FEBRUARY 23, 2011

I was starting to think that I had five roosters.  When you buy laying hens that have been professionally sexed (checked if male or female) there’s a 1 in 10 chance that the “girl” you just bought is actually a boy. Statistically the chance of me having five roosters is 1 in 100,000 but being that they were 24 weeks old and still not producing eggs I was sure I hit the rooster lotto. That was until last Saturday when I went to check their nesting box and found two beautiful little eggs. I never thought that I would think of eggs as beautiful, but they were: a beautiful pastel green and a lovely tan.

I’ve always loved eggs. Nearly every meet growing up started with my mom making me my favorite pre-meet meal: fried eggs and rice with soy sauce. Despite what we were told during the late eighties and early nineties, eggs are very healthy. Not only are they a cheap and affordable source of protein, but they are also a great source of lutein, choline, omega-3 fatty acids in addition to a variety of other vitamins and minerals. The cholesterol in eggs is only a problem for those who already have heart troubles or high cholesterol. 

Over the past few years I’ve expanded my garden of fruits and vegetables and backyard chickens seemed to be the next logical step in my urban farming adventures. Not only did my husband and I want to raise our own hens, but also we wanted to ensure that the eggs we eat are of the highest quality. Some unscrupulous egg farmers have made headlines the past couple years for unhealthy and unsanitary farming practices, most recently the 500 million egg recall of last August:http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/02/fda-finds-salmonella-in-first-round-of-egg-facility-testing/ It feels great to know exactly where our eggs come from.    

My husband and I sifted through a handful of the many books on backyard chickens and were still hesitant about getting them. We were convinced that our two dogs, SheRa and Dozer would hate having other furry creatures in our yard. (After all, the dogs’ job is to chase out any intruders including the many wild turkey that dig at our veggies.)  After debating for nearly a year we finally decided to take the plunge. 

A couple of our friends had chickens and convinced us that they are quite maintenance-free as pets go. Compared to the daily walks and attention that our pups demand, this couldn’t be any more true. We had a space in our backyard that was otherwise unusable so we built our girls a chicken paradise, but a small pen would suffice. You have to raise chicks indoors until they are 8 weeks old, so that gave our pups plenty of time to get used to our girls. Protection from predators and the elements, plenty of fresh water, a supply of quality food and some room to walk around is really all they need. A few times a week we clean out their dropping trays, dumping them straight into our compost.  Otherwise they are completely self-sufficient. They wake up with the sun and put themselves to bed as soon as the sun sets. Contrary to what a lot of people think, you do not need a rooster to have eggs and in most cities they are illegal. (Just think back to your health classes… females ovulate on a consistent schedule with or without a male presence.)  It is amazing how many eggs a hen produces (nearly 300 per year!)

One morning Ethan and I woke up and decided that today was the day that we were going to get our chickens. We drove to Half Moon Bay’s Feed & Fuel and picked out our five girls: Madame Croque, Chuck, Tara, Sookie and Lafayette. Madame Croque and Chuck are Rhode Island Reds and lay brown eggs; Tara, Sookie and Lafayette are Easter Eggers and lay blue-green eggs. Yes, you can have green eggs and ham! My main rule for my garden applied to the chickens: grow what you love or what you can’t otherwise buy at the store. That’s why we decided to get the Easter Eggers with green eggs.  The green eggs are really no different than the brown eggs. Most egg farmers have white or brown eggs because those breeds of chicken tend to produce the most eggs. 

Ethan and I shared our first two eggs sunny side up, with a pinch of salt and a crack of fresh pepper.  They were rich and absolutely delicious. I cannot wait until the garden is filled with veggies and our girls are consistently laying. We’ll be able to eat full meals straight out of the yard… such a satisfying feeling.     

If raising your own chickens is not an option, I urge you to pay attention to which suppliers you are getting your eggs from. The living conditions and cleanliness of eggs should be an important factor when deciding which eggs to buy at the store. Two books that I highly recommend to learn more about urban farming and backyard chickens: “Keeping Chickens” by Ashley English and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver.