Knowing exactly where your food comes from is comforting, to say the least. Knowing how your food is treated while it’s alive is even better. Because eggs are my primary source of animal protein, it’s important for me to know the chickens that produce them have a happy and healthy life. Keeping and caring for my own backyard chickens is the best way for me to ensure they do.
There is a big difference between a store-bought egg and a farm fresh egg. Factory farmed chickens are confined to small spaces with no access to the outdoors. Precious sunlight and foraging are not a part of their lives. Our options at the grocery store are better now that stores carry more organic and free-range eggs. However, even chickens raised in large scale “organic” or “free-range” operations may be confined with limited outdoor access for a majority of their life. As a result, a typical grocery store egg tends to be somewhat runny with a pale yellow yolk.
In contrast, crack open a “yard egg” and you’ll find dense, firm white and bright orange yolk. Yard eggs typically contain 25% more vitamin E and a third more vitamin A. That beautiful orange color comes from extra 75 percent beta-carotene found in yard eggs. They can also contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than factory farmed eggs.
Flavor is also a big factor. If you’ve never tasted a farm fresh egg, you’re really missing out. You’ll find fresh backyard eggs will have a nice hearty flavor and a much denser consistency than store bought eggs. Store-bought eggs aren’t as fresh as most of us would like them to be; days or even weeks old is common. As the eggs age, air penetrates the shell, which breaks down the flavor, nutritional content and consistency of the egg.
Daily maintenance of a backyard flock takes about five minutes, but you’ll find you want to spend much more time with your birds. Hens are relatively quiet and there is no reason for a coop to be dirty or smelly. Spend about 30 minutes a week tending your coop and you won’t have such problems. When you care for your urban flock responsibly, raising backyard chickens can also be a great way to bond with neighbors and community. The deal I have with my next-door neighbors? They babysit, they get the eggs!
If you’ve been thinking about keeping backyard chickens but haven’t yet taken the plunge, here are a few things to consider. Do your research and check animal ordinances in your city to make sure you’re in compliance with code. No, you don’t need a rooster to get eggs. Hens will simply lay unfertilized eggs for you to harvest. Keep at least two birds, as they are social animals. You’ll need to buy or build a dwelling that offers about 2-square feet of roosting space per bird and at least 4-square feet of ground or “run” space per bird. Keep in mind you may have a variety of predators in your area. Providing a covered run is the best way to protect your flock.
Once of age, hens can lay an egg a day depending on the breed. Production usually tapers off after several years, but that also depends on the breed and health of the individual bird. Chickens can live up to 8 to10 years in a well-tended backyard flock, so be prepared to keep birds as pets once they’ve stopped laying. Attend local programs and club meetings to learn all the ins and outs of keeping a successful backyard flock and you’ll be on your way to fresh yard eggs in no time.
Leslie Finical Halleck is a Certified Professional Horticulturist; she currently works as General Manager for North Haven Gardens and as Owner of Halleck Horticultural. You can read her gardening blog at Halleck Horticulture.