The Egg-ly Truth

This morning as I was going about my usual chores, I was thinking about my hens and the life that they lead. I thought about how each morning, I throw them our food scraps and a few scoops of scratch, scrub out their heated water buckets and refill them with fresh water, clean the previous night’s accumulations of poop from their roosting areas and nesting boxes and fill their feeders up to the top. The doors to their coops are opened wide so that fresh air fills the coop. 

The hens rush out of doors to their yard which has a soft layer of hay. They spend their mornings pecking and scratching thru the hay for tasty treats, fraternizing with the roosters, and laying eggs in the nesting boxes.
This gal needs occasional beak maintenance....see how she grows it into two points?
I trim it with scissors, or else she would starve.
Around noon, their outside gate is opened and they are allowed access to the rest of the farm. Out they pour....some to the pasture, some to the woods, some to the goat pens. They hunt for insects and bathe in the dust and explore the compost pile.

By nightfall, they have found their way back to the coops and climbed onto their roosts for a peaceful night’s slumber.

It’s a good life for a chicken; and one we are committed to providing. In return, these gentle creatures provide us with plentiful, nutritious eggs that are free from disease and hours of comic relief.

Presently, we have about 70 chickens. They all enjoy the same clean and healthy life in several coop/yard setups.

Sadly, though, this is the type of life that only a minority of chickens in this country enjoy. If you are like me and have a “backyard” flock...I applaud you. If you are “on the fence” and considering doing the same...I encourage you. If you have no idea what type of life is led by the chickens who lay your eggs....I would like to educate you.

First, let me tell you....I have not always lived this type of life. I have worked towards this goal for the past several years. Prior to that, I lived in suburbia and bought my food at the supermarket. I read labels, not understanding what most of the words meant. I tried to shop with a conscience. But I was ignorant, clueless, uninformed. Unfortunately, most of the populace is uninformed as I was. Most believe what they see in print...searching out egg cartons with words like “organic”, “free range”, “cage- free” and “nest-laid” thinking that those chickens have been raised humanely; and that somehow those eggs will be more nutritious or disease free.

Sadly, as with most advertising, those words are meaningless and misleading. The majority of chickens are raised in poultry houses such as this.

They are referred to as protein factories, with no thought being given to the life of the chicken. 

These birds spend their lives in confined spaces, standing in their own excrement with no exercise. They become aggressive and fight with each other for space. To prevent cannibalism, their beaks are often cut off. These birds are stressed and diseased. Antibiotics are used to prevent the chickens from succumbing to these diseases. Their quarters are not cleaned until the birds are removed from the poultry house. They usually live under these conditions for two years and then are sold at auction for eventual butchering. For the most part, they never see the light of day or feel a breeze blow through their feathers, until they are shoved into a tractor trailer and sent to the rendering plant.

The recent salmonella outbreaks have forced us to take a hard look at our egg production. Interestingly, when the FDA and department of Agriculture investigated this country’s egg production, they came to the conclusion that part of the problem must be the fact that birds and rodents can get into the poultry houses, thus introducing harmful bacteria. I have to admit I found this conclusion quite comical. As usual, they missed their mark. They may have identified a contributing factor, but the cause is simple. Simply stated, the cause of these disease outbreaks is entirely due to the living conditions of the birds. You must understand, my chicken houses are frequented daily by visiting birds and mice...looking for free food and shelter. These tiny creatures pose no threat to my chickens, who are healthy and stress- free. The bacteria that normally live within the digestive and genitourinary tracts of the chickens pose no threat to my chickens either for the same reason. Protein factory chickens are a different story...they are weak and sickly with little or no immune system.
So, “what about free range and cage-free chickens?” you ask. The truth is, this picture is an illustration of what is considered “free ranging” and “cage-free”(yes, that has been determined by the governmental agencies that are responsible for protecting consumers)...

These chickens have access to a very small outside yard at one end of the chicken house. Unfortunately, they are packed in so tightly, that only a few chickens who are right beside that little door even know it exists, not to mention being the only ones who could gain access to that door. So, like caged birds, they stand in their own excrement, peck each other to nightmarish lives that no creature should have to endure. “Nest-laid” eggs are produced under the same conditions...with nesting boxes available to the chickens around the perimeter of the poultry house.  It is suggested, but not demanded that these chickens have a little hay thrown to them.

As for “organic” eggs. That label says nothing about the living conditions of the chickens, only that they were fed organic feed and given no antibiotics.

Pretty grim stuff, isn’t it? Unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the subject of our food and how it is produced. I could go on and on, as this is a subject about which I am passionate. But, I will stay on the subject of eggs for now.

