In light of all the excitement of our new avian additions, we had to step back and reflect on the core reasons why spending hours and hours on the construction of the coop, and countless hours in the future cleaning chicken poop was so very important to us. While I am sure that our friends, neighbours and family think we are bit nuts, I think this is a vital experience in food, and ultimately the nature of life. This is also quite timely, as Dr. Oz ( I have mixed feelings about him — much of his information isn’t contextualized enough) ran a show on the chicken meat industry that can be viewed here.
We got our chicks from a friend – a chicken enthusiast whom raises her own birds as pets, and in always looking for different breeds to add to her flock, particularly heritage breeds that are much harder to find (also due to the industrialization of our food system). Our birds were around 4-6 weeks old when we picked them up, and some tell tale signs of sex were emerging — this is a luxury. Most people want those fuzzy little day old chicks. They are adorable.
However, unless these chicks are sourced from a commercial hatchery with a professional sexer on staff (which too are only about 90% accurate — The Chicken Chick has a great piece on this here), which in itself is a problem (don’t buy from a commercial hatchery!), odds are, its a 50/50 chance of getting a male bird. Only female laying birds lay eggs. Male laying birds would serve to fertilize the next generation of chicks, however in commercial production, even fertilization is a highly regimented ‘process’. So unfortunately, male chicks are culled. From the RSPCA website: “Male chicks are killed for two reasons: they cannot lay eggs and they are not suitable for chicken-meat production. This is because layer hens — and therefore their chicks — are a different breed of poultry to chickens that are bred and raised for meat production. Layer hens are bred to produce eggs whereas meat chickens are bred to grow large breast muscle and legs”
One day old chicks are sexed by professional sexers are sorted, and males are either gassed or macerated (think large scale blender). What I want to emphasize here is the almost unimaginable scale that this being done at. Eggs are in so many processed items, and that’s not even touching the enormous volume of raw eggs available in huge quantities in every grocery store, gas station, and convenience store year round.
That’s a lot of laying – and unfortunately a lot of male bird killing. Perhaps they are the lucky ones — this is no to mention the imaginable cruelty that those female layer in commercial laying facilities experience. So what can you do? In our case – we stopped eating commercial eggs. All together. None. Was this hard? At first, yes. However, even if you are not an animal rights activist, the conditions these birds live in can NOT be a productive environment for your health. We have moved around a lot, so we have had to do this a few times, but we found people who raised birds in a manner that we were comfortable with to buy eggs from. Most people who are proud of the way they do things will be happy to have you walk around their farm or property and show you what they do.
This also meant that our egg consumption dipped to nil in the winter, as ‘naturally’ birds don’t lay in the dead of the winter. They were so much more delicious. Two reasons: the yolks are creamy and orange and awesome & after a long winter of no eggs, those first spring eggs are mind-blowing — good things do come to those who wait! And check out these babies, who could go back to store bought after this visual?? These are from our current ‘egg lady’ and now our birdies’ mama!
As the number of urban chicken coops pop up (yea!) there will inevitably be those folks who don’t do their homework, fall for the yellow fuzziness of a day old chick, and end up with roosters. Have a plan for roosters. A sensible plan — not drop of at the local shelter – they are already inundated with animals. In our case, our egg lady welcomes male and females alike. She is on a farm, and is legally able to house noisy roosters. She loves their caws. If any of our gals are dudes, she said she would welcome them back to her property to live. Her birds reproduce without human intervention and each spring she is welcomed by more.
Please share these thoughts with other egg eaters – think about what is going into your body!