Real eggs

By Philip Brewer on 16 November 2007 (Updated 3 March 2008) 13 comments
Photo: thomas pix

Have you ever eaten an egg from a chicken that lives outside, eating bugs and worms and grubs instead of just chicken feed? You notice the difference as soon as you crack the shell--it's twice as strong as a regular grocery store egg. The difference is visible, as well--the yokes are firmer and stand up better. I won't even bother trying to compare the taste in words--I'll just say, find a farmer who sells eggs from grass-fed chickens and eat some yourself.

Don't settle for so-called "free-range" chickens. That's a term defined by the federal government to mean chickens raised in a pen that includes a door that's open to the outside. There's no rule that there be anything outside that door (such as grass, for example), and the rules allow the door to be kept closed when the chickens are small. The result is that most "free-range" chickens have never seen a blade of grass.

My wife and I get good, grass-fed eggs at the farmer's market. We don't get them very often, though, as they are not a frugal alternative. On the other hand, they're so much better tasting, it's hardly fair to consider them an alternative at all--they're effectively a completely different thing from grocery store eggs.

The excellent book The Omnivore's Dilemma first piqued my interest in eating real eggs. It's a book that deserves a full-blown review, which I'll try get done. In the meantime, let me just say that, if you care about what you eat and how it's grown or raised, you should read this book.

Graph of egg prices 2005-2007Keeping two or three chickens for eggs used to be a perfectly ordinary thing for people to do, even in cities. Modern lifestyles and local ordinances have made that more difficult (although raising chickens for eggs is still legal in many towns). More important, modern factory farming techniques drove the price of eggs so low, it didn't make much sense to go to all the trouble to keep chickens any more.

Recently, though, egg prices (like all commodity prices) have shot up. (Egg price data from the USDA.) Maybe keeping a couple of chickens makes sense again. If you let them scratch for worms and bugs in your yard (as well as feeding them chicken feed), you'll get much better-tasting eggs.

If that's not the choice for you, be sure to check out Myscha's Egg-cellent ideas for money saving and menu planning.

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Guest's picture
Guest

I buy my organic eggs from a friend that has chickens, I love them. When I was a child my parents had many chickens, as we lived in farm country. After living in the city for many years, I began to miss eating real fresh eggs in the mornings. Cool posting!

rstlne's picture
rstlne

My relatives back in the old country had chickens and ducks in the yard. When I visited them, I saw that their fridge was full of eggs. I thought their fresh duck eggs especially were pretty good.

Guest's picture
martha in mobile

I have a small flock of hens in my suburban backyard. Hens are also great for eating kitchen scraps of all kinds -- no need to compost. The only trouble is they outlive their laying capacity; after a few years they don't produce eggs. So you might want to have a plan for that time--do you consider them long-term pets that produce food for a few years, or are they egg-layers who then become chicken pot pie?

Philip Brewer's picture

Great to hear from readers who keep chickens! One of the reasons I want to get a house (even though apartment living is cheaper), is that I'd like to keep a couple of hens for eggs. (That's illegal in Champaign, but not in Urbana.)

It's hard to justify keeping chickens for eggs entirely on frugality grounds (although less hard now than a year and a half ago), but better eggs at a reasonable cost sounds great to me. Knowing that the chickens are being treated with kindness is worth something too.

Guest's picture

Philip
You deserve an outlaw chicken. Or several. You can keep them wherever you live, even in the city. Check out www.chickenvideo.com for more information!

Guest's picture
Hilary

When I can't get eggs direct from a farmer I tend to buy Amish eggs at the local co-op grocery. They're labeled free-range but I think because they're from the Amish free-range actually ends up meaning something. They aren't quite as good as FRESH unwashed eggs straight from the coop but they are so much better than many other eggs I've tried. Along with what you mentioned, the yolks are also firmer and more colorful.

Also, I have considered getting a few chickens and an omlet ... as in this: http://www.omlet.us

It kind of reminds me of an old imac house for chickens. :)

I think I'll have to get some trees and a fence so that my nosy neighbors don't complain though (even if it's legal they can complain.) As long as there's no rooster I shouldn't have any problem as long as they can't SEE that I have a chicken or two.

Guest's picture

We purchase our eggs from the neighboring Amish for $1 per dozen. When our Muscovy ducks are laying, we gather their eggs. They are as tasty as chicken eggs, but not strong like some duck eggs. Overall free range (true free range that is) are the definitely the best. They are higher in nutritional value and just plain taste better. Hens on a natural free range diet makes for happy hens. And happy hens produce healthful, tasty eggs...the way nature intended. :)

Myscha Theriault's picture

I'm with you on that one. They have an entirely different flavor. Yum!

Guest's picture
Guest

Our local health food store sells eggs from a local farm. They are not only truly free range, but they are completely organic as well. We started buying farm fresh eggs a couple years ago and there is no going back! They taste so much better!

I would love to keep chickens, but it's not feasible right now.

One thing that is never mentioned in regards to price, eggs are still cheaper then meat as a protein source. Especially, if like me, you refuse to eat meat that has lived it's life on a factory farm.

Philip Brewer's picture

Yep--compared to alternative nutrition sources, even expensive eggs are cheap. They're just so much more expensive than they were a year or two ago....

Guest's picture

When I was young we had about seven chickens in our yard. They produced about four eggs a day. It was actually really good because eggs are kind of expensive. Then the Asian Olympics came to China and we could no longer have chickens within city limits so my parents made all the chickens into soup. I loved one particular hen with a fuzzy head.

Philip Brewer's picture

That's a great site--thanks for the link!

Currently we live in an apartment, and are very pleased with it.  Wanting to keep a couple of chickens is one of the few things that might eventually press us to move.  Since Urbana allows chickens (Champaign doesn't), we figure we'll just decide up front to only buy a house in Urbana.

Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, wow. I hadn't seen this post, Philip, but I have to agree. The first time I had fresh eggs, it was a revelation. I treat myself to a dozen fresh eggs once a month or so.

We're actually allowed to keep chickens within Seattle city limits, but I'm not sure my neighbors would approve, as I don't really have a yard to speak of.