By now you are probably wondering what you can do about this problem. As Hubbs always says...”vote with your checkbook”. Don’t buy commercially produced eggs. Find a farm that raises chickens out of doors and buy your eggs from them. Buy at your local farmer’s market...but don’t be fooled. Ask to see how those eggs are produced. Make sure they don’t come from large industrial chicken houses. Or, if you have a little space of your a few chickens and start your own small backyard flock. You would be amazed at how little time and money are needed to keep a small flock of egg layers.

If you question the difference between store bought and farm raised eggs, I will tell you that they are worlds apart...both in looks and flavor.  A farm raised egg has a bright orange yolk and much richer flavor.  As for freshness, what you buy in the supermarket may be as old as one month before you bring it home.  While eggs do last a long time, wouldn't you rather eat one that is fresher?  Not to mention more nutritious?  Hens who have access to pasture and insects lay eggs that are overall more nutritious and higher in Omega 3 fatty acids.

I challenge you to consider this and perhaps find a farmer who would be willing to supply you with farm fresh eggs.  I guarantee you will never go back to store bought.  Or, better yet...consider adding a few chickens to your acreage.  Don't hesitate to email me if you have any questions. 

 If you are interested in doing a bit of reading about our food and where it comes from, I can give you several recommendations.


Susan said…
Dear Beverly,

Absolutely wonderful post!!! I just love this. I applaud you for writing it and your chickens are very, very lucky chickens indeed. When we move out to the country we do intend on owning chickens if my health improves. I can only imagine living in the country will help it and the joy of animals around us will improve it even more. :-)

Blessings to you,
Anke said…
Thank you for posting this Bev! My mom always referred to these poor chickens as "concentration camp chickens" and we have always tried to buy our eggs locally if possible. I'm lucky to know several people here who raise their chickens like you do and sell their eggs. Down the road I would like to start keeping a few chickens myself, but I have to get hubby on board first.
Lisa said…
Great post. My old boss is shocked that someone will pay $2.00for a dozen of my eggs when they can get them for 99 cents at Wal-Mart. Some people just don't get it no matter how eloquently we try to explain it to them. It's really sad.
Junebug said…
It is amazing how many eggs a few chickens will lay. Just think how you are helping with you family and neighbors health. Thank you Bev for this informative post.
Unknown said…
it breaks my heart to see how production chickens are treated and exploited. If possible, I would rescue them all. but instead, like you, I have my own small flock that get to free range on our two acres during the day and sleep in clean and secure house (built for them by my wonderful husband)at night. God bless the animals and those who truly love and care for them.
Unknown said…
it breaks my heart to see how production chickens are treated and exploited. If possible, I would rescue them all. but instead, like you, I have my own small flock that get to free range on our two acres during the day and sleep in clean and secure house (built for them by my wonderful husband)at night. God bless the animals and those who truly love and care for them.
Farm Girl said…
Very informative. I have been to commercial feed lots as well and was appalled at the living conditions too. I did not know though about the free range part about chickens or the other things, It just make my blood run cold. My hens produce enough for me and my married girls so maybe I need to look in to more chickens. I am going to show my kids here that live at home, because they laugh at my hens for living under such nice conditions.
Nina said…
Too bad you are preaching to the choir. I assume most folks who read your blog know this. I had a co-worker who complained about the price of "free-range" and "organic" eggs at the supermarket. When I told her what that really meant she didn't beleive me. I've also heard that that little door at the end of the chicken house which only a few birds have access to leads to a cement yard.

But keep it up! It doesn't hurt for those of us on board to be reminded of why we do what we do. And I love reading your blog! Of the long list of blogs I follow, yours is one of two I make sure I read daily.
Unknown said…
I have to second Nina...all true. Thanks for such a wonderful post, I knew almost all this infor however, I DID NOT KNOW that Organic meant just that...not the conditions of the chickens. I was able to get eggs from Amanda for awhile but she only have 3-4 I think so they don't produce enough. I am definately looking for another source, I have noticed the ones I get at the or not, don't look as good. Thanks for taking the time to make this long post!
Bee Haven Bev said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bee Haven Bev said…
I knew when I wrote this post that I would be preaching to the choir. However, if just one person reads it and makes a change in their shopping habits, then I have made a matter how small, any difference is a good thing and a step in the right direction. This country needs a paradigm shift with respect to how we "get" our food. Thanks for listening, and thanks for your kind words.
Kelly said…
I believe just like you do here. Our hens aren't laying, well wait I did get one egg yesterday. They have free access to the pasture for grass and bugs, layer crumbles (not organic but hormone and antibiotic free). We don't add artificial light in the winter. Hence the one egg from about 28 hens. I honestly couldn't read most of your post. We ran out of eggs over the holidays and Ted went down the street and bought eggs from a neighbor who has true free range hens. I agree that you have to vote with your checkbook. I don't eat at KFC, McDonalds or Burger King when on the road. I haven't had KFC for YEARS! If you ever post about feed lots many readers would never eat beef. I love co-ops, we are going to get our veggies and meat from them this year. Some things we just cant do, like keep a veggie garden. I just don't have the time or energy therefore we buy. From farmers. Love the post. Hate the subject. Chickens are the easiest creature to keep and they give back.
Anonymous said…
wonderful post..and the best eggs..I'm lucky to have them available to me..I wonder if your hens know how lucky they are..?
Tracy said…
Phenomenal post Beverly!

