This past year has taught me a lot about eggs. First of all, I’ve learned that you don’t need a farm to have hens and fresh eggs. Even if I live in a tiny place, I’m going have hens. I’m not really even a bird person, but I’m becoming a hen person.
My 10 hens are now about a year old, which means they are no longer “pullets,” and they lay about 6-12 eggs a day. Hens in their good laying years (some say age 1-2, others say their prime up to 3, although many can lay into their teens) can lay 280-300+ a year (half a dozen a week, usually one every day or so). When all my new layers are producing, we’ll be getting 12 dozen a week in season (which is spring: summer heat lowers production and winter lack of daylight and cold lowers production). Enough for the extended family to get all the eggs they need.
I was reading in the Salatin book about how he sells his eggs to chefs by showing them how different his eggs are than factory-farmed eggs. The chefs get really excited and always switch, even though they cost more than bulk factory eggs. He shows them how you can put the egg in a bowl and pick up the egg yolk and the white tries to come with it. The yolks do not break easily and are easy to separate. If you break his egg into almost-boiling water it will poach all together and be easily taken out with a slotted spoon at once instead of falling into many pieces. The eggs sits up high in the pan (see my breakfast, above).
They are also higher in protein, with higher vitamin/mineral content (seen in the bright orange yolk) and you can taste the difference–they are very rich. They make way better cakes and pastries. Salatin has made a killing in the chef market in his area of VA.
So this week when making my breakfast I tried the same tests on my eggs and was really excited to see the same results. Salatin pasture-raises his eggs, which means they are on a large pen that is moved over fresh (chemical-free) grass on a daily basis, but they are still safe from predators (racoons, opossums, eagles/hawks, rats) and kept out of nasty things they shouldn’t eat. We do a combination of free range and coop time, but David just finished the moveable pasturing box so we can start with Salatin’s method and keep them on grass all the time. It really saves on feed costs.
Even if a person doesn’t have room to move the chickens around, they can save $ on feed by giving them all the table scraps, dry bread and (non-sprayed) grass clippings. All chickens need feed in addition, and you can use scratch grains or layer feed from the store. We use a combination. They need 3-5 sq feet of space per hen, so you can have 3 hens in a 3×4 big dog house, and maybe a little fenced yard of the same size they can go into (covered with chicken wire to keep them safe). It can be just 2 feet high.
Free-range or pastured chicken eggs are NOT vegetarian eggs. Chickens on their God-given diet will eat grass, weeds, weed seeds and LOTS of worms and bugs. They will happily eat most kitchen scraps, including meat, although at our house we don’t feed them chicken, because that’s just weird. They love milk, and families with a goat/sheep/cow often feed extra milk to the chickens. Also if your milk goes bad they will gobble sour milk up. If they acquire a taste for raw eggs they will start breaking their eggs to eat them, so we never feed them raw eggs, although theoretically you can feed them cooked eggs and it is all unrelated in their (tiny) minds. If you’re grossed out by eating eggs made by chickens that eat bugs (at first I was a little weirded by that) just learn a little about what concentration-camp raised commercial factories feed their chickens and you will start craving bug-fed chicken eggs.
Raising chicks takes about 30 minutes a day. At 4 weeks it takes about 15 minutes a day. A regular laying flock of juveniles or adults takes about 7-10 minutes a day. All these minutes are fun, even in snow, at least for me. Once a year you clean the coop, and that takes a few hours. They don’t stink unless they are not managed well, in fact it doesn’t even smell much inside our coop itself. We use a deep litter system where you just keep adding carbon matter (dried leaves, wood shavings, dried grass clippings, etc.) and stirring up the litter every week or so. It slowly works up until it is 18 inches or more of litter in winter, which helps keep them warm. The droppings compost with the litter, so in spring, you open up the coop, compost everything (if needed, sometimes it comes out fully composted) and put it on the garden. Having animals makes organic gardening so much more affordable.
The kids love going out to get the eggs every day, and are learning responsibility by feeding and watering them. The result is more nutritious, more humane, more connected to the land, so not super stinky to the neighbors like factory farms, family friendly, environmentally friendly, chemical free and very, very local. Even in towns with strict animal codes a few hens can be kept as pets, and yes, hens lay eggs even without roosters just like we ovulate even if there are no men around. Keeping hens to have your own eggs seems like a big deal, but I have been surprised by how NOT a big deal it is. It is way easier than having a dog, and about the same as having a cat if you have a box to scoop.
I’m not trying to preach or guilt people for buying factory eggs. I’m going to have to buy some for Easter because I don’t want to waste my good eggs on boiling and don’t yet have enough hens to spare eggs. Although mechanistic, industrial egg production is horrific and even more so the more you learn about it, it is hard to pull away from it. But I’m trying to get there and move into clean, humane food that focuses on stewardship.
What I am saying is, get a hen or two if you can. It is so great in so many ways, not the least of which is breakfast.