Understanding Your Eggs

understanding your eggs

The eggs you are purchasing from the grocery store may not actually be as high of quality as you think they are. Unfortunately, marketing gimmicks abound in the produce world, so many times consumers expect their eggs are coming from birds raised in open green spaces…when the reality is likely VERY different. This makes it vital to have an understanding of your eggs and where they are coming from. A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, seeing a visual of your egg and poultry scenario could be a real game changer.

Keep in mind, that as consumers, we have a responsibility to know and understand where our food comes from. Yes, those cheep conventional eggs might be convenient, but when consumers purchase these products we are not just feeding our families. Every purchase supports the systems that are producing the food itself. We are what we eat and our purchases entire food production systems. Make sure you are supporting the right farms and production methodologies.

1 – Conventional Eggs

  • Caged their ENTIRE life (usually killed at 9-10 weeks if they are a meat bird, or 1 year if a laying hen)
  • NO access to sunlight
  • NO exercise
  • NO access to grass, soil, or bugs
  • Essentially treated as a machine
  • Low quality feed
  • High use antibiotics and medicine, because the birds are prone to sickness and disease under these conditions

NOTE: Conventional eggs can also be sold as “ORGANIC”. However, that only means their food doesn’t have pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides in it. “Organic chickens” or “No anti-biotic birds” are often raised in the same setting as that pictured above. This is actually MORE dangerous for consumers, because since the living conditions are so bad – the birds are often sick. So in this case, the lack of antibiotics actually makes them even more dangerous to consume.

2 – Cage Free Eggs

  • Raised indoors / barns (often concrete or sand floor)
  • Very little exercise
  • Very little space to move
  • Overcrowded living conditions
  • NO access to grass, soil, or bugs
  • Essentially treated as a machine
  • Low quality feed
  • Little or no human interaction
  • High use antibiotics and medicine, because the birds are prone to sickness and disease under these conditions

3 – Free Range Eggs

  • Raised indoors / barns (often concrete or sand floor) with LIMITED access to sunlight or actual soil. Just because they have “access” to it does NOT mean they get to enjoy it, because an average barn has 10,000 birds in them.
  • Very little exercise
  • Very little space to move
  • Overcrowded living conditions
  • LIMITED access to grass, soil, or bugs
  • Medium quality feed
  • High use antibiotics and medicine, because the birds are prone to sickness and disease under these conditions
  • “Organic” eggs that are in these condition are likely coming from more “diseased” birds, because they are in such over crowded conditions. In these conditions, disease is common, so the antibiotics are actually helping control sickness.

4 – Pasture Raised

This is the phrasing we should be looking for when purchasing our eggs. Even better “organic pasture raised”.

  • Raised outdoors with access to sunlight, soil, insects
  • Lots of exercise
  • Open space to move around
  • Cleaner living conditions
  • FULL access to grass, soil, or bugs
  • HIGH quality feed
  • LITTLE or NO use of antibiotics because birds in these conditions are generally healthier.

Why are Organic Pasture Raised Eggs so Expensive?

  1. Food cost for organic feed is often 3x higher than conventional and medicated feeds. However, the quality ingredients are whole grains and foods instead of a cheaply made corn mush (with synthetic supplements).
  2. There is more human connection (time commitment) involved in pasture raising animals. These animals are often being supervised for predators, checked for disease, and getting social time with their owners. The human connection helps ensure the birds are “happy”, but also HEALTHY! Having humans eyes on them multiple times a day allows farmers to ensure the health of their flocks and in turn – your eggs.
  3. The USDA charges an insane amount of money to be “certified organic”.
  4. Pastures need to be reseeded and maintained so they have enough biodiversity for the birds to eat.
  5. Birds on pasture are often “rotated” to new areas daily, so they have a fresh supply of greens, insects, and soil.
  6. Many farms who are pasture raising their livestock are also using other biodynamic practices (adding probiotics to the water, composting systems, giving birds vegetable overstock to supplement feed). This results in a healthier eggs and meat, but also ensures that the farms ecosystem is healing the land and building soil structure.
  7. Animals raised on pasture are often cared for more attentively during summer heat and winter cold. When the birds are less “stressed” they produce a much higher quality egg / meat.
Organic PASTURE RAISED chickens enjoying a fermented feed treat with whole grains, probiotics, and live mealworms and soldier flies. For a FREE recipe on making this fermented goodness…CLICK HERE

