We have a sorry window of egglessness here at our place. It’s a sad time. Our spoiled hens, you see, have spoiled us for really good eggs. For most of the year, our small flock produces more eggs than we can eat. But because of the seasonal schedule of the local butcher and the small size of my hen house, I have my old hens butchered in late summer, while the new hens (the pullets, or the “oshlots” as little Mack calls them) don’t begin laying until mid-fall.
So we don’t eat many eggs during this dark, gloom-filled, eggless period of time. Store-bought eggs just don’t cut it. I guess that’s job security for our happy hens that have the free range of our place most of the time, and get scraps hauled to them from our house and the house of my mother, and also the house of my sister’s mother-in-law! Now perhaps you believe me when I tell you that they are spoiled. Plus, most of the day they are free to scrabble in the dirt and eat the things they like best: bugs, weeds, seeds, worms, and whatnot.
Did you know, Gentle Reader, that eggs from truly free-range chickens are actually much more nutritious than the eggs from commercially raised birds? The nutrient levels in the two types of eggs are dramatically different, and researchers believe it’s likely the result of the drastically different diets. True free-range birds eat the natural diet of a chicken, which I listed above, along with the addition of a layer feed and possibly (in our case at our place) additional grains.
Caged birds (poor things, alas) are fed the cheapest mixture possible of corn, soy and/or cottonseed meals, with a mysterious list of additives. If you read the label from a bag of layer rations, you’ll see that through the vague list of ingredients, nearly anything could be included. (Here’s a partial list from a bag: “Grain Products, Plant Protein Products, Processed Grain Byproducts, Roughage Products, Forage Products.” Heck, you could shred up an old boot and call it a “roughage product,” for Pete’s sake!)
The commercial egg industry wants very much to deny that free-range/pastured eggs are better than eggs from birds kept in crowded, inhumane indoor conditions. A statement on the American Egg Board’s web site says “True free-range eggs are those produced by hens raised outdoors or that have daily access to the outdoors.”
Riiiiight. Uh-huh. If you believe that, as my dad would say, I have some swampland in Florida that I’d sell you . . . You realize that they are trying to duck the entire issue by incorrectly defining “true free-range.” Here we go. The USDA (of course I hope you don’t take everything that comes down that pike as fact) defines that phrase “allowed access to the outside” synonymous to the phrase “free-range.” It merely means that producers can–and do!–label their eggs “free-range” even if all they do is leave a tiny door open on their giant sheds, regardless of whether the birds ever learn to go outside, and regardless of whether there is good pasture or just bare dirt or concrete outside those doors!
Most of the eggs at the grocery store come from factory farms, where standard procedure is to stuff 5 to 10 birds into a cage 18″ x 24″. The cages are stacked by the hundreds in large buildings where dirt and feces pile up fast. You may be surprised to learn that most factory farm chickens actually carry E. coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella in their bodies, and pass these nasty bugs on in their eggs.
So please don’t trust the phrases you see on the egg cartons in the store as being what you’ve perhaps been led to believe is accurate.
Most of the eggs currently sold in supermarkets are nutritionally inferior to eggs produced by hens truly raised on pasture. Mother Earth News did an egg testing project and their testing showed that–compared to USDA nutrient data for commercial eggs–eggs from hens raised on pasture (or truly “free-range”) contain:
• 1/2 of the 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
These amazing results came from 14 flocks around the country that ranged freely on pasture or were housed in moveable pens that were rotated frequently to maximize access to fresh pasture, yet protect the birds from predators. They then had eggs from each of the 14 flocks tested by an accredited lab in Portland, Ore. You can read more about this study right here, if you’re interested.
You can trust me, though. As much as I love chickens and as much as I really adore good eggs, I’m not making this up!
By the way, if you still believe that eggs are bad for you, then you’ve been mislead. Study after study, and even the Harvard School of Public Health have failed to show any link at all between eating eggs and heart disease, which is the suggested result of having high cholesterol. But for some reason, the popular media has just not been able to educate the public concerning this news!
Chickens have been turning bugs and worms and seeds and weeds into breakfast for thousands of years. There’s no better way to get the protein, vitamins, minerals and fat that you need every day than to eat eggs. And though you can buy eggs from the store in fancy cartons with their own little egg-tattoos (EB) and they are better than nothing, there is a much better ways to get nutrition from eggs, and help your local economy.
Of course the best way to get your eggs is from your own back yard. By having a few hens in your back yard you are suddenly a very powerful person. Like magic, you are now in control of your own food supply. You decide what goes into your chickens and thus what goes onto your family’s plate. There is no longer a Faceless Corporation intent only on profit between you and your food. Remember the distinction, Gentle Reader: chickens make food, corporations make profit.
It takes me about ten minutes every morning to take care of our little flock, and of course the entertainment value of having a flock of hens cannot be ignored. Sometime during the day, I have a walk out to the coop to pick up eggs, and in the evening I’ll take another brief walk to shut them into their coop. That’s about it.
If you’re not able to keep chickens, then do seek out a small farmer or a neighbor who actually does care about his chickens and wants them to be happy and healthy, and who allows his chickens free-range to pasture. You’ll notice that the eggs you buy will be much richer in color, tastier, and you’ll know that you are feeding your family the absolutely best eggs you can buy.
Now that we’ve got a pleasant plethora of eggs again, I’ll start working our favorite egg meals again into our menus. Pancakes and waffles are popular, egg-rich meals around here, as are Tuscan Eggs, especially since we still have ripe tomatoes to pick. I like to have a bowl of boiled eggs in the refrigerator for breakfasts or just snacking, and I like a good fried egg sammage for lunch occasionally, too, don’t you. . . with just a skiff of mustard, a thin slice of onion, and a bit of spinach . . . ?
- Last picking, a dead opossum, and fried green tomatoes
- Harvest findings and whatnot . . . especially whatnot