Foragers is proud of its eggs! Not only do we manage our own flock of 185 laying hens on our farm but we source from other conscientious egg suppliers in the region. Here are a few thoughts on managing our own chickens and why we give eggs so much attention.
Chickens are funny little dinosaurs. Managing a larger flock (not 5 cute little backyard chickens, for example) has provided my husband and me with many hours of amusement, frustration, occasional horror and, of course, after all is said and done, killer compost and phenomenal scrambled eggs.
For example, no one ever prepares you for the shear volume of chicken poo nor the various predatory animals that circle daily licking their chops nor their various temperaments. One saving grace for us has been the crows that fight away the hawks from the chicken zones. I never felt so lucky to have crows. It’s also wonderful to see how they communicate with each other. In early spring I let them out of their winter stomping grounds to roam free around the garden and into the woods. They were soooo happy and so was I. A bit later It only took the cry of one bird to alert them to a circling hawk for the whole crew to run madly out from trees and across the field and fly into their protective coops. When the coast was clear they all unloaded en masse. You would think this team spirit would somehow translate into sisterly love but really they are more than happy to eat one another should one fall victim to a predator or if one is weaker than another. Thus the above mentioned horror. We’ve also had to separate chickens who’d been viscously pecked into their own little recuperation zones until their feathers have grown back and they feel stronger to be with the others. What buyers also need to know about is the incredible time commitment washing farm eggs is for suppliers including ourselves. You may spend 14 hours outside working the garden but you will still have a few hours of egg washing to do before bed. On the very positive side, however, we discovered how useful chickens are at eating unwanted bugs from under apple trees, eating ticks, eating weeds, eating kitchen scraps and producing prodigious nitrogen for crops. All and all the girls have proven themselves more work, more interesting and more useful than we initially thought.
Ultimately, and most importantly, what all this work and learning has done for us at Foragers is reinforce the connection between animals, food and living. We always knew that eggs from outdoor, unstressed, well-fed birds resulted in a better tasting and more nutritious egg. They are what they eat. What we wanted to learn more about was what it takes to get there. It is the same with the rest of our Market Garden. We really wanted to better understand food by deeply involving ourselves in its production not simply its reselling. I think over the years this will make Foragers a better and better store proud of its contribution to the improvement of American food culture.
Finally, some of you may be wondering what the difference is between all the different eggs at Foragers and why some are more expensive than others. The answer is, as with all food, somewhat complicated. Below is a rough guide to egg shopping at Foragers.
1. OUR BASIC ALL-NATURAL EGG. This affordable egg option is sourced from Pennsylvania suppliers. They are in-door barn birds. No cages or anything, just free-roaming inside. They are fed non-organic GMO grains but never any antibiotics or homones.
2. PASTURE RAISED. The rest of Foragers eggs are sourced from suppliers, including ourselves, who keep their flocks outside except for those days when they are just too cold. These flocks genuinely Forage during the day and get lots of sunshine. These flocks can be any breed, beaked or de-beaked (more on that later), and fed any type of supplemental feed the farmer sees fit. Foragers eggs are fed non-GMO locally-raised feed that smells heavenly and are supplemented with vegetables from the garden and the stores.
3. TOP SHELF. Our most expensive eggs come from farmers who have dedicated themselves to feeding their pastured flocks only certified organic feed and have gone through certifications. Here we get into beaked vs. de-beaked. Most of you may know but some not that many commercially bred-layers have the tips of their beaks cut off at birth. This is to prevent them from hurting each other in tightly packed commercial chicken houses. Our top tier egg suppliers have gone through certification that says none of their birds have been debeaked. They have also had third-party certification that says they can be labelled organic and that the birds are beautifully treated.