Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Two Buck Cluck: The Blessing of the Backyard Chicken

We love eggs. In fact, it was Darling Son #1's first word. Not 'Mama.' 'Egg.' (He's very food-motivated.)

Eggs are a wonderful food. An egg delivers easily-assimilated protein and other nutrients, including vitamins D and B12, the latter of which is especially important if you're not eating a lot of other animal foods. But here's the catch: you have to....


I wish I had recorded my aunt's rant when she learned back in the 1990's that we were supposed to pitch the yolks. The yolk contains the cholesterol, which it turns out, is actually good for us. The American Heart Association recanted it's position on eggs in 2000, but Auntie called foul from the beginning. "That's ridiculous! That's the most absurd thing I have ever heard!" And she went on. Auntie is quite entertaining when she gets her knickers in a twist. I should have her do a guest rant on the blog some time.

Recently I was in a supermarket and overheard a man telling someone he eats Egg Beaters, 'you know, because of the cholesterol.' I really wanted to shout, 'No! Eat the yolks!' But I restrained myself. That's why I have my blog. I can shout at people without being the crazy lady in the supermarket.

So much of the good stuff is in the yolk. I would tell you that's the end of my lecture, but wait! There's more!

Not All Eggs are Created Equal

Chickens are meant to roam around. They travel in packs and peck around at the ground, gobbling up bugs and worms. Chickens are not vegetarians. They are omnivores--big time. And they make great pets!

Our friends Adam and Annie keep chickens in their backyard. They purchased each of these delightful little creatures for -- wait for it -- TWO DOLLARS! What a deal!
Annie introducing Hezzie the Hen to a somewhat reluctant DS#2

Adam and Annie's hens are fine layers, too. Sometimes they have a surplus and sell a dozen to us. I love buying eggs from them for several reasons:

They eat what chickens are supposed to eat. Annie feeds the chickens table scraps. They supplement with a bit of chicken feed, but mostly they eat what the family eats. And they eat bugs, worms, grubs on the lawn, you name it. Annie told me they used to have to pick ticks off their three boys every night, but since they got the chickens, they don't have to anymore. The chickens eat the ticks. Win-win!

When you read a label on eggs or chicken in the market, it will often say 'all-vegetarian diet.' I guess this sounds healthier? Well, it's not. Chickens are not vegetarians. Feeding animals what they're designed by their Creator to eat is not only good for them, it's good for us. A well-fed chicken produces better quality eggs.

Annie's hens live in the open air. They get plenty of sunlight, which means (the yolks!) of their eggs are rich in vitamin D. Many people (including me) tend to be low in vitamin D. (Well, I'm not low anymore, but I used to be.) Because we slather on sunscreen and many of us work indoors, we just don't produce enough D from the sun, which really is the best source. I also live in a part of the world where it's mighty chilly much of the year, so people like me really need to maximize D in our diets.

If you don't have a friend with backyard chickens, look for eggs from chickens that are free to roam in the open air, ones that get plenty of sunlight and delicious bugs. Sadly, the term 'cage-free' doesn't always guarantee this. You kind of have to do your homework.

The downside is cost, and they're not available everywhere. Eggs from pastured chickens are more expensive than those from chickens cooped up indoors. You can find them at some supermarkets and farmer's markets. Our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) offers an egg share, too. Even though they're more expensive than eggs from poor little chickens kept in battery cages, they're a bargain compared to other high-quality protein sources.

I like to support these smaller, local family farms, and I love to support our friends Adam and Annie. They co-founded a great organization called Waypoint Adventure that offers outdoor sporting opportunities for people with disabilities. It's win-win!

Honestly, I never thought about egg quality until I met Adam and Annie's hens and did some exhaustive internet researchtm. But even lower-quality supermarket eggs are better than a lot of other breakfast options. You have to do the best you can. If it's a toss up between eggs and Pop Tarts or even a so-called 'healthy' cereal, the eggs win every time!

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