Upon leaving the Harlem neighborhood in New York City for the rural hills of Pennsylvania, our family tripled in size! Courtesy of the PurelyPoultry.com and via the U.S Postal service, six hens were delivered to our doorstep within a few weeks. With the same ease of buying a book from Amazon we suddenly were the keepers of our very own feathered-flock. Setting up the coop involved creating a food plan for the birds. Bugs and worms were expected but soon learned some animal-protein table scraps were wonderful additions to their diet.
As the chicks grew, along with my knowledge of fowl husbandry, the commercials encouraging people to buy vegetarian chickens became bewilderment. Perhaps the biggest misnomer in marketing eggs is promoting chickens raised on a “Vegetarian” diet. Our chickens, like all chickens, are true omnivores. In addition to insect, worms and the common grub, they love meat! The backyard flock now enjoys a protein rich diet along with a mixture of commercially purchased grains.
In most grocery stores, cartons are no longer just labeled “eggs,” instead consumers must be educated marketing sleuths to determine the good eggs. Caged-Free or Free-Range eggs, are produced by hens not confined to individual battery cages. This denotation does not require hens to have outdoor access. This practice receives some criticism because there is no a space allocation per hen and most coops are very densely packed, allowing diseases to easily spread. Eggs labeled “Raised without Antibiotics” indicate that any hens that received antibiotics were removed from the egg-producing flock. Optimal conditions for the hen and egg production are classified as Grass Range or Pastured Hens. These hens have full access to the outdoors and can forge for proteins. Typically these eggs are produced from small farm operations (Stewart, 2007).
For the past two years, our flock has continued to thrive and has brought great life and joy to our backyard. The charismatic, pasture-raised, omnivore hens even found their way into a few of our wedding pictures this past August.
Stewart, K. L. (2007) Eating between the lines: The supermarket shopper’s guide to the truth behind food labels. 1st edn. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.