I’m often asked why we raise chickens for eggs even though our boys are allergic to them. At times it can even seem very impractical and messy, but our lovely chickens are a perfect reflection of the deep set values we have about our connection to our food and our world. Allow me to explain what I mean.
The primary reason comes from our commitment to clean, natural food and the comfort in knowing exactly where our food comes from. This is the basis for just about everything we do on our homestead. You may have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat”. This became a very real truth to us as we learned to avoid our sons’ food allergies by painstakingly reviewing every ingredient label since our youngest was two months old. During this process we began to learn about genetically modified organisms. What are genetically modified organisms? According to the World Health Organization, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as “organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination”. When I first understood this years ago my first son was barely six months old and allergic to milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. This is when I began reading that the genes of peanuts are being spliced into soybeans. I also found out that chemicals like herbicides are being genetically combined into corn and soybean crops for example to make them more resilient to pests and diseases but that also means that we are consuming the end results as well.
The primary food sources of traditionally raised chickens are grains like corn and soy. An article from the The Huffington Post recently shared that the top two GMO crops grown in the US are corn (88%) and soy (93%). This means chickens in the US are predominantly fed GMO corn and/or soy. This makes for eggs and chicken that to me are not clean or simple and not how I believe nature intended them to be. Now some of you may deem what I have shared here as controversial or a case of personal paranoia. However, I have personally met individuals who are unable to tolerate basic store-bought eggs but are able to enjoy the eggs from my farm without issue. Over the years as an allergy mom I have learned that keeping foods clean and simple also makes them safer. Therefore, GMOs in general are a layer of potential harm that I feel is unnecessary when it comes to my family’s health.
There are many different layers to modern food production that can negatively affect our health. Each one of us is different, so it is important to take the time to understand what your unique body needs even if it doesn’t fit the socially or government accepted norm. We raise our chickens on completely Non-GMO feed and spoil them with plenty of fresh air and water every day. How chickens are housed and cared for directly affects their health and egg production as well. I have seen this firsthand on our farm. Cleaning out the chicken coop is not a favorite activity among any homesteader or farmer that I know of, however it must be done. A few years ago, my husband was growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of eggs we were getting from our fairly new flock. He was beginning to grumble that he would need to make dinner out of some of the hens that were not producing enough eggs. The idea being that a hen who is not producing is not providing a good return on his investment in feed. This was a very practical line of thinking, but I often find myself taking a more nurturing approach to farm life. I lightheartedly explained to him one evening that hens, much like us women, are hormonal and like when our living spaces are clean and cozy as it can greatly reduce stress and improve our mood. So, I suggested that the coop was just overdue for a good cleaning. My husband rolled his eyes a little, but proceeded to clean out the coop and take special care in making the nesting boxes extra comfortable. Sure enough, within just a few days the hen’s egg production bumped back up and my husband and I were as delighted as the hens.
Now GMO or Non-GMO, free-range or not, my boys are still currently allergic to egg protein, both egg white and yolk. The immune system is a very powerful and amazing part of the human body. It grows and matures and changes right along with everything else, especially when we are young. It may be that someday my boys will be able to have egg in some fashion. In the meantime, there are many other reasons we enjoy our chickens.
First, their eggs are a very healthy source of protein. They are rich in antioxidants, good fats, and vitamins as well. For such a small package they pack quite a tasty nutrient-dense punch. But what about the cholesterol, you ask? I enjoy two to three of our backyard eggs every morning without worry. Just in case you have not yet heard, the naturally occurring cholesterol found in eggs is no longer believed to be a leading cause of heart disease. For an in-depth explanation of this, I encourage you read the article, “The Definitive Guide to Cholesterol”, on http://www.marksdailyapple.com and/or watch the documentary entitled Fathead. I have found both of these resources enlightening and beneficial in my family’s pursuit of a natural whole food based diet and wellness lifestyle.
Second, we enjoy the natural variety of colors shapes and sizes of eggs that are chickens produce. White and brown eggs of uniform size from the store now seem so boring. I never knew that there were so many varieties of chickens and colors of eggs. Our hens lay light brown, dark brown, solid white, olive green, and soft blue eggs. In fact the color of a chicken’s cheek feathers can indicate the color of the egg she makes. For example, our first brown leghorn hen had a stunning white circle on each cheek and she produced equally stunning solid white eggs. It was those same white cheeks that let me know when she was not feeling well because they would fade and we would notice more fragile white egg shells. The color of our chickens egg yolks are deep yellow almost orange. A terrific show of their freshness and dense nutrient content. The taste is as rich and delicious as the color and is unaffected by the color of the shell. In contrast, store-bought eggs can be two weeks old or more before making it to your shopping cart. That’s not to say that they are not safe, but given the choice I will now always prefer the ones my lovely hens have laid just hours or days before.
Finally, chickens are just downright entertaining and great source of stress relief. I now have a whole new understanding of those old Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. It’s quite hilarious to watch the roosters chase the hens and make up your own dialogue about what’s happening. The chickens all have different personalities some gentle, some feisty and some others are just nutty. I find it fascinating how chicken antics naturally play themselves out in parallel to so many human behaviors. Roosters have to actually learn how to crow. Adolescent roosters sound like a young boy singing in church choir when his voice begins to “crack”. You try to muffle the giggles while all the while cheering him on and so proud when he finally begins to get comfortable with his new voice. Adult roosters are cocky! Seriously, they really are, but they are also terrific protectors and food providers. They are instinctively good at calling the hens together to hide from a hawk or to announce the presence of a favorite food, such as worms after rain or gifts of watermelon rinds from us.
So, yes, chickens are messy and maybe a little impractical to some, but here they take care of us just as well as we take care of them in their own quirky way. I’m filled with thanks for what we have each time I pull on my clodhoppers and pause to appreciate God’s creation on our farm. It’s this quiet respect and admiration of our natural world that I work to teach my children and hope that you will be able to experience as well in your own way.