How do you like your eggs in the morning?
According to Egg Info (http://www.egginfo.co.uk/) who are behind the British Lion Mark, in Britain, we consumed 11.5 million eggs in 2013. I would say this was a conservative estimate as it doesn’t include the ones laid by garden hens.
I think it does show that we are a nation of egg lovers. Here’s a question though, are we a nation of chicken lovers?
How much do you actually know about how your eggs are produced?
There are eggs available from caged hens, barn hens, free range hens and organic hens.
The law has changed recently for the production of eggs in battery cages and have been replaced by larger, cages. Free range hens can just be barn hens but with a ‘pop hole’ in the building that hens can go out if they want to. It is not the image of hens frolicking in woodland that I presumed. Organic eggs just refers to the food the chickens are fed rather than what conditions they are kept in.
The old style battery cages were banned by law in the EU in 2012 and these new cages provide 750cm² per bird along with a nest box for the birds to lay their eggs in, perching space for the birds to sleep on and a scratching area to perform natural behaviours.
Sounds better right? Well, compared to the old battery cages it is but, according to Animal Aid (http://www.animalaid.org.uk/) each hen still has less space than the size of an A4 sheet of paper and, with their friends tightly packed in this area, Animal Aid estimates this is equivalent to just 50cm² per bird-about the size of a beer mat.
Now I’m not here to preach to you about which eggs you buy. As a society we are still in hard times, financially and with eggs being so nutritious and quick, families should be able to buy whichever egg they can afford whether it be