Understanding your eggs

As you head to the grocery store (or better yet… FARMER’S MARKET) next time, consider giving your family the best and get “organic pasture raised eggs”. Yes, they will cost a couple bucks more, but you can be assured you are not only providing quality eggs for your family, but also supporting an ethical food production system. Whenever possible, try to purchase eggs and meats locally at a farmer’s market or co-op and support local farms in your area that are using practices that you believe in.

Remember, many local farms will actually let you visit (and bring kids), so you can see where your food comes from. This can be a priceless, fun, and educational experience for the entire family. Connecting ourselves again with our food helps us not only appreciate what we consume, but also support ethical practices in the food production system.

Our choices as consumers matter.

How to Keep Chickens Cool During Hot Weather

During times of extreme summer heat, it’s important to not only keep our families safe and cool, but also our chickens and farm animals. Here are some easy ways to keep your chickens cool in extreme heat and help their bodies cope with extreme temperatures.

  1. Change their water multiple times a day: Practically speaking, this will keep the water temperature cooler and your activity around the waterer will remind them to get a bit to drink. There are attachments available online to even turn a medium sized water cooler (like an Igloo) into a chicken waterer, which will keep the water cooler longer (or warmer in the winter).
  2. Add ACV and honey to their water: The honey and apple cider vinegar are a great way to add electrolytes and probiotics to their water. Think of this like Gatorade for chickens. Honey is also antibacterial, so it is strengthening their stressed immune system.  You can also purchase a chicken supplement to add to their water, but I generally use what I have on hand in the kitchen.
  3. Watermelon treat: Cut the watermelon in half and put one half inside the chicken run (like a giant bowl) and let them go to town. Watermelon contains electrolytes that are important for the birds during extreme heat, but it is also very easy to digest, which will help keep their body heat down. Leave the rinds in the run and fill them with water for the next 24 hours like a giant watermelon bowl (see image below).
  1. Frozen veggies in a muffin tin (corn, canned spinach, canned tuna): This Poultry Popsickle is possibly my favorite way to keep chickens cool and also provide a nice treat for them during the extreme heat. Buy some canned corn, spinach, or even tuna and empty the contents into a muffin tin. Slide the tin into the freezer overnight and you’ll have perfect little frozen veggie muffins to entertain the birds and keep healthy them cool.
  1. Proper airflow in the coop: Open up two sides of the coop in order to create a nice cross breeze. Allowing proper airflow will not only cools the birds, but also helps to prevent mold from forming due to the stagnant and humid air.
  2. Access to fresh veggies and fruit: These are normally used as “treats” for the flock, but access to a little extra green material on a hot day will be easy for them to digest and provide micronutrients for the flock. Stay away from treating with things like cracked corn, which may increase their body temps as they digest it.
  1. Create a shaded run or temporarily move coop under a tree: During the extreme heat, provide adequate shade for your flock. If you are have the ability to grow vines up the side of the run, this will provide a nice living shaded area for them. Pole bean, squash, butterfly pea, and passion vine are great choices or this (depending on your growing zone).
  2. Cool their feet: Run the hose on the ground for 10-15 min in the heat of the day so they can walk in it. Chickens can regulate body temps through their feet, so give them a little water on the ground to wade in and they will be happy campers. Practically speaking, hot days are also a great time to clean and sterilize your coop (and leave them open for the day). I sweep and scrape mine out and then either spray and wash with Basic H OR add it to the powerwasher and give everything a nice spray down. Then leave the coop open for the day to dry. Do this in the morning, so the coop has the full day to air dry.
  3. Dust bath (shaded) with wood ash: Dust bathing should be available at all times, because this is a primary way for them to stay clean and cool. Fill a 6-8″ deep container with sand for them to play in and occasionally add a few shovels full of wood ash. This will help treat them for any mites and fleas. Do NOT use Diatomaceous Earth, as this is terrible for their respiratory health; DE should only be used WET or in very small quantities of their feed (3%). Always keep the dust bath in a shaded area, otherwise the sand will get too hot for the birds.
  1. Keep bedding fresh and add herbs (fresh or dried): During heat waves, it’s important to keep things fresh in order to prevent mold, bacterial growth, and to help control insects. Keep nesting boxes and bedding fresh at all times. Add in fresh or dried herbs to repel insects and provide a little fun for the hens. You can add leaves or flowers to the nesting boxes or hang bundles of herbs around the coop. Use things like mint, bee balm, oregano, thyme, fennel, dill, or lemon balm. For flowers, you can use petals from marigolds, roses, snapdragons, sunflowers, etc.

