It’s hard to believe, but my last post was July 22 of last year! Needless to say, a lot has happened. Where do I even start? Let’s update on the chickens first.
We are kicking off our farm business with the incredible, edible egg. Remember that commercial? Careful now, you will be telling your age! Anyhow, we are going to be offering two kinds of eggs; large brown eggs and multi-colored eggs. Our colored egg layers are still in the brooder, but they have feathered out and with the warm weather we will be transitioning them to the hen house. They will not go on pasture until they grow large enough so that they cannot slip through the poultry netting we use to protect them from predators. Below are pictures of our brooder. It’s 3 levels with doors in the middle and on each end. The middle section is a breezeway that allows the baby chicks to get fresh air and sunshine. This is also the area where we put the feeders. One end contains the water tank. The other end contains the heat lamp and roosts. We put shavings in this end and the chicks huddle here, beneath the heat lamp, when it is cold. We bought this brooder from a local farm and it has been quite handy. Our first flock of birds were kept in the hen house when they were babies and we lost the majority of the flock to weasels. I’ve since put wire mesh down across the outdoor area of the hen house and it is now weasel-proof.
Okay, so let’s talk about the brown egg layers. Everyone wants big brown eggs to make a big country breakfast and the bird we selected for our brown egg layers is none other than the Rhode Island Red.
The Rhode Island Red is an American breed of domestic chicken. It’s the state bird of Rhode Island and was developed there (and in Massachusetts) in the late nineteenth century, by crossbreeding birds of Oriental origin such as the Malay with brown Leghorn birds from Italy. They are a prolific layer of large to extra large brown eggs and they are as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. We have a few that survived the weasel Armageddon but we had to purchase a new flock and they will not be laying until May or June.
Another thing that everyone wants is free-range eggs. What are free-range eggs and why does everyone want them? Well, let’s talk about why everyone wants them first and then we will talk about what free-range actually means.
There are two main reasons for the free-range craze. First, the eggs taste better. They have a darker yolk and a richer flavor. Second, the eggs are healthier.
Look at the picture below. The egg on the bottom is an egg purchased from a well-known national retailer. Usually, when you buy eggs from a supermarket, they are not fresh. They could be two months old (or older). Now, look at the egg on top. See how dark the yolk is compared to the supermarket egg? This is a free-range egg and the difference in taste is quite remarkable.
In addition to tasting better, free-range eggs are healthier. They have…
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less saturated fat
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2x more omega-3
- 3x more vitamin E
- 7x more beta carotene
Now that you know why people want free-range eggs, what exactly makes an egg a free-range egg?
Consider this. In the United States, USDA free range regulations currently apply only to poultry and indicate that the hens have been allowed access to the outside. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range, nor the duration of time the hens must have access. The USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that chickens raised for meat have access to the outside in order to receive the free-range certification. There is no requirement for access to pasture and there may be access to only dirt or gravel. Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means.
What does all of this mean? It means, when you buy “free-range” eggs at a supermarket, you may be purchasing eggs from a producer that has thousands of chickens crammed into a building that has one tiny little door giving the chickens access to a small patch of dirt, gravel, or even concrete. That’s why I believe in buying local. Buy your eggs from farmers who will let you come out and visit their operations. See for yourself where your eggs are coming from!
Now, back to our Rhode Island Reds. The last flock we purchased (22 birds) is on pasture now and should be laying eggs by May or June. Out where we live, we cannot let our birds roam totally free. We have too many predators such as coyotes, foxes, weasels, raccoons, hawks, and owls. To remedy this, we keep our flock contained on the pasture with electric poultry netting. We also have a mobile hen house to give them a place to roost at night and a place for shade during the day. Every two to three days we move this mobile pen to a new location where the chickens can forage on fresh grass and insects. It is the natural forage that gives these eggs their rich flavor and healthy attributes and access to this natural forage designates these eggs as free-range.
Below is a picture of our Rhode Island Reds enjoying a sunny day on the farm. You can see the electric poultry netting in the background. The mobile hen house has 4 nesting boxes in the rear and the roof opens up to allow access to the inside.
Here’s a couple of pictures of the eggs we sell.
One last thing before I close this post. We just started selling our eggs on the CAFE (Clemson Area Food Exchange). I posted 8 dozen eggs for sale Friday night. Half of them sold that night. The other half sold the next morning. To the people who purchased those eggs, I want to thank you and express my humble gratitude. I hope you thoroughly enjoy them and I hope you will continue to buy from us, because when you buy eggs from Porter Valley Farms you can rest assured your eggs are coming from happy, healthy hens that are thriving on clean water, green grass, fresh air, and sunshine, but don’t take our word for it. Give us a call and arrange a visit.
[If an egg is broken by an outside force, life ends. If broken by an inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from inside.]