Knowing your food and your farmer. We talk about this, but why is it important? So you can support farmers who practice sustainable agriculture that improves the land, soil, and animal health; to provide healthy nourishment for your and your family; and ultimately to glorify our Creator through our recognition and pursuit of food systems that honor His design.
But how can you know if a particular food source is a wise and healthy choice? You start by talking to the farmer who produces it, asking questions that pertain to the type of food you’re buying.
This is the first post of a series where we’ll cover types of local food, along with the particular questions you can ask to determine the quality of the food being offered.
First up: chickens and eggs (and other poultry as well). Please use the questions and issues below when approaching your local farmer or source. Use your own words, and in the interest of bringing people together rather than putting them off, we suggest a friendly, approachable tone.
(You might also want to revisit this post that shares practical tips for developing a relationship with your farmers!)
Got something to add or another point to make? Be sure to share in the comments.
Where do you keep your chickens? Do they live in a coop or a portable structure? How much access to they have to pasture and are they rotated to new pasture regularly?
Chickens are designed to scratch and peck for bugs. Chickens that live indoors are more prone to disease and other health problems because they cannot act like normal, healthy chickens in this way. Pastured chickens control insect pest problems, fertilize the soil with their excrement, and enjoy life doing what they were created to do.
Do your chickens have a place to nest before laying their eggs?
Chickens will lay eggs anywhere. Even in conventional facilities, chickens will produce eggs on cold metal slabs. In nature, however, chickens prefer to make a comfy nest out of feathers, bits of straw, etc., and then lay their eggs inside. This is how God created them to behave. Sure, chickens will lay eggs anywhere, but allowing chickens to act according to their design respects the animal and leads to happier chickens. Conscientious farmers provide and allow their chickens to nest so they can create an ideal egg-laying environment.
Do you use non-GMO, organic feed?
According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, eating genetically modified food has huge health consequences. These can include “infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system… and unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects, including allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems.”
Most commercial/conventional chicken feed is made of corn and soy. And according to GMO Inside, 94% of soy and 88% of corn in the United States is genetically modified and most of it (90% of soy production and 80% of corn) is used in animal feed. We are only as healthy as the food we eat — if the animals we consume have been fed a GMO-based diet, we consume those GMOs when we eat those animals.
Do you wash the eggs?
This may seem like a silly question, but when eggs are cleaned in chemicals or even soap, the porous membrane of the egg is destroyed, allowing bacteria (good or bad) into the egg. Commercial eggs are usually washed and sanitized using chemical solutions which completely destroy this protective membrane.
However, dirty eggs are less attractive and certainly affect consumer decisions. While it is best that the farmer avoids chemicals for cleaning, a wipe with sandpaper or a quick bath in warm water will eliminate the grime while keeping the membrane intact.
Farmers price their products so that they can earn a fair wage. This should be respected. However, if you need a more affordable price, here are a few effective and inoffensive ways to ask.
Can I buy chickens and/or eggs in bulk at a reduced price?
This is best asked at peak season when there’s an overabundance!
Can I get discounted prices for whole chickens?
Whole chickens are less work to process. Obviously, this may not apply to every farm, since some may sell only whole chickens.
Do you discount chicken feet and backs?
These are less popular parts but perfect for making delicious stock.
Do you discount odd parts that aren’t selling?
Legs and wings can often be discounted because they aren’t as popular as the breast.
Do you offer discounts for pullet eggs?
Pullets are young and often produce smaller or irregular eggs, so their eggs are often cheaper. They can still be used at a 1:1 ratio in recipes, though, so you get just as much use out of a pullet egg, albeit at a cheaper price!
What other questions do you ask your poultry farmers? Any other issues to bring up?
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Great info Jenny!
We have chickens so we have our own eggs. I would love to sell our eggs someday, either at a market or to individuals. We let ours free range in a small protected and carefully monitored in our less protected garden. They have access to a coop with nest boxes for laying and they all gravitate towards the same box. :/
No meat birds yet, but we’re hoping to give those a try this summer.
I look forward to the rest of this series!
Jenny Cutler says
That’s so funny they all like the same box! I look forward to hearing how your meat birds go! 🙂
Thanks for this post – and all your others! I recently began purchasing organic eggs and I was so happy to come across this post – which answered many of my questions! Though I still have a few questions and I hope you can help me out:
1. The eggs I purchase are dirty – I’m glad to hear that ‘it’s better’ – though I’m wondering if it’s necessary for me to wash them before using them or is it ok for me to leave them the way they are?
2. I once heard that grass fed chickens produce eggs that are darker in color (the yolk – more orange). The eggs I buy are actually light yellow – is this true? and what does it indicate?
Thanks again and looking forward to your reply,
Jenny Cutler says
Hi Carol! Thanks for your comment and questions! I think that you may want to just gently rinse or wipe the dirty eggs with warm water just to get off anything undesirable that might fall off when you crack them open. 🙂 As for the color of the yolk, from my experience pastured eggs do have a much deeper color as they have greater nutrient density. However, I wouldn’t rule out your source just because of the color. I’d ask what breed the chickens are and ask about how they are raised. Different breeds of chickens tend to lay different colored eggs, including the yolk. If you know and trust they are healthfully raised, I’d enjoy them no matter what the color!
Our free range eggs were a lighter yellow and then this past week we noticed they were suddenly a deep orange. I’ve wondered if it was because the grass here has started to green up and we have a lot of clover coming on that the girls like to eat while they range in the garden.
We have Rhode Island Reds and black Orpingtons. They are all fed the same organic feed and all free range on one acre of pasture, yet the Orpingtons yolk is much darker. The shell seems to be darker also, so maybe the darker the shell the darker the yolk?
Micaiah, I have no scientific research to back any of this up, just conversations with other poultry lovers and a little experience! While researching various breeds to own, we looked into many of the hybrid breeds as well as heritage breeds. I love my heritage breeds but there is a reason their numbers waned over the years, they overall lay less eggs than hybrid breeds and they do go broody at the first warm stretch (mid April and I have 8 broody hens). So we were considering hybrids for a more consistent egg supply for our farm sales. The more we read and the more we talked with other egg producing farmers, we heard over and over that no matter what the hybrids were fed (pasture) the yolks stayed a light yellow while heritage breeds turned dark yellow-orange. As for your RIR, it is very hard to find the true non-production Rhode Island Red, but it is possible! If you hear them called “production reds” you know you have the hybrid strain. All of the eggs will be delicious and full of amazing omega 3’s just the color will be different.
Theresa Herfindahl says
How much space do chickens need to be happy? My neighbor has about 10 birds fenced in a space about 8 by 16 ft. No pasture is able to grow there and I never see them out in the garden. She calls them “free range” but they don’t seem free to me and they can’t range far. What do you think?