Happy Hens Lay Healthy Eggs
This past November we picked up eight hens and a rooster commonly referred to as Easter Eggers because they lay pale blue or green eggs. Given the traumatic move to a new home right at the start of winter, the hens did not lay any eggs until February. Now that they are laying, and we are finding some beautifully coloured eggs, I thought I might compose a treatise on eggs, or more specifically, fresh eggs from happy hens who behave as chickens were designed to behave and why they lay eggs that are better for us. I want to tell you why we keep our own chickens.
Happy Hens Live Better Lives
Hens that can behave as chickens were designed to behave are happy hens. If we contrast them to the laying hens in the industrial food chain, the difference is quite stark. Unhappy hens, from the moment they hatch, are kept in buildings and fed specially formulated food to speed their growth and boost their egg production. They do not have a chance to experience sunlight, fresh air, or fresh dirt for scratching. These poor hens know no solitude or natural rhythms.
From the time they begin laying (about 6 months of age) and until their first molt at 16 - 18 months, the hens are kept indoors. The luckier ones are able to move about freely, and if fortune favours them, may have an access door leading to a small outdoor yard (their eggs can therefore be marketed as “free range”). The unlucky hens, trapped within cramped battery cages, must endure lights continually shining upon them so that their bodies never cease producing eggs. Up until they moult, that is. Come their first moult, egg laying production drops while the bird’s energy is focused on growing new feathers. A drop in production means out with the “spent” hens to make way for the new, younger hens.
Moulting is a natural annual process for all birds; new feathers replace the worn and battered feathers of the previous year. Being birds, chickens naturally go through moults. Once the moult is complete the hens will resume laying, albeit their production does slacken slightly after each successive moult (aging is a natural process too). But in a commercial operation where time is money and inefficiencies are costly, the vast majority of these moulting hens simply get culled to make way for new hens. Out with the old and in with the new. Where does the old go? Pet food? Cattle feed? Chicken feed? Back into the industrial food chain somewhere.
Happy hens, in contrast, have a longer, healthier life. In our flock of hens, the ladies can move freely within a 112 square foot coop and a 300 square foot outdoor run during the colder months. Come the sun and warmth, the flock moves to their summer residence out on the pasture where they live full time in the fresh air, eating what they want and scratching about. The pasture is an area of grass and other herbaceous plants with a few trees for shade and wallows for dust baths. The hens favourite “salad” mix include lamb’s quarters, dandelion, and nettles, with a ready supply of worms, caterpillars, and insects to snack upon. We use a movable electric fence to change the area the hens forage on to keep the vegetation fresh and to give the grazed sections time to re-grow.
Our flock also consists of roosters that protect their harems and oversee the social structures of the flock, keeping bullying to a minimum and enabling the flock to reproduce naturally. In commercial settings, the bills of chickens are trimmed to prevent the stressed out birds from pecking each other to death or cannibalizing one another. All our happy hens are happy to still have their bills.
We do not use artificial light to trick the hens into laying eggs when their bodies naturally want to take a break. When their production slackens in the winter months we enjoy the eggs we do get and look forward to spring, with its warmth and longer days, when laying will resume. For the hens, keeping warm, staying healthy, and surviving the cold weather is stressful enough for and requires much of their energy - they need a break from laying eggs!
Happy Hens Lay Healthier Eggs
All eggs contain protein, Vitamins A, B,and B12, as well as folate, and iodine. Yolks are a source of lutein and zeaxanthin (which help protect eyes from damage from UV radiation). But not all eggs are equal, because not all chickens are equal. Some hens are fortunate enough to live in conditions that make them happy hens. Happy hens lay healthy eggs. But exactly how much healthier are they, you ask. Well,..
Happy hens lay eggs with 2 - 10 times more omega-3, which they obtain naturally through foraging on fresh plants
Happy hens lay eggs with with 66% more vitamin A and twice the amount of vitamin E than commercial birds
Happy hens spend time in the sun, absorb vitamin D, and transfer some of that vitamin into their eggs
Happy hens lay eggs with 33% less cholesterol and 25% less saturated fat than unhappy chickens
Happy hens lay eggs with seven times more beta carotene
A hen that can roam and find fresh food to feed its omnivorous self will lay eggs with a deep, almost saffron-coloured yolk. Fresh leafy greens are responsible for the deep colour. Happy hens can eat all the greens they desire, plus some insects on the side, and will lay eggs with rich, yellow yolks. In an attempt to keep up appearances in their poorer quality eggs, industrial producers could include a yellow dye in the feed to tint the yolks. The dye is either a natural product, such as marigold, turmeric, or paprika, or a synthetic carotenoid food dye.
Eggs and the Food Chain
In a food chain, the prey becomes part of the consumer; whatever the prey may have eaten, whether good or bad, becomes the very fibre of the animal that eats it. When the animal consumed contains, for example, heavy metals such as in tuna, those substances pass up through the food chain and accumulate, eventually leading to such a concentrated amount that the top predators suffer neurological disorders, reproductive failure, or mutations. We humans are no different - we are apex predators and accumulate the good and the bad from the food we eat. Many of us blindly consume food without thinking of how it is raised or produced and how the components of that food could heal or harm us. (Hint - the more industrialized and processed the food, the more damaging it is to our bodies).
Ever wonder what the laying hens in commercial operations are fed? What sustains the birds so they can lay your “cheap” eggs? And what passes from their bodies, into their eggs, and into you?
Check our the ingredients of a “16 percent Layer Crumble” for yourself:
“Grain Products, Plant Protein Products, Processed Grain Byproducts, Roughage Products, Forage Products [in other words, could contain pretty much anything!], Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Niacin Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Choline Chloride, Folic Acid, Manadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex, Methionine Supplement, Calcium Carbonate, Salt, Manganous Oxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Copper Chloride, Zinc Oxide, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide, Sodium Selenite.”
I realize that eating pastured eggs is not going to change the world, but it’s one thing that my family can do as we exercise autonomy over our food choices and move toward a diet less dependent upon the industrial food chain.
Who wants some eggs from happy hens?