In a way you are preaching to the choir, but we all have people in our lives that aren't on board with ethically produced food. In fact, the only time I am around like-minded people is when I am online. All of my friends are young with no families, and are still partying in the big city and trying to climb those proverbial ladders. They have a passing interest in what I am doing and what is going on within the industrial food system but it's not convenient for them to take action. I constantly post links on food issues on my facebook page so they can see what I've been interested in without me preaching. I would do the same with your post with your permission. Hopefully someone will open their eyes a little.
Bee Haven Bev said…
By all means....pass this along, spread the word....whatever it takes to get people motivated, I am all for it. Thanks, Tracy!!!
I think I have mentioned in some of my past comments considering a small flock of my own this spring. After reading this I was shocked as to the definition of cage free. I just assumed it would be like roaming free & happy like I would raise chickens. Of course I plan to keep them inside the chicken house at night just as I do my ducks. I was wondering if I do not allow myself to get attached to them in a way as being a pet can some be used for meat eating by fall. I dont mean to seem cruel. I want fresh eggs & fresh meat both. I have been growing some of my own veggies for fresh food & plan to enlarge my veggie garden this spring for a larger harvest to can. I want healther food for my family. Thanks for this post. Blessings!
Bee Haven Bev said…
I don't think there is anything wrong with raising your own meat chickens. Personally, I just think we owe them the best life we can give them until that time.
Great post and so very true. It's amazing that animals are treated in this manner all so the end product can be sold in mass quantity and cheap. I've read so many articles talking about how Americans spend such a small amount of their earnings on food compared to other countries. It's so true. Organic and humane-raised products ARE more expensive to purchase but the product you're purchasing is worth every penny.
What a wonderful post. I buy my eggs from a family that raises hens and they are delicious. I hope to have my own girls sometime in the future.
Ms. Bake-it said…
Fabulous post Beverly! This is a subject on which I feel very strongly about and am glad you posted about it. I have been spreading the word about this subject for many years. Unfortunately, some people do not want to take the extra steps (money & time) it may take and find it easier to just grab those mass produced eggs and meat products off the grocery shelf and go their merry way. It is very true that you have to vote with your checkbook. I do not patronize many of the popular restaurants due to the sources of their products.

Kudos to you Beverly! I look forward to more posts like this one.

~ Tracy
Ms. Bake-it said…
Hi Bev,

I hope you do not mind, but I used one of your pictures and posted about this on my sidebar.

~ Tracy
Carla said…
I didn't know the reality of it all until I read The Omnivore's Dilemma.
Same thing with cattle. There's nothing that says that 'organic' cattle (beef or milk) are treated one iota different from their non-organic counterparts.
I'm lucky enough to have chickens. Their eggs are amazing and they are truly living the good life.
Yours are very lucky indeed. So are the buyers of your eggs.
JC said…
I had no idea. I've been buying the cage free/organic for years thinking they were free to roam the farm. Silly me ...
Meri said…
As soon as my Father-N-Law moves on to the property (hopefuly this summer) we will start our chicken adventure. There is a company out here that builds the TajMahal of coops.Same company that built our goat barn. We will hopefuly be able to provide them the same amount of space as the goats, but closer to the "woods". I cant wait! I will of course be hitting you up for advice (just like I did with our goats, who by the way are doing great!).
Tom Stewart said…
Just wanted to say that if people only knew how most (if not all!) of thier food was raised!!! Poltry, Beef, Pork and produce! Thats one of the reasons I got a plot of land and want to grow my own. Its going to take some time and until I can get things rolling, I will use a CSA for most of my food!
P.S. Nice Christmas guift! You will find that you will need to devide the scraps between chickens and worms! And once they start to repoduce, You will find you need a BIGGER BOX!!!!!!! I hope you enjoy whats ahead!
Bee Haven Bev said…
Not at all, Tracy, I thank you for doing so!!
Dogert said…
I've always hated this kind of thing and only gotten 'free range' chicken (the only meat I eat). I guess I shouldn't be surprised.. Good ideas, I will make the change and buy locally!
Deb said…
This kind of stuff gives me nightmares. I have respect for every living creature and feel sick when I read this. It should be out-lawed. I always buy fresh eggs from a local farmer who has free-range hens.