You may be wondering why there is a whole section about backyard chickens on a cooking website. Well, since most people visiting here will likely be either veg*n or looking for healthier foods, a good place to start is with finding eggs from happy chickens. It seems to me that happy chickens will lay healthier eggs and Mother Earth News has some laboratory results that back that up. For me, personally, it is about more than getting healthy eggs, it’s about compassion and kindness. All animals should be treated in kind, respectful ways. My hens live happy hen lives. I would like to think that the people who make my egg-based recipes get their eggs from equally happy chickens.
I started raising chickens during the late 80s. I love having chickens. If hand-raised, they are very human friendly. Each chicken has such a distinctive personality. We had one red hen that liked to ride on our dog’s back. I’ve had several that liked to perch on my forearm or shoulder. One would come into the house and sit by the refrigerator waiting to be fed. I’ve had three chickens that lay on their unfertilized eggs long enough for me to buy them newborn chicks that they so gently raised. Watching a chick sit on its mother’s back or peek out from under her wing is heart-warming. And when the chick gives a little peck on the mother’s cheek, you know it is kissing her. When one of our mama hens died while her chicks were still young another hen finished raising them.
We once had an Americauna hen chase after a rooster when the rooster tried to peck our 3 year old in the face. This was not a particularly people-friendly hen, but she was fluffed to aggressive fullness as she chased that rooster away from our son. (It was very hard decision to make, but that rooster was fed to a friend’s python. I could not keep an animal that would attack a child nor could I give it to someone else lest a child end up near it by happenstance. I tried to make peace saying the snake had to eat and I was saving the life of a sweet bunny, but it was still a gut-wrenching decision.)
My chickens spend their days scratching through the alfalfa bedding in their coop. They give themselves dust baths as they lay in the sun with wings stretched. When we bring them scraps from the kitchen they eat them with glee. When it rains I hope they have the good sense to get under cover. (I’ve never seen if they do or not since I have the good sense to be under cover of my roof.) Since our chickens lay brown and green eggs, our son was shocked at the age of four to see that my mom had WHITE chicken eggs in her fridge.
Chickens in factory farms live four hens to a 16 inch wide cage. They cannot stretch their wings. Most of them have had part or all of their beaks cut off to keep them from pecking in these ultra-confined spaces. One animal rights group defines them as the most abused animal on the planet. It is too depressing for me to type more.
We raise our chickens for eggs. When the chickens stop laying (we call that henopause,) they live out their lives until nature takes them. Except for that one aggressive rooster, I have never had any negative people interactions with my chickens. Because they do not typically show they are ill until right before they die, I have only had three visits to the vet over all the years and all the chickens. Since I normally have 6 to 8 chickens at a time, that’s a lot of chickens that didn’t need to go to the vet.
The downside to raising hens is that for each hen that I buy, a male baby chick will likely be “disposed” of. If the chicks are from a factory hatchery, the baby boys usually have a nasty ending. This is a hard fact for someone as sensitive as I am. For others slightly more sensitive it would be a good reason to be vegan. I now get my chicks from local people who humanely raise their roosters. Most still end up in a stew pot, but at least they don’t suffer. Fortunately, a German veterinarian, Dr. Maria-Elisabeth Krautwald-Junghanns, has come up with a way to sex eggs just three days after they are laid. (Be warned, that article contains disturbing information.) However, once this technique becomes available in the U.S., new ethical questions will arise…Do you get your chicks from a factory hatchery where the mothers may not live in very good conditions or do you buy from a local breeder who still must dispose of the baby roosters. All of this is part of why I have tried to create many of my recipes with both egg-based and vegan versions. Because of how commercial hens are raised, I don’t want to buy commercial eggs. I’ll often make my egg-free recipes when our egg stash is low and I’ll make my egg-based versions when the weather is good and the hens are laying a lot.
It is with extreme gratitude that I am now thanking Brad Pitt for taking a stand to help factory farm chickens. One of the reasons I like to shop at Costco is because of their treatment of their employees (my mom is retired from there and I know how well they treated her) and I love their ever-growing line of organic produce. However, I hope they will make it a priority to sell eggs that are Animal Welfare Approved.
As I type this, Avian Influenza is decimating the factory farms of the Midwest. Over 48 million birds have been killed to stop the spread of this disease. Although I don’t buy eggs, I’ve seen that some places are rationing eggs and others have soaring egg prices. Those of us with backyard flocks are watching the fate of so many birds with saddened eyes. However, for the most part, backyard flocks have not been infected (probably because of the healthier living conditions.) Of the 223 sites that are known on this date to have avian flu, only 20 of those sites were backyard flocks. (Although some of those sites had over 5,000 birds. That’s a really big back yard.) Of those 20 backyard flocks, only 1 was exclusively chickens and they had 40 birds (more than most backyard chicken people I know.) This really tells me how weakened the factory birds must be and makes me feel even worse for the sad lives they live. It also makes me glad I don’t eat the eggs (or meat) of factory raised birds. I kind of wonder how healthy it really is. For the latest information on rates of avian flu, see this link.
So, please, if you do not have your own backyard coop, consider getting one. If that is not realistic, please purchase eggs that are Animal Welfare Approved. You can buy Animal Welfare Approved chicken eggs in many grocery stores, farmers markets, or from a local hobbyist. They are more expensive, but if you’re hesitant to pay the going price for humanely raised eggs, compare it to the price you’ll pay for a single serving of specialty coffee.
For more information on raising your own chickens, check out backyardchickens.com or, I’ve been told, The Chicken Chick. But beware. Raising chickens is addictive. There are so many pretty breeds and so many egg colors. Right now I’ve got three little chicks that are only two days old. They will lay olive colored eggs in just a few months. I’m so excited!!!
There are reasons the term, “Crazy chicken lady,” is considered an accurate title. Misty Schutt from One Girl’s Rant can explain it better than I can.