Another burgeoning group of backyard chicken fanatics is the paleo crowd: Those who survive largely on animal protein–including, often, a lot of eggs. Johnny Szuch, Hawaii resident, Deep Elm Records owner, and backyard chicken raiser, falls into this camp. He says that, aside from the benefits of a more self-sustainable lifestyle, nutrition played a primary role in his decision to raise chickens instead of buying eggs at the store:
Although you can buy “organic eggs” you never really know what you are getting, how the animals are treated and what exactly they are fed. So raising your own chickens is the best way to ensure the highest quality eggs. There is no comparison once you start eating fresh eggs: The yolks are dark orange and flavorful, unlike the pale yellow yolks of store bought eggs.
Anderson echoes the sentiment (her photo to the right demonstrates the color difference), adding that she always advises people to explain the dark orange color if they opt to share their eggs with friends. (Once, a student of hers shared eggs with a neighbor, who threw them all out thinking that the color meant they were off.)
Szuch explains that home-raised chicken eggs offer superior nutrition:
Eggs produced by hens fed a diet of greens and insects contain higher levels of n-3 fatty acids than those produced by chickens fed corn or soybeans. The addition of ground flax seeds (a good source of alpha-linolenic acid) to the diets of my chickens also increases the eggs’ omega-3 content, predominantly DHA. Humans cannot process the omega-3 content of flax seed and turn it info usable DHA…only chickens can. Flax seed for human consumption is nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
But even if you don’t ascribe to a paleo lifestyle, raising your own birds is worthwhile. John Hanna, who owns his own ducks, explained that even though “duck eggs are pretty widely available at farmers markets in the area, they tend to cost a lot,” making the ones from his back yard a worthwhile investment, too.
And then, there’s something that just makes you feel a little more warm and fuzzy about raising your own. Hanna explains that his ducks “have the run of our yard during the day, and spend the night in a pretty roomy little converted dog house with a door to keep racoons away from them”–much better than factory conditions. And Szuch feels that backyard chickens are definitely a more ethical choice:
I prefer grass-fed beef, wild caught fish and organic chicken…preferably fresh for all. I prefer getting food from my own garden or local farmers as I know they treat their animals better than factory farms. And all that mysterious food lingo used by large manufacturers often misrepresents. “Cage free” simply means no cage, but it also means the chickens likely spent their entire lives in total darkness in a giant warehouse and never saw green grass or sunlight.
The negatives? “They poop A LOT,” says Hanna. And Szuch adds that, although chickens are fairly low-maintenance, “they make a bit of noise when they are laying eggs…Then again, so would I if I had to pass something the size of a beach ball everyday!”
Photos: Courtesy of Gretchen Anderson