Small-time chicken husbandry is taking the world by storm, and there are many reasons for it. Some of us are looking for a pet or companionship that is low-maintenance and inexpensive, some of us got stuck on the recieving end of a kindergarten chick hatch, some of us just wanted to surprise our kids on Easter but for many of us, egg production was at the forefront of our decision.
"You Are What You Eat"
Eggs are extremely nutrient dense, meaning that the amount of nutrients contained in an egg far outweigh their caloric content. However this varies greatly with the diet on which the laying hen is reared. Eggs contain Omega 3 fatty acids which are needed for normal body function as well as aiding in the reduction of inflammation throughout the body and promoting heart health. Eggs are also high in the nutrient Choline which aids in proper fetal brain development and can reduce birth defects. According to nutritiondata.self.com, a single raw egg has a protein quality score of 136, meaning it posesses all 9 essential amino acids. The site states that any food ranking above 100 is considered a high-quality protein food. Eggs are also extremely rich in Vitamin A and Iron. Now, I've just been talking about a regular old, factory produced egg. A recent study was done involving the testing of eggs from 14 farms around the country who certified to provide their layers with pasture on which to range. The results?
- 1/3 less cholesterol
-1/4 less saturated fat
- 2/3 more Vitamin A
- 2Xs more Omega 3
- 3Xs more Vitamin E
- 7Xs more beta carotene
- 4-6Xs more Vitamin D
Let's talk about the hens. For most of us, chickens are not just producers, they are pets with the added bonus of being extremely useful. When I look out my window, I see seven beautiful birds. Their feathers are clean and well oiled, their eyes are clear and alert and their feet are clean and spry. The girls strut around the yard with their heads and tails held high and proud. they scratch in the dirt for bugs and trim the grass. They make nests in which to lay, arranging every glade of straw with careful precision and even sing songs to each other celebrating the delivery of another egg. They enjoy being picked up and petted and run over to greet me every time I walk out into the yard. We have been using these birds for thousands of years to provide fresh eggs and meat for the table and time and time again they have come through for us. We owe them more than a cramped wire cage no more than 67" square (hardly more than a plain sheet of printer paper) and a lifespan that usually does not exceed 2.5-3 years.
Hens exhibit normal and natural behaviors just like any other animal, and when they are hindered the hen exhibits an amazing amount of stress and even physical pain. When confined in cages for example, a hen lacks the ability to flap her wings, raise her head all the way or even turn around. Battery cages, as they are called have been officially banned in Europe and ruled as inhumane. Hens are vaccinated time and time again from the time they are day-olds to 16 weeks, but it doesn't stop them from contracting diseases in their confinement. As chicks, females have a portion of their beaks seared off, or "trimmed" using a hot blade, and without anesthesia. Research has shown that both acute and chronic pain can result as a side-effect of this procedure. Hens do have pain receptors in their beaks. This process is performed to help ensure that the hens do not peck each other to death in their close quarters.
Here is a brief rundown of a typical production Leghorn's life:
She is either purchased as a chick or hatched on site. Her brothers are termintated. Hatcheries do not need cockerels so they are either gassed, crushed or suffocated.
She has her beak trimmed and is placed in a battery cage, usually with other hens. She cannot perch, preen, dustbathe or nest and the wire floor is hard on her feet.
at 16-18 weeks she will begin to lay, many hens suffer from osteoperosis, uterine prolapse, broken bones, feather loss, and other diseases brought on by stress. Her diet and lighting are strictly monitored and she has no access to outside light or earth. Battery hens do not have access to veterinary care...
As her laying cycle wanes and she begins to drop off, she is either starved for a period or forced into a moult in order to trigger another peak in her laying. This is a huge cause of mortality and is very stressful for the hens.
When a hens productivity drops below 50% she is sent to a slaughtering plant. There are no laws in the US considering the humane treatment of the birds, so she is shackled upside down on a conveyor (which often results in the breakage of the already fragile hens' bones). She is then submerged into an electrified water bath meant to knock her unconscious, but many have their throats cut still fully alert.
I am no scientist, and I am no expert on nutrition....but I know right from wrong. This.Is.Wrong. No animal should have to suffer needlessly like this. Especially not one who WE domesticated in the first place to suit OUR needs. It is our duty to raise these animals right after all they do for us. These birds are in the least entitled to healthy living conditions, natural sources of food and scenery and to be HUMANELY put down if that is the will of the industry.So when people ask me why I decided to own chickens, the answer is simple; Chickens and their eggs are only as good as their raisers and they are deserving of the right to display their normal behavior and be free to live a happy life. My hens will continue to serve as my beautiful, living, breathing lawn ornaments even after their laying has declined.
Thank you to http://ag.ansc.purdue.edu/poultry/publication/commegg/, and http://www.eggindustry.com/cfi/photo/?v=photo_ic_2 for much of this info.