Saturday, March 10, 2012

Young Hens Starting to Lay

We raise our own laying hens.  Why?  Have you ever sat and listened to a bunch of happy hens as they sing?  They tell you when they are happy.  They are silent when they are not.  No cages for our little red girls.  They run in their 15 x 20 foot house, all 15 of them.  We hope to add some Aracanas soon too.  The red girls lay some beautiful brown eggs.  The Aracanas are a weird breed.  They are all different colors and lay shades of green.  Either way these ladies lay  some beautiful eggs that stand up in the pan and make my baked goods stand up better than anything you can buy from the store, organic or not.

Speaking of organic.  We feed our girls the best.  They get nothing but organic or transional grains.  Why?  NO GMO for us, but that's another article.  They have the free run of their house and the enclosed run that's as big as their house.  Why a run?  Well these are young girls and they don't know about the nasty preditors that live around our house.  A racoon, skunk, fox or even a possom or black snake would love free access to these little girls and their eggs.  We do let them out when they are older to run around and eat bugs for a few hours every day.  That's what chickens to best, eat grasshoppers and other bugs and scratch around in the manure piles moving them around and eating the worms that are busily composting that manure so I can add it to the garden once it's spent a couple of years cooling off.  These girls love running after any bug that dares show himself and scratch in the grass too!

Right now our girls are just starting to lay little pullet eggs.  These eggs are just the cutest little things and oh are they tastee!

Understanding the Lingo:

“Free Range,” “Cage Free,” “Organic”…what does it all mean? Marketing labels are perhaps the most confusing part of this whole “eating healthy” game. So what do the various terms you see on the packages mean?
  • Conventional (i.e., no special label) – Typically less than half a square foot of space per hen, giving not even enough room to spread their wings.
  • Cage Free – As it says, the hens are able to move about inside a barn without being confined to cages. A better life, but not optimal as parts of beaks are often burned to prevent pecking at themselves and others (a sign of distress, by the way).
  • Free Range – Implies chickens on lush green pastures. Actually is not a regulated term for eggs so this can be used by absolutely anyone. Really all that’s needed is a door to the outside that gives the chickens “access” to an outdoor area, whether they actually use it or not. This is a meaningless term.
  • Organic – This means the hens were fed organic feed, whatever that feed consists of. I think it also means no animal by-products in the feed.
  • Vegetarian – The hen is fed a vegetarian feed. I only mention this to point out that chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians, and will naturally eat bugs, grubs, etc. This term is used to imply “healthier” in our anti-meat culture.

Understanding the difference between organic, free range eggs vs traditional eggs:

I was passed two articles from Mother Earth News regarding the nutrition of truly pastured eggs versus the eggs the USDA uses for its tests. Care to see what the results were?
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene
  • 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D
How did they get this info?  Mother Earth News says, "These amazing results come from 14 flocks around the country that range freely on pasture or are housed in moveable pens that are rotated frequently to maximize access to fresh pasture and protect the birds from predators. We had six eggs from each of the 14 pastured flocks tested by an accredited laboratory in Portland, Ore."

Right now we don't have enough of these 'incredible eggs' to let you purchase some from us.  It won't be long though before we have more than the two of us can eat, then we'll have some available to our neighbors and friends.  My guess is that we are looking at $3.50 a dozen for REALLY FRESH, organic, free-range eggs.  DELISH!

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