Michelle keeps a flock of seven chickens in her backyard. Upon learning this, I immediately asked her to write a guest post about her chickens (I’ve recently become fascinated with the idea of keeping my own chickens — as soon as I have a backyard, I’m all over it!). Figuring that pictures speak louder than words, she decided to put together a video instead.
Below the video, she explains the differences between some of the confusing labels you’ll find on egg cartons, giving you the tools you need to vote with your wallet. Sensitive viewers please be warned: There are a few images of industrial, modern chicken coops in the middle of the video (though it’s relatively tame compared to some of the more horrendous footage I’ve seen before.) – Andrew
Package labels can make a person crazy. It’s no wonder that people at the grocery store get confused when confronted with a refrigerated wall filled with egg cartons, particularly if they want to vote for the ethical treatment of animals with their dollars.
“Free Range” chickens have access to a door leading outside, but are often so overcrowded inside the hen house, that they never find their way out the door.
“Cage Free” chickens aren’t in cages, which might imply that they have ample leg room. Sadly, this usually just means that they are crammed into a hen house without dividers.
“Pastured” poultry live outside, spending their days outside – digging, rolling in the dirt, looking for insects, and eating grasses and other plants in their environment. Because of predators, they are often kept underneath a bottomless structure or are put inside a coop at night. They have no need for medications or hormones, since they are not overcrowded and eat a balanced diet that allows them to grow normally. Their eggs are often brighter in color and much more flavorful than their industrialized cousins. If your grocery store doesn’t carry pastured chicken eggs, see if they will order some. If not, try your farmer’s market, community garden… or maybe even your neighbor.
If you are aiming for additive and hormone free eggs, buy the ones that are labeled “Organic.” Not only is their feed better quality, but the chickens themselves are not given any medications or hormones. However, Organic does not necessarily mean cruelty-free.
To learn more — and look up specific producers — check out the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard.
Learn more about keeping chickens on Michelle’s site, and check out her recipes for Lemon Curd, Deviled Eggs, and Apple Cheddar Frittata.
Embedded video not playing properly? Watch it directly on Youtube.
About the Author
Michelle Stern is a former high school biology teacher and founder of What’s Cooking with Kids, a certified green cooking school for children in the SF Bay Area. She is the author of The Whole Family Cookbook, and was invited to the White House to be a part of the launch of Michelle Obama’s Chef’s Move to Schools Program. With sixteen years of combined teaching experience, Michelle is uniquely qualified to share strategies for parents, teachers, and homeschoolers for using healthy cooking as a teaching tool. You can follow Michelle on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Lemon curd is pretty much the only reason I have my own chickens. Cannot wait for this winter, when the lemons are ripe. Hope the girls will cooperate with eggs!
After watching Food Inc. and reading Real Food what to eat and why by Nina Planck, I started buying eggs at the farmers market. What I really want is 2 or 3 hens in my backyard.
I live in a subdivision on a corner lot. My backyard is very small but my side yards are HUGE.
Wish I had just a little more room.
If you have space in your side yard, you could simply fence it off and use that as a chicken area. Bantams are smaller versions of their standard cousins and take up less space…
Forwarded this to several friends with whom I recently had conversations about buying ‘true’ free range eggs. I wish the video was more graphic- seems some people don’t get it until they see how industrial chickens are treated for real. Wonderful post Andrew!
Thanks for the post on chickens! I too am interested in raising laying hens in my backyard, but I’m worried I don’t have enough room. Any idea how much space a small flock would ideally need?
Coincidentally, today Matty and I visited friends of his in Chicago who have twelve (twelve!) chickens in their backyard. They have a small bungalow house, with neighbors immediately on either side of their fences. Not a ton of space, but it was plenty of room for their flock. I asked them about how much space two or three hens would need, and it sounds like your backyard would actually be just enough space (though they’d need to be able to roam and peck and scratch in just about all of it). This was actually my first personal encounter with chickens. I learned that there are a wide variety of breeds, and they have an equally wide variety of temperaments — just like dogs and cats. It was so much fun watching them do their thing, just being chickens. Their sound, the gentle clucking, was wonderful. It was like a little… Read more »
Cool, thanks! Can you imagine how cool it would be to sit back and relax in the jacuzzi with a few chickens roaming around clucking!?
Yes, yes I can. Forget the dog… get the chickens!
How much space chickens need depends on several factors. Larger birds need more space, of course, than bantams (small chickens). Some people have movable coops with something called a “tractor” that encloses the chickens. This way, you can rotate them around your yard / property so they can graze one area at a time, while allowing already grazed regions to grow back. These also protect your birds from predators. Our chickens have a “yard” of their own that surrounds their coop. We let them out in the morning and then they can choose if they want to be inside their coop or roaming around their yard. At night, we close them inside to protect them from predators. Our coop is pretty darned reinforced – we dug out the bottom, lined it with hardware cloth and then put the soil back. This way, digging predators can’t dig in and the chickens… Read more »
Coming to grips with the realities of industrial egg production was one of my first steps towards unprocessed eating. For me, buying farmers market eggs from pastured ‘happy chickens’ has been good in every way – taste alone being enough to make the switch permanent. It also helped me change my outlook on the cost of food, and accept the fact that maybe some foods shouldn’t be as cheap as I can get them. 99 cents for a carton is a seriously tempting figure, but $3.50/dozen comes out to just 30 cents an egg. I think I can afford that. Next step: backyard chickens (and ducks)!
My daughter is begging for ducks next! But I am not sure I am ready to take on a new species…especially one that loves mud!
I love the multimedia idea for this post. Thank you for making this simple! Great post!
Thanks Amber – Video is new to me, but this project was really fun. I am happy with how it turned out 🙂
Thanks for inviting me to participate in October Unprocessed! It’s an honor to be in such good company – and we can all use the support to make better choices.