The chicken and the egg: does free range really matter?

When it comes to eggs, does the lifestyle of the hens that lay them make a difference in quality? The USDA would say no. Wait, that’s not entirely true.

Happy chicken eggs

The USDA does report that eggs laid by caged hens on massive farms are less likely to contain Salmonella. Say what?! That goes against everything we know about bacteria in feed-lot style poultry farms. While they shoot for sanitary conditions, their giant white lab suits can’t make up for the enormous number of animals that need proper nutrition and care to grow healthy and produce quality eggs. For example, if big farms are more safe then why was there a recall of over 500 million eggs in 2010 because of salmonella among birds and their food?

The healthiest way for any bird to grow is through a combination of foraging and good feed. According to an extension of the University of Florida a chicken requires (not to much or to little) salt, calcium, vitamin D, protein and fat to be properly nourished.  They also need adequate daylight to lay daily and their own space to thrive. Any hatchery can tell you that chicks will starting pecking each other in no time if crammed in wwith other birds. It is for this reason that most hatcheries offer to clip the chicks beaks before they’re shipped.

Let’s face it, a bird’s body cannot put nutrients into her eggs that she doesn’t naturally produce unless someone feeds it to her!

It should also be noted that the only requirement for a company to put “free range” or “cage free” on the package is that the birds “have access” to the outdoors. Often those chickens are still stuck in crowded barns and never actually see the light of day.

So, what are we to do? There are a few options.

1. Caged-hen’s eggs won’t kill you (most likely, just pay attention to recalls). They just won’t do as much to increase your overall wellness.

2. Buy “pastured” eggs. So far, this seems to be the safe adjective for now.

3. Have a few of your own laying hens and take good care of them, they’ll take care of you!

I used to order my chicks from McMurray Hatchery, but the minimum order is 25 birds. So, thisstone around I’ll a half dozen or a dozen from my local farm store. I’ll be sure to share pics of the henhouse and chicks as things develop!

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