Backyard Chickens

01/09/2013

 
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A special egg from the nest
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A happy chicken
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A place for the chickens to roost
Eggs are an amazing food. With a biological value of 100 (a perfect score) they are considered a complete protein. An egg contains many essential trace elements, B vitamins and antioxidants.  Essentially it is a perfect food. Unfortunately, not all chicken eggs are created equal. You know the saying “a happy mom is a happy home”. Well, a happy hen is a healthy egg.  How can a hen be happy if living in a crowded cage, unable to roam and eat a natural diet of worms, bugs, seeds and grass? When shopping for eggs, the choices are confusing. Once again, labels are only marketing tools. Cage free, organic, free range are terms that can be misleading.

So what is a consumer to do? Cathy and I found some happy hens right in the middle of Central Austin.  We were fortunate enough to have a mutual friend introduce us to Hillary. A pleasure to talk to and very generous with her time, Hillary gave us a tour of her backyard chicken coop. In addition to the spacious coop that she designed with the help of a carpenter, Hillary has a gorgeous retriever, two beautiful cats, a small organic garden and a compost system. Hillary has had her backyard chickens for about  a year, and her family is reaping the reward with fresh eggs from their own healthy hens. The coop was created and ready to go in advance of getting the chickens, but it has evolved with renovations and add-on perches. It was clear Hillary loves her five laying hens and 10 other chickens by the way she talked about them and how she petted and held them. She admitted that it takes some work and commitment, but the benefits are worth it. Different hens produce different color shells (check out the pretty blue egg pictured above).  It took a couple of weeks for the dog to realize the chickens were part of the family. Now he is a helpful guardian keeping watch over the chickens against predators (mostly hawks). The chickens roam the backyard, get plenty of sunshine, are well protected from inclement weather and predators, and are very well fed (quinoa, oats, and vegetables from the garden)--love it! 

Unfortunately, Hillary isn't producing eggs for sale. If you are not ready for your own chicken coop yet, here are some noteworthy eggs to consider. Most are available at the Farmers’ Market,  Whole Foods, Central Market or online:

Vital Farms (Southeast Austin- Onion Creek)
Boggy Creek (Central East Austin)
Rock Barn Ranch (Lampasas)
Milagro Farms (Austin Area)

If you are thinking of getting your own backyard chickens, do your homework first. Mark your calendar for Austin's Funky Chicken Coop Tour on March 30, 2013.  Prefabricated coops are available at Anthropologie and Williams Sonoma among other sources. (Gina)
 


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