Remember, not so many years ago, when all we had to choose from when shopping for eggs was small, medium, large, and jumbo? It’s gotten a little more confusing now. Add into that mix, cage free, free range, pasture raised, organic, antibiotic and hormone free? What does all that mean and which should you choose? You don’t have to worry about that when you raise your own farm fresh eggs. But if you don’t have the space, or chickens aren’t allowed, or you just don’t have the inclination to raise a few chickens, here’s a few things to know about egg carton labels, and the only thing you need to look for.
Most of the things you read on egg cartons are there as a marketing tool that allows them to charge a lot more for the eggs, and to make you feel better about the eggs you are buying. No hormones or antibiotics? Antibiotics are generally reserved for meat birds, and hormones have been prohibited by the FDA since the 195O’s. Caged free? This can mean they are still confined in a large building, with little room, and pecking around in the poop littered floor they are walking on. They never see the outside world. There is a high mortality rate due to the hens pecking each other and a higher incidence of disease. Free range? This means they have access to the outdoors, but what is outdoors when they go? A grassy area or a concrete pad? There space to move around is still limited. When looking at the carton choose pasture raised. This means the chicken is given what it needs to make it happy. Fresh air, sunshine, exercise and access to grass, bugs, and worms. It is out at least 6 hours a day, with lots of room to move around and is provided with shelter from predators at night.
I have had chickens on and off for many years, and until a month ago, I was chicken free. I became a chicken owner again sort of accidently. I had plans to get a few in the coming spring, but was asked if I wanted to take in a “rescue”. A hen was trapped by the animal shelter since it was running around in a neighborhood that is not zoned for chickens. They didn’t have a place to keep it and wondered if I could come and get it. I had my old coop with it’s small enclosed area already, so on the way to pick her up I stopped and bought straw and feed. A week later, I had two more chickens.
In years past, I allowed my chickens to free range. Even though I have a huge yard, the grass is always greener in the neighbors yard, and there are disadvantages to allowing them to free range unless you do not have neighbors. Other things to consider when allowing your chickens to roam free include:
- Chickens poop ALOT and of course where you don’t want it. The drive-way and side walk, porch and deck.
- Scratching around plants, and getting in the garden.
- Danger from predators. Hawks circling overhead can swoop down and pick up a small chicken, or a neighbors dog can destroy a flock.
- Dust baths in garden beds.
If you can’t allow your chickens to roam free, or like me, choose not to, you need to provide them plenty of room to walk around. I knew my little enclosed yard was not large enough for 3 hens, especially since Rosemary, the rescue, had established herself as queen of the pecking order. The other two needed room to get out of her way. With the help of my husband, sons, and grandsons, we attached a 9×13 fenced in run with a top on it to protect from overhead predators. I purchased mine at Walmart and it took them about 3 hours to put it together.
I placed the coop, and attached pen inside of a chain linked fence. This spring when I am in the garden next to it, I may consider letting them into the link fenced area for additional room to roam. I’ll need to keep an eye on them since they won’t be protected from overhead predators.
My chickens receive a laying pellet for protein and some scratch feed in the winter. I also give them daily treats of mealworms, scraps from meals, fresh fruit, and an occasional scrambled egg.
If your city or county allows chickens, you can give them the space they need and can protect them, I encourage you to keep chickens. Like fresh vegetables picked fresh from the garden, nothing taste as good as an egg fresh from the coop.
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