Saturday, May 1, 2010

Farm-Fresh Friday: Home Grown Eggs

I'm going to show you something rather disturbing which will have you running to your local offices to see if you can keep backyard chickens or at least make you start searching for a new place to buy eggs. I give you: The Boiled Egg.

You see that gorgeous thick yellow yolked egg? You see that mushy looking pale orange yolked egg? Well the first one is my homegrown, corn-and-scrap-fed organic freerange chicken eggs. The second one? Well, you'd want me to tell you it's a standard market fresh egg, wouldn't you? It's not. This egg cost me $.70. Why? Because it's ALSO freerange and organic - but it came from the supermarket.

As my father in law said to me, "Beware of organic - it's a fancy way of selling a lesser product for more money." And in a lot of scenarios, it is. Especially this one. I say this as a woman who only eats organic and feeds her chickens organic mash. The thing is, if it's from an organic farm, a farmer can sell you B and C grade (meant for things like lotions and animal feed) fruits, vegetables and eggs at a higher price than if they sold grade A or AA non-organic foods. Just like this egg.

When you buy organic, also check quality of food. I am very particular about my foods and quality is a big deal to me. Eggs are a staple of your diet; from cakes to breakfasts to mousse... eggs are an essential item to the non-vegan chef. You want to make sure, if you're picky like me about organic, you're also getting a beautiful quality egg. The problem with eggs is their shell. It's hard to tell quality until you've already cracked. However, once cracked you can know whether the work is quality or not by the yolk.

An egg yolk's colour will depend on what it was fed but 100% of the time, if a chicken is fed well, it will be BRIGHT. Yellow or orange, those two colours are interchangable and, if a chicken is corn fed exclusively, it may even by an incredible bright sunshine-y orange. A pale yolk is a sign of a very malnourished chicken.

Try to get a fresh egg if possible and compare the shells. I never noticed until I got my own chickens just how thick a fresh eggshell is. You think, gee, but eggshells are actually pretty hardy already. You have no idea! I've had eggshells that, once cracked, could slice my hand open they were so thick and hardy! The thicker the shell, the more protein a chicken has had. A chicken is an omnivore, though post people don't realize, and need massive amounts of protein to lay a nice egg. A chicken can even lay a shell-less egg should it not get enough protein.

If you have your own chickens, a product called 'shell grit' should fix this right up, as well as chucking your meat scraps (yes, as disturbing as it sounds, even roast chicken) to the birds. Shell grit is nothing more than ground up seashells, so you could even make your own if you live near a beach. Once you've finished your eggs, as well, grind up the shells (so they become unreconizable as eggs and the chickens won't eat their own) and mix it into their feed for another protein boost.

A good laying hen will give you 300 eggs a year. At .70 per egg, that's a savings of $190 a year (assuming you bought the chicken for $20 already laying and sexed) per chicken. If you find yourself overwhelmed with eggs, nearly any neighbour will buy them for about $4 a dozen in Australia, so you can even start making money off them!

The scraps I feed my chickens are no more than my leftovers I can't eat and food that's slightly past it's prime in my fridge. Since I eat organic, my hens do too. Obviously this is entirely up to preference.

After awhile and a keen eye, you'll be able to get cheaper chickens. I've found some laying sexed hens for five dollars. I've even found some pecular breeds with funny shapes and combs for a few dollars. I like funny looking chickens. I feel if you're going to keep chickens, you should go for uncommon breeds, because it's more fun!

After awhile you might find yourself collecting pretty and fluffy breeds of chickens that lay less than their productive counterparts - but I have got to say, nothing is so good as a farm-fresh egg and nothing is so good than watching your beautiful girls run around your backyard in their lush grass (the chooks have WAY more lush grass in their pen than the rest of the house) enjoying a fresh worm and running like idiots across the lawn.

So next time you're out at the farmer's markets, consider picking up a hen. If I can have one in my backyard, maybe you can too. Then you'll enjoy fresh brightly coloured eggs all year round and get the joy of collecting them yourself and knowing exactly what the girls have eaten their entire lives. Plus, you get a new pet! It's a win/win/win/win scenario.

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