“Green” Eggs (Hold the Ham)

At first, people think I’m a little crazy when I tell them I have chickens as pets. It seemed to make perfect sense to me, going right along with the other green lifestyle changes I’ve made, but I guess green eggs aren’t on the minds of most. So let’s examine the different choices you have when it comes to eggs, and why you might want to make a switch or get a few backyard chickens of your own.

What’s Wrong with “Normal” Eggs?

A pack of standard eggs at the grocery store probably came from an industrialized factory farm. Chickens here are kept in tiny wire cages barely bigger than their bodies their entire lives, while they sit immobile, unable to do anything but pop out eggs.

Many people feel chickens are one of the most abused and cruelly treated animals in the food industry, and by purchasing battery caged (factory-farmed) eggs, you are supporting the mistreatment of these animals. Several countries including Germany, Switzerland and Sweden have banned farming eggs using battery cages. In 2008, the state of California also banned the use of battery cages along with other anti-cruelty legislation, and similar legislation is in the works at local levels across the nation.

In addition to being a bad choice for the chickens, normal eggs may not be a great choice for your body. Chickens may be given antibiotics or hormones, and their diet can contain by-product and GMO ingredients. The quality of the eggs and nutritional value may be compromised. Cheap poultry feeds may contain rendered “meat” products, or “protein meal,” which can contain diseased dead livestock and other dead animals…perhaps along with traces of any drugs that had been given to those diseased animals prior to their death.

From an environmental perspective, the concentration of chickens and chicken waste in factory farms produces high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that contribute to ocean dead zones. The large volumes of concentrated waste can wash into rivers and streams in heavy rains, contaminating the water as it flows into the ocean.

Free Range Eggs

Free range eggs sound like a great alternative, but they may not be all they’re cracked up to be. The USDA does not currently regulate the use of the term, so basically any egg can be labeled “Free Range,” whether or not the chicken is actually roaming free. In addition, even actual “Cage Free” chickens can still be fed a diet including animal by-products and GMOs, and antibiotics. *UPDATE* The USDA now requires producers to demonstrate poultry has “access to the outside.”

Organic Eggs

Chickens producing certified organic eggs must be allowed access to the outdoors and cannot be confined to a cage. In addition, organic egg producing chickens can only be fed certified organic feed containing no GMOs, and cannot be given regular doses of antibiotics. An organic certification also requires a higher level of humane treatment, including prohibiting the removal of beaks or wings without anesthesia, which may be done by commercial factory-farmers. So if you’re going to buy eggs, organic eggs are a better choice for you and the chickens.

The Green Egg Experiment

Taking organic eggs to an even greener level, I adopted three chickens to see if it would be reasonable to keep them as backyard pets in a normal, suburban area, and get enough eggs out of the deal to make it worthwhile. The chickens roam the backyard, pecking at bugs and providing natural pest control. I am able to feed them a healthy, balanced diet including fresh greens, nuts, seeds, berries, grains and vegetables. They are fairly inexpensive to feed and care for, especially since they love the mesquite leaves, acacia leaves and figs that grow in my yard.

Since I know exactly what’s going in, I know exactly what is in the egg – fresh, healthy organic ingredients. I can choose to feed a diet high in Omega-3, which in turn enriches the eggs. The difference in quality is obvious – the shells are rock hard and yolks are a rich orange color. Each of my chickens typically lays an egg every other day, which seems to be more eggs than I can use so I bring them to friends or cook them up for the dogs. Even skeptical friends agree that my chickens do lay better tasting eggs.

My “home-made” eggs are healthier for the environment, too. No fuel required or emmissions generated to get my eggs to my kitchen; I just walk outside and pick them up. There are no wasteful packaging materials, either. The plants in the yard benefit from the natural fertilizer produced by the chickens (this is my polite way of saying “chicken poop”) which has caused them to flourish and grow like never before.

My “green” chickens have a pretty good life. They have a large two story chicken condo complete with a covered patio and a birdbath. They have more yard to scratch than time in the day, and even have me trained to bring them snacks when they peck at the back door. When the weather is foul, the chickens come inside and hang out in a playpen in the mudroom. I admit, this is probably taking it too far, but a bird is a bird, right? The only difference between a parrot and a chicken is the added benefit of fresh scrambled eggs for breakfast and no talking back. They do have a very sweet disposition and are incredibly entertaining to watch.

If you’re interested in adding some chickens to your family, ask around at your local farmers market and chances are, someone can hook you up. If you want more of a “designer” breed, check at State or County Fair chicken shows (yep, chicken shows…) for unique varieties. Make sure you only get hens (pullets) so you don’t have any accidental fertilizations. Plus, roosters are noisy. Your chickens will still lay eggs, even without a man around the hen house.


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