What was I thinking? I was buying eggs from this beautiful free range flock of chickens, and then I just….. stopped. Why? They don’t lay much in the winter, maybe I forgot about them when spring rolled around. Or maybe I just got lazy, stopped calling and asking the owners to save eggs for me and making appointments to pick them up.
But I should have known. The only eggs of equal quality I’ve ever were from friends’ flocks of pet chickens. Which is basically what these birds are. Pets on a hobby farm that includes a shifting cast of animals, currently a cat, dogs, mini horses, geese, and ducks.
Now I’ve realized that the Trader Joe’s free range organic eggs that I started buying instead were not very humane or nutritious. I knew that they were not as yellow, the yolks not as firm. I knew the farm eggs were better, but I didn’t think deeply about it. In the US the industrial food system is always trying to creep in and cut corners on our food. It never pays to stop paying attention.
You can see that these birds are grazing on a highly natural and nutritious diet…. chunks of white bread. The owners called them in with the bread so I could take their picture. They are quite the variety, cute little Frizzles, big fluffy Orpingtons, four or five handsome roosters including this proud silver one (and note the brown Frizzle in front):
I was asked (again) if I wanted a few, apparently they breed like crazy at this time of year. But the little town where I live is very restrictive about chickens. You can’t keep them unless you have more than an acre. Not like Seattle where you can have three hens (and a mini-goat) anywhere in the city you want. Too bad. I’d love to take a few home, but my homeowner’s association hates me enough already. I always appreciated chickens: I used to study the pictures of the different breeds of chickens in my World Book encyclopedia when I was a girl and spend hours drawing them.
So is a chicken flock like this humane enough to be ethical? It depends on your standards. These are fancy chickens that at some point originated from a hatchery, and I can’t know how humanely the rooster chicks were dispatched. That’s a deal-breaker for vegans. I don’t want to be a party to baby chicks suffocated or ground up alive, but I can hope that the hatchery for fancy chickens may be small-scale enough to be humane. In our poorly regulated system, there’s never an end to the investigation that you could and maybe should do about your food.
I prefer that that the chickens be born and raised on the farm, avoiding the hatchery issue. Even if the roosters are raised to be broilers, that seems better than being dispatched at birth. Eggs and dairy milk present similar issues for vegetarians, they are both wrapped up with meat production.
As far as older birds who have stopped laying, people in this area seem to have good success finding new homes for their older chickens. There are groups here that can help you re-home your chickens, apparently they are wanted for purposes like weeding gardens. I haven’t asked what happens to the older birds in this flock. But I know that the egg sales just offset the cost of their feed: they really are mostly pets. (Update: once a year the extra roosters are sold at a local farm auction)
Here are the eggs I bought from this flock, almost as beautiful as the birds themselves: