The "One Butt Kitchen" is proud to have our first guest blogger with us today. Jillian is the author of "That's Life". She's a crafter, a photographer, a raiser of chickens and, best yet, soon to be a mommy of two! She's also one of my husband's favorite people whenever we have breakfast, because we get to relish eggs from her chickens. There is just no comparison to eggs from the grocery store. We love them so much, I asked her to write for us so we can all learn a little more about them.
One year ago, my addiction to chickens started. Well before our little chicks were due in the mail, I spent hours looking at coop plans, studying breed characteristics, and checking out the wares at our local feed store. That shipment of day-old chicks created a rough start to our adventure in chicken keeping. Unfortunately, the chicks were on a cold mail truck, and only three Silver Spangled Hamburg chicks survived. Luckily, our feed store had gotten in a shipment of chicks. Five little Barred Rocks joined our flock. We spoiled those little chicks with fresh grass and veggies, freeze-dried crickets and mealworms, and even salmon once or twice. We have since traded the Hamburgs for a Light Sussex and a Barnevelder, and hatched a couple Silkies to add to the flock.
(Barred Rock at a few days old.)
Raising chickens in our backyard as naturally as possible means that we spend more on our eggs than eggs from the grocery store. Healthy chickens make healthy eggs, though. Our chickens feast on organic layer feed, oyster shells (for calcium), grass and leaves, kitchen scraps, extra veggies from the garden, bugs, black oil sunflower seeds, hot oatmeal on cold days, and sometimes expired yogurt or milk.
Why did we choose to raise our own spoiled hens instead of buying eggs?
-Our eggs are cruelty free. The girls wander our yard during the day to forage for greens, bugs, and tiny rocks to help their digestion. We do not remove beaks or nails, and we do not force molting. Commercial farms starve hens for around one month to force molting, which will increase egg production and size. The cages at commercial farms are so small that the hen cannot turn around or walk, causing severe foot injuries. I do not consider myself an activist for the prevention of animal cruelty, but I could go on and on about this.
-Our eggs are honest. Labeling on store-bought eggs is anything but honest. Free-range eggs from stores are not the free-range eggs you were expecting. Producers are only required to provide a one small door to what is often a small pen. Because chickens are flock animals, they will not leave the group of 100 or so chickens they recognize to wander outdoors. Cage free eggs come from hens that are packed into barns, with no more space than they would have in cages. “Certified Humane” eggs come from hens given comforts such as perches and next boxes, but hens are debeaked. Forced molting and debeaking is still allowed for “Certified Organic” eggs, and access to the outdoors is limited as with “Free range” eggs. (Read more about egg labeling here.)
-Our chickens are healthy. By providing healthy foods and plenty of exercise, we prevent many of the problems that commercial hens face. For example, Salmonella outbreaks are caused by poor conditions at egg farms. Chickens do somehow manage to get into trouble, and any injuries are treated right away. Their coops are clean, and do not smell like many imagine. Cleaning up the poop (and chickens make a LOT of poop) prevents the spread of disease, as well. More about that poop later.
-Healthy chickens make healthy eggs. Just as healthy moms make healthier babies, healthy chickens make healthy eggs. Providing healthy foods and plenty of sunshine helps the hens to make eggs with a higher nutritional value. According to Mother Earth News, chickens allowed to forage produce eggs with 33% less cholesterol, 25% less saturated fat, 66% more vitamin A, 200% more omega-3 fatty acids, 300% more vitamin E, and 700% more beta carotene than conventional eggs. The taste of eggs from pastured chickens cannot be beat. Yolks are firm, and the whites stand up instead of running in the frying pan. You can actually see the difference in the nutritional content of eggs by looking at the color of the yolk, as well. Healthy chickens make eggs with deep orange yolks, not unlike the golden-orange of marigolds.
-No genetic freaks allowed. Commercial egg and broiler chickens are bred to produce. For laying hens, this means that they reach sexual maturity early, they lay most days if not every day, and they lay large eggs. For broilers, this means that extreme weight gain is encourage to allow for butchering at 4 weeks for game hens, and 6-8 weeks for fryers and broilers. Unfortunately, this type of genetic engineering causes extremely short life spans, necessitates artificial insemination, encourages disease and organ failure, causes behavioral issues, and makes for meat with less texture and flavor. In fact, commercial broiler breeds often suffer from organ failure if allowed to live longer than 6-8 weeks. It is also common for birds to die because they are too heavy to walk to the feed and water dishes. Instead of encouraging breeding to such an extreme, we favor older breeds that do not have these issues. Delicious eggs are worth the wait.
-Remember that poop? Chickens poop a LOT. No really – it is a LOT. We clean our coops two to three times per week. The poop and wood shavings goes into our compost pile. Composted chicken manure makes a great fertilizer that nourishes and improves the soil. Healthy soil makes for a healthy garden and yard. Healthy soil brings beneficial bugs that prevent pest issues, and our chickens love to eat tasty bugs and worms. That healthy garden not only feeds our family, but it also feeds our chickens. See where this is going? Sustainable living is easy.
-Chickens are cheap entertainment. No, really. Chickens are great entertainment. Give the hens a few scraps of meat, and they will play keep-away for a half hour or so. Each chicken has a personality, and they are not afraid to show that personality. Our hens follow us around the yard, talking as they go. Many chickens love to be held and pet.
-Chickens teach responsibility. Our children will be able to learn the lessons that animal ownership brings. Chickens need to be fed, given clean water, and cared for like any pet. Chickens also do not require walks, stinky litter boxes, tooth brushing, or the various other things that mammals require. That means less work for Mom and Dad.