by Tammy Taylor
RancherMan & I are slowly learning what veteran chicken-raisers have known all along about raising chickens and about fresh free-range eggs. Last year we raised our very first batch of chickens from day-old chicks. It was lots of fun seeing them turn from fuzzy peepers to a full grown egg-producing chicken. I learned that it took them 21 weeks to grow enough to produce their first egg and I also learned that chickens don’t just lay eggs in the morning. In fact their egg-laying time isn’t even a balanced 24-hour time span. (or maybe they just like to sleep in from time to time – who knows?? LOL) But I learned even more about the eggs themselves. For instance I didn’t know:
- Although there’s no difference in taste or nutrition of a pastured egg whether white shell or colored shell, I was very surprised to learn that the color of the shell was dictated by the color of the chicken’s ear lobe. I’ll admit I didn’t even know chickens HAD ear lobes! Chickens with white lobes usually produce white eggs and chickens with red lobes usually produce brown eggs. Note in the picture above that I have 2 brown eggs and one white. Sure enough, we had three Ideal 236 chickens, two with red lobes and one with white. Fascinating!
- Free-range eggs are actually much more healthy than their commercial counterparts according to an article in Mother Earth News. The article stated that pastured poultry lay more nutritious eggs which contain 1/3 less cholesterol and 1/4 less saturated fat, but also containing much more of the good stuff like 2/3 more vitamin A, twice as much omega 3 fatty acids, 3x the vitamin E, a whopping 7 times more beta carotene and 4-6 times more vitamin D! Wow.
- Free-range eggs look and taste distinctively different than store-bought eggs. Can you tell which is which in the picture below? Free-range eggs have a much darker yolk, it’s said that’s due to their healthier natural diet that includes plenty of greens and bugs. And the taste of a free-range egg vs a store-bought egg is comparable to the taste of a garden tomato vs a store-bought tomato. ‘Nuff said!
- After the chicken lays the egg its shell is protected by a coating of an invisible substance called ‘bloom’. This magical protection seals the egg from outside bacteria, but any moisture will remove it. For this reason it’s helpful to keep the nesting box clean of any droppings so the egg will stay clean, but even if there is a spot of mud or droppings on the egg when I retrieve it, I’ll only wipe it with a dry cloth when I bring it into the house. Any washing of the egg will have to hold off until I’m actually ready to use it.
- It’s said that store-bought eggs MUST be kept refrigerated because the commercial eggs have been washed, therefore removing the bloom. But free-range eggs don’t even have to be refrigerated as long as you don’t wash them. Although I still put my eggs in the refrigerator because I just can’t wrap my head around this idea, there are many that say free-range eggs will stay fresh for weeks without refrigeration because of the bloom. Supposedly in many countries fresh eggs are never refrigerated.
- When the chicken lays the egg it goes into a state of suspended animation as she lays a new egg in her nest every day. After several days the hen goes broody & sits on the eggs and all fertilized eggs will then proceed to grow into baby chicks. Because we remove the eggs each day there’s no opportunity for an accumulation of eggs but it’s fascinating how nature works!
We enjoyed our chickens so much last year that we decided to raise chickens again this year. We bought young pullets and are already seeing the first small eggs coming from them. I’ll keep RancherMan supplied in egg salad for sandwiches and of course we’ll offer to bring the deviled eggs to any luncheon we’re invited to. I’ll also begin freezing the eggs again to preserve the overage, and if they produce well enough I’d really like to find a market to sell my extra eggs. I have no idea how to even begin selling eggs – any veterans out there that could offer advice?