the chickens in the study lived in.

This article from Mother Earth News lists several nutritional components that the previous article doesn’t even go into, including omega-3s, vitamin D, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

I’ll give you a third source of information…

One of these eggs is not like the others...

When I felt the shells, they were smooth and glossy, not textured like hardened leather.  (A leathery shell, which will later harden, indicates a calcium deficiency in the chicken.)  While cracking the eggs, I noticed that the shells were twice as thick.  And here you see a much darker yolk color, compared to a conventional egg… orange coloring in foods usually indicates increased levels of beta carotene, vitamin E, and/or iron.

And how about another reason to raise your own chickens…

Fresh eggs on homemade 7-grain bread.

Mmmmmm… what a spoiled husband I have.