By Frederick J. Dunn
Though without a doubt, the chicken is the most universally eaten of all meats, I will focus here, upon the egg it produces. A rooster may be dispensed with, with very little deliberation or ceremony and then made a meal of. However, when one considers the little hen, no matter her disposition, one stops and considers weather or not she still produces eggs. Her value, lies mostly, in the number, size and shape of the eggs she produces.
When a female chick hatches, the number of eggs she is capable of laying in her life time, is already known, or at least within her. Samuel Butler once remarked "the hen is only an eggs way of making another egg?", this gives me pause. My point is, that the egg or the chicken/hen, are merely points in a life cycle, an endless loop.
Why do I mention all of this about the hen and the egg? Well, it leads nicely into the quality of the egg produced and when exactly this quality aspect becomes important. A chick may hatch, already deficient, if its parents (hen or rooster) were not in premium health at the point of fertilization. So, quality of life, physical accommodations and quality of feed, all contribute to what we ourselves may one day eat.
It's very simple really, what the chicken eats and is exposed to, we eventually eat and are exposed to as well. Those of you who are reading this article, probably are already on a quest to improve your immediate environment and obtain the very best in nutrition for yourself and those you care for.
Some quick Facts about chickens and eggs:
The color of an egg shell has nothing to do with the hens diet at all, rather it is dictated by the specific breed of chicken laying the egg. People often think I'm pulling their leg when I state that you can often tell the color of the egg your hen will produce by looking at her ear lobes. A red eared chicken will lay a brown egg, a white ear lobed chicken will lay a white egg. There are some exceptions to this general guide, but for the most part it is the case. Easter egg chickens are of course exceptions to this rule (Ameraucanas and Araucanas respectively), as they lay various shades of green, pink, blue and anything in-between.
It takes a hen approximately 25 hours to produce an egg and she lays her egg during day light, or when a coop light remains on.
Brown shelled eggs are most popular in England, while white shelled eggs are most preferred in the United States. Some people seem to think a brown egg shell means more organic, or healthier than a white shelled egg, however this simply not supported by science.
Hens lay with greatest frequency, when they have at least 14 hours of light (artificial or natural).
A hen will lay eggs, even in the absence of a rooster. Eggs from the grocery store, will not hatch if you put them in an incubator, as they are not fertile.
Ok, now let's get on with the current nutritional findings, regarding battery hens and the eggs they produce, as compared with free ranging hens and the nutritional values found in their eggs. I will not deal, in this article, with the value of eggs to humans as a food, though nutritionists celebrate the chicken egg broadly, as one of the most complete and high quality animal proteins one can obtain.
Watch for "spin" in how eggs are presented to the consumer.
I will simply present my observations here and will protect myself by not taking a side. The egg lobby is powerful and well connected and they seem not to want anyone else rearing chickens and selling eggs, other than the huge corporate enterprises.
First, I take you to the Incredible Egg Site, you've certainly seen their adds on TV.
This is the industry voice. If one looks at their nutrition page, the message is interesting, you see what appears to be whole grain bread, dark shelled spotted eggs, wheat grasses and a nice cup with milk in it, all surrounded with organic feeling natural colors.
This image here is of one of the farms that support the egg industry. On the site it lists its nutritional value, one particular percentage which jumps out at me, is the 70 calorie per egg, 40 calories are from fat. Another startling percentage, is that each egg is 71% Cholesterol. They make no egg to egg comparison with free range eggs.
As it turns out, all those choices of eggs at your supermarket aren't providing you much of a choice at all. Recent tests conducted by Mother Earth News magazine have shown once again that eggs from chickens that range freely on pasture provide clear nutritional benefits over eggs from confinement operations. Mother Earth News collected samples from 14 pastured flocks across the country and had them tested at an accredited laboratory. The results were compared to official US Department of Agriculture data for commercial eggs. Results showed the pastured eggs contained an amazing: · 1/3 less cholesterol than commercial eggs · 1/4 less saturated fat · 2/3 more vitamin A · 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids · 7 times more beta carotene Full results of the tests are available in the October/November 2007 issue of Mother Earth News.
So far, pastured egg producers are kicking the commercial industry's butt! Woo hoo, go free range! I hope this information has been useful to you and that you will consider rearing a small flock of hens to work your gardens, provide nutritious eggs, add animation to your urban plot and of course, recycle all those fruits and veggies that would otherwise go to waste, or take months to break down in your compost bin.
Frederick J. Dunn is a retired Navy man and a life long poultry man. He raises bees, emu and chickens in rural PA and is the author of the DVD Regarding Chickens. Fred is a contributor to Mother Earth News. Check out his website: www.fredsfinefowl.com to learn more about him.
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