Should You Raise Your Own Chickens for Eggs & Meat?

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Black Broiler Chick

 

Is All Chicken Created Equally?

This may sound like a crazy question. First of all, some chickens are better for laying eggs while others are best for meat production. And on some homesteads, they may even be pampered pets. But what we’re really getting at here, is the question of how chickens are raised for eggs and meat, and if there is enough difference in quality and nutritional value to justify the costs involved with each method.

Colorful eggs from your own hens - The New Homesteader's Almanac

Are Those Eggs All They’re Cracked Up To Be?

If you buy run-of-the-mill eggs from your local grocery store, most likely you’re consuming eggs from factory farmed hens. Even if you don’t care that much about the conditions in which these hens are raised, you might be interested to know that their eggs are less nutritious than pasture raised eggs.

According to an article in Penn State News, a study comparing the nutritional content of eggs from pastured hens to those of hens fed a commercial diet found that “pastured eggs had twice as much vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats, more than double the total omega-3 fatty acids, and less than half the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.” These nutritional differences provide a more healthy, balanced source of protein than their commercial counterparts.

If you are thinking about raising hens for your own farm fresh eggs, there are a few things you might want to know ahead of time.

  • fertile eggs are no more nutritious than infertile eggs
  • blood spots or meat spots are common in home raised eggs, but do not affect the flavor of the eggs
  • nutritional content is no different for eggs with white, brown, blue, or green shells
  • home raised eggs sometimes have an odd shape or texture, which does not affect the flavor or quality of the eggs

While conventionally raised eggs go through an egg washer (to remove any feces), the water is usually recycled. This means that most likely, only the first eggs of the day are washed in clean, feces-free water…the rest of the eggs may be contaminated with bacteria. You can wash your fresh eggs with slightly warm water to remove any chicken poop, then refrigerate them. Unwashed eggs can be kept at room temperature for several weeks without going bad.

All conventional eggs go through a candling and sorting line to ensure that no blood spots or odd shaped eggs end up in your carton from the store. The eggs that don’t pass inspection are used in baked goods and low fat egg ‘substitutes.’ Because of this, many consumers have no idea that eggs can come in many shapes, sizes, and colors…and a blood spot in an egg would be unheard of.

Cash - The New Homesteader's Almanac

Can I Save Money and Raise My Own Eggs?

Large scale laying operations buy the least expensive feed that gives the best production for their investment. They often receive subsidies from the federal government, lowering their costs. Because they are in business to make a profit, they find ways to lower their bottom line and end up in the black.

Homesteaders raising a small backyard flock seldom see any savings on the eggs they collect. If you record the cost of the coop, electricity, chicks, and the feed needed to raise them to laying age, you are likely to find that your home raised eggs cost quite a bit more than the cheap eggs from the store. Those eggs will be a much higher quality, but you will need to be creative in your chicken keeping in order to lower the cost. Perhaps you have a barn and don’t need to build a coop, that will save a lot of cash. If you can raise much of the feed needed and find other sources of free or low cost chicken food, that will help a great deal too.

But maybe the bottom line isn’t as important to you as having a reliable source of fresh, nutritious protein from your very own chickens. You will also have a great source of compost for your garden and live entertainment in your very own backyard! For those who are willing to butcher their laying hens, they make very tasty soup.

 

Freshly butchered stewing hens.
Freshly butchered stewing hens.

 

Raising Chickens for Meat

If you consider the cost to the environment caused by huge chicken farms (read more here), the inhumane treatment and filthy conditions these animals are subjected to, and the terrible working conditions of people employed in the poultry processing industry, you’d be hard pressed to find many good reasons to buy chicken in the grocery store. From concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in the chicken industry, to the vats of dirty chilling water on the processing lines (also known as ‘fecal soup’), there are many reasons to raise your own chickens for meat.

Raising your own chickens for meat may not save you any money, but if you are willing to process them yourself you can come closer to breaking even with the grocery store prices. Give your meat chickens a good source of protein, a grassy pasture, and fresh clean water in a shady spot. They will be much happier than any chicken from a store. Even if that isn’t your goal to begin with, you will find that raising happy chickens with a more normal life produces clean, healthy meat for your family.

Only you can answer the question, “Should I Raise My Own Chickens for Eggs and Meat?” Not everyone has the space to raise their own poultry. Not everyone is emotionally prepared to take the lives of the animals they raised. But if you can get past some of the obstacles involved with producing your own eggs and meat, you will be rewarded with some of the best protein you’ve ever tasted.

 

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