Leave a comment below if you found this helpful, and feel free to share the article on social media to help your chicken friends try out a few new ways to keep the girls cool in the summer.

BONUS: Click here to find out ways to keep chickens warm in the winter.

How to Make Fermented Chicken Feed

Learning to make your own fermented chicken feed can help you save money and have healthier birds. By soaking your chicken feed in water, the seeds will expand, releasing locked up nutrients, and will also deliver important probiotics to your flock. In turn, your birds will be healthier, happier, and your wallet just a little fuller.

Basic Chicken Feed Recipe

Ingredients are measured by “parts”

Mix the feed using a unit of measurement that suits your particular situation by changing the size of the unit of measurement. For example, one part (in the recipe below) could mean “a coffee can full”, “a scoop full”, “one cup full”, “one bucket full”, etc. In essence, this recipe will make 12 parts total. So, if your unit for measuring is one cup, you’ll be adding 2 cups of cracked corn, 1 cup of oats, 1/2 cup of kelp, etc…. which will then give you 12 cups of dry feed when the recipe is complete. If you use a 1 gallon scoop for your unit, you will get 12 gallons of mixed dry feed.

Here is the basic chicken feed recipe:

  • 2 cracked corn
  • 1 oats
  • 1/2 kelp meal
  • 1 barley 
  • 2 milo
  • 2 wheat
  • 1 alfalfa (pellets)
  • 1.5 split peas
  • 1/2 flax (ground or whole)

NOTE:  It’s important to use organic / non-GMO ingredients when possible.  

NOTE 2: Use 1/4 part aragonite for layers as a calcium supplement

How to Ferment Chicken Feed
How to Ferment Chicken Feed

How to Ferment Chicken Feed

How to ferment your feed

  1. Use the chicken feed recipe above OR your own whole grain feed mix.  Fermenting feed does not work well with pelletized food, because when soaked it makes a mush that some chickens may avoid.  In addition, non-organic foods may also contain added antibiotics or chemicals that may change the fermentation process.
  2. Fill a five gallon bucket 1/2 full of feed.
  3. Add 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar OR 2 tablespoons of BioLivestock (by SCD probiotics) to start the fermentation process.
  4. Add enough water so that the bucket is 2/3 full.  Your feed will expand, so be sure to allow room for this.  You may need to modify this quantity based on your feed type.
  5. Keep 2” of water on top of the feed at all times.   This will help prevent mold from growing on your feed. Whenever you see mold, the ferment will need to be discarded.
  6. Let it sit for 3-4 days to get the ferment going.  You’ll smell the ferment (slightly sour) as it becomes ready.  You should never see mold growing or smell a rotten smell in the bucket. You may choose to lightly set a lid or board on top of the bucket (do not press sealed) in order to keep critters out.
  7. Feed your chickens the fermented feed (within 5 days) using a pan or tray and make sure to add more water to the ferment so the seeds are covered at all times.
  8. Use a scoop from a previously fermented bucket to start a new bucket of feed, similar to a kombucha scoby.  Once the ferment is started, you will not need to add more of the apple cider vinegar or BioLivestock, unless it’s a completely new fermented bucket.
  9. The general rule is that if you feed a scoop of fermented feed, add a new scoop to the bucket, so you don’t have to start from scratch each time. Think of it like a sour dough starter for chickens.

Soaking and fermenting your own feed is a much healthier choice for your flock. It delivers powerful probiotics in a way that is bioavailable to birds, and also expands the food using water so that you use less feed. This nutrient dense way of feeding your flock will not only increase their overall health and well-being, but also give you healthier eggs for you and your family. Enjoy!

5 Food Sources for the Resourceful Backyard Chicken Keeper | Matthew Capps

Mealworms for chickens

5 Food Sources for the Resourceful Backyard Chicken Keeper

Going to the mill and buying chicken feed is easy, but it has its drawbacks. With a limited spectrum of nutrients, mill feed can cost more than it’s worth, especially if there are healthier and more readily available alternatives. Eliminating bagged feed entirely may not be possible, or even desirable, but if we activate the resources at hand, we can greatly enhance the lives and quality of our birds. Here is a list of five food sources for the resourceful backyard chicken keeper to lower costs and bring balance to the diet of your flock.

1 – The Compost Pile

An active compost pile provides not only diverse food scraps, but also the insects that come to feed on them. On top of that, compost is still produced, simply taking a short detour through the chickens’ guts before being deposited back into the pile and surrounding land.

 

2 – Fermented and Soaking Your Chicken Feed

The bacteria in fermented feed are good for the chickens, and will make nutrients more bioavailable, increasing nourishment and lowering food intake. Whole seed chicken feeds can be easily fermented by soaking in water, adding a glug of apple cider vinegar, and leaving it until the concoction is slightly bubbly and smells fermented– the amount of time will vary by season and climate. Generally in Kansas City, if left in a potting shed overnight, it’s already bubbling the next morning. If the feed is left too long it will go bad, or create it’s own ACV scoby. If the food doesn’t smell fresh to you, it’s probably not fresh for the birds. If you see ANY sign of mold, discard it immediately. Remember though, fermentation will only work with whole seed feeds. You can get the recipe for our specialized whole seed feed blend by reading the linked article.

 

Mealworms for chickens
Mealworms for Chickens

3 – Mealworms

Mealworms are an excellent source of protein for chickens and can be grown easily in a basement, closet, or garage. Their living conditions are very dry, as are their feces (called frass). All they need is an occasional fruit or vegetable scrap and a plastic tub to breed in.

 

4 – The Nightly Free Range

If chickens are released from their run about 30 minutes before dusk, they will almost always instinctively return to the coop before dark. Obviously, these are animals and there is no guarantee, so I’d watch them the first few times. In the meantime they will be able to find and eat whatever their current forage is lacking.

That said, before you try this idea, know your area and know your birds. Free ranging is a great resource, but if you have squeamish neighbours, live by a busy road, or frequently see predators, it could easily mean the demise of your girls. Watch carefully!

 

backyard chickens in Kansas City
Alternative Chicken Feed Options in Kansas City

5 – Rotational Foraging Systems

A rotational foraging system will keep chickens healthy and active with fresh ground and change of scenery. By the time they expend forageable plants and insects in one zone, they are moved to the next. As each zone rests, insects and vegetation return, capitalizing on the open ground and nutrient rich manure the chickens leave behind. If the zones are rested long enough (about a month depending on the climate and season) they will be teaming with life next time the chickens come around.

Taking care of chickens requires effort and care, and the value of our flocks will match the value of management we put into them. If we are willing to invest and think creatively, we will be rewarded by high quality, high production, and happy birds.