13 August 2007

Cage Free Eggs

Interesting article in yesterday's New York Times about cage free eggs. Seems that demand is increasing, due in large part to concerns about cramming production hens into battery cages where each has an amount of space roughly equal to a "laptop computer." We have such a factory near our town, and locals who've worked there have told stories that will make your hair stand on end. One ex-employee will not even eat chicken --- any kind of chicken, even when we offered to give him a free pasture-raised broiler --- because the mere thought of chicken still turns his stomach, some 20 years later.

One thing the article makes very clear, though, is that "cage free" does not equal "free range" or "pastured." As we've been telling our customers for some time, "cage free" simply means the birds are loose in a large building, just like most commercial broiler chickens are raised. It does not mean the birds ever see the light of day, or have anything fresh and green in their diet. Also, as the article mentions, it does not mean the birds are necessarily healthier than those raised in batteries.

Our own chickens are the next step beyond "cage free." They are completely free ranging during most of the year, and during the summer gardening/fruit months they are kept in movable pasture pens. As I'll describe in another post soon, these pasture pens give the birds fresh green stuff every day, take them off their droppings every day, and keep them out in the fresh air in small groups 24 hours per day. (And this system has the added advantage of keeping them away from my ripening wine grapes and away from Mrs. Yeoman Farmer's tomatoes.)

Furthermore, on a more philosophical level, our pastured and free-range chickens give glory to God. This is because we allow them to behave in complete accord with their nature; they are allowed to behave in the way God designed and intended them to behave. Were we to cram them into battery cages, we'd be reducing them to mere egg-laying machines.

The eggs from hens raised in this manner are incomparable, and are usually only found at farmers markets or local health food stores. I only wish we could produce more of them without overwhelming our small farm with chickens.


Steve said...

Have ever discovered any unlaid eggs in the birds you slaughter for eating? In the NYT archives, there's an article on how gourmets fight for them. Perhaps a new income stream?

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What The Egg Was First
DAN BARBER had a culinary epiphany in Italy a couple of months ago over a plate of tagliatelle, one that sent him running back to his kitchen in an experimental mode. When he inquired about the pasta, he was told that its secret ingredient, what made it especially absorbent, were the eggs. But these were something quite different from the ordinary kitchen staples that come 12 to a cardboard carton.
Mr. Barber, the chef and an owner of Blue Hill in Greenwich Village and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills in Westchester County, had just been introduced to the wonders of eggs that are described, with varying degrees of delicacy, as immature, unborn, unlaid or embryonic. In plain English, these are eggs that have not been laid and are sometimes discovered when an elderly laying hen is slaughtered.

JCurley said...

A little over a year ago when we slaughtered the remainder of our flock-which included 8-10 hens, almost all of them had at least one unlaid egg. I didn't know there was any interest in them. In fact, I don't even remember what we did with them-other than to show them to the kids.

Maybe this time around (we just started a new flock of hen layers) we'll do some research.

TYF said...

Yes, in fact unlaid eggs are common in the hens we butcher. Our joke is, "so fresh, it was still in the chicken." Didn't realize these were in demand. If the shells are hard and intact, we treat them as any other egg. Sometimes, though, the egg will be complete but without a shell --- just the very soft inner membrane. Those are hard to store, so I typically tear them open and dump the contents into a bowl for more immediate use.