Sunday, September 24, 2006

But if you're going to eat 'em, don't name 'em

I was sick last week, but when I was finally able to eat, my kid made me supper: French toast with our own eggs and maple syrup made up in Newfane, Vermont. Now that's a meal that can bring you back from the dead.

This is one reason why I love having chickens: the fantastic eggs, rich and bright yellow. And people are figuring that out, as an eagle-eyed reader from Oklahoma noted this piece from USA Weekend:


The year's trendiest pet comes with breakfast.
Chickens cost between $1 to $5 each and can lay up to six eggs a week.

It seems the "Old Farmer's Almanac" was correct when it predicted that chickens would be one of the hottest pets of 2006. Demand for the birds is up in urban areas because of their low cost, minimal care requirements and the benefit of cheap, fresh eggs every day.

"Our average order keeps getting smaller, which means we're selling to more hobbyists," says Bud Wood, co-owner of Webster City, Iowa's Murray McMurray Hatchery, one of the country's largest rare-breed hatcheries. He notes a "significant increase" in sales to large cities.

Egganic Industries in Ringgold, Va., reports a 15% jump in sales of Henspas, chicken coops that range in cost from $300 to $9,000. Linnton Feed & Seed, suppliers of farm products in Portland, Ore., sold just 200 chickens in 1996; last year they sold 800.

"People raise chickens [mostly] for their eggs," says store owner Dan Cadmus. "They want to know where their food comes from. There's no better way than to have it pecking around in the yard."

Chickens cost $1 to $5 each and can produce up to six eggs per week. They need about the same care as cats: food, water and a daily scoop of the coop.

Seattle Tilth, a non-profit group that teaches organic gardening, now offers City Chickens 101, a course covering the basics on raising chickens in urban and suburban settings.

Still, check local zoning requirements before buying a flock. Regulations vary widely for hens, but roosters, which don't lay eggs, often are banned.

"Once you've tasted an egg that a hen has laid that morning," says Seattle Tilth's Karen Luetjen, "there's no going back to supermarket eggs."

-- Jodi Helmer

Know your eggs

Don't want to raise chickens to get the eggs you need? Then get the eggs you want at supermarkets, which stock an increasingly wide variety.

We consulted the U.S. Department of Agriculture and United Egg Producers to clarify egg carton labels.

Conventional: Hens live in stacked "battery" cages, usually four to eight chickens to a cage, with at least 67 square inches of floor space per chicken.

Cage free: Hens live on the floor of a barn rather than in cages.

Free range: Hens either live outdoors or have unlimited access to the outdoors.

Organic: Hens are fed vegetables grown without any antibiotics, commercial fertilizers or growth hormones.

Omega-3: Hens are fed a diet containing ground flaxseed, which produces eggs containing slightly more polyunsaturated fatty acids.

-- Kristina Stefanova

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