Obsessed, Ed. 6 “Farm-Fresh Eggs”

I used to think my brother was crazy.

Years ago when his roommate decided to raise chickens in the backyard of their Boulder, CO rental house…and he allowed it… I may have chuckled to friends at what I saw as an absurd… and possibly disastrous endeavor.

But, that was then, and over the years my position on “urban-farming” including chicken raising has evolved. And I’m not the only one. As many people search for alternatives to buying commercial eggs that are perhaps kinder to the animals providing our food, cities across the US are now allowing urban dwellers to have chickens, and in the case of Denver, you can also keep goats in your backyard.

I would say that I am envious of my brother at this point. He has since moved back to the midwest, but he and his girlfriend continue to raise hens for their eggs. I recently talked to him about his adventures in all things poultry and below you will find tips from him and his girlfriend about their experiences thus far in chicken-rearing.

But, for the time being at least, keeping pet chickens is not possible for me so the info provided below is just that…information. If you are in my boat, but would still like to find an alternative to buying eggs at the supermarket trucked in from large company farms across the US, don’t fret. At the bottom of this post, I’ll provide you with a few alternative ways to locate and buy (or perhaps barter) farm fresh eggs from local, backyard “suppliers”.

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As with any “hobby” in life, raising chickens is no different. Hopefully these tips from my brother’s experiences below will help you decide if it something that is right for your family.

  • Chickens are cheap to buy (only a few dollars a piece), but if you are considering raising hens to save money, it may not be worth it. Chickens eat a lot and are somewhat picky about eating leftovers (no onions, coffee grounds, citrus, other meat, etc) So often you must supplement the leftovers with store-bought feed (there is organic available).I-feed-my-chickens-scraps
  • Chickens need room to roam and can be messy. Plan ahead and create/designate an area of your yard for a chicken run and coop being sure that they have a spot to nest, a spot to perch and areas to roam free(be sure to protect them from predators in the area like fox and coyotes). Make sure to create a system that enables you to clean the coop and pen easily. Before starting your chicken raising endeavor, be sure to read the USDA’s recommendations for maintaining a happy, healthy, disease-free chicken flock as chickens can carry salmonella which is harmful not only to your pets, but also to humans.
    2012-08-06 17.59.03You can also buy ready-made chicken coops that, like dog cages, come in sizes for the  number of chickens you have and the manufacturers have already taken into consideration ease of cleaning the cage as well as protection from predators. The Eglu is one example.Three hens being let out of their Eglu.
  • Although chickens can be fun to have around and can be friendly pets if you spend time with them, they aren’t like other household pets. You can’t board chickens or drop them at a friend’s house the way you do with your other pets when you go on vacation. And, in the winter you need to plan well to keep their water flowing and to collect eggs quickly to prevent them from freezing. 2012-09-30 10.47.48
  • Speaking of winter, to keep the chickens laying eggs year-round, you need to provide extra daylight hours during the colder months using an fake sunlight lamp (don’t use a heat lamp as this can actually harm your hens).2012-08-06 17.56.20
  • On average, each chicken lays one egg about every day. Unlike the store-bought eggs, these egg shells can be different colors ranging from white to brown to blue to pink to green– how pretty! But, along with the variety in colors, you also get a variety of sizes. Remember when cooking with farm fresh eggs that a large store-bought egg (what recipes are referring to when they call for eggs)= 1/4 cup.  With the beautiful array of colors, these eggs would be so cute as a decoration for an Easter brunch without the need for dyes!

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NOTE: I cannot stress this enough: You DO NOT need a rooster to raise egg-laying hens. They are only necessary to fertilize the eggs. Although they offer some protection for the flock against predators, roosters are very noisy (some zoning laws prohibit them) and can be aggressive. I know at least one vegetarian who was highly tempted to put aside his meatless ways in order to take care of his rooster “problem”. Consider yourself forewarned.

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Alternative Sources for Farm-fresh Eggs

Overall, my brother and his girlfriend are happy with their choice to keep their own poultry, even with the aspects that some may see as drawbacks and downsides. But, for those of us who don’t have the luxury and/or desire to keep hens at home, here are a few options for you to find an alternative to commercially raised chicken eggs.

1. Your local farmers market. If you haven’t visited your city’s farmers market (most cities and towns have one), I strongly urge you to. If for no other reason than to have a fun morning outing on a nice Saturday or Sunday morning, it’s a great thing to experience. But, for those of you also searching for local food sources, farmers markets are a mecca. Many of your local growers will be there and you can create a relationship where you can buy everything from your veggies and fruit, to your cheese and your eggs from people you meet and get to know and who live close by. This is a great way to also help support small businesses in your area.

Vail-farmers-market

2. A local CSA (community supported agriculture).  Many CSAs not only provide produce, but are expanding to provide dairy, eggs and even tofu and other farm products.

csa

3. This is how I recently fixed my egg “problem”; I went to the source for anything and everything– Craigslist. I searched for eggs being sold in my area (you could also post an ad for eggs wanted if there aren’t any listed in your area). The search results in Denver are numerous, but I ended up with a great small farm east of the city where the family raises 70 of their own chickens along with some goats. The owner, Lucia, also sells homemade kefir (a fermented dairy drink with tons of probiotics) and kombucha. You can find the farm’s info here (please mention my name if you contact them). Not only do I know where my eggs are coming from and that the chickens providing these eggs for me are being treated well, but this farmer is passionate about what she does and is great fun to talk to…and she delivers the eggs to Denver weekly to boot!  I would love to add backyard chicken-raising to my hobby list in the future, but for now, Craigslist has afforded me with peace of mind on continuing to eat eggs with the knowledge that they come from happy, healthy hens.

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If you know of any other creative ways to source your eggs/dairy locally and humanely, please share in the comments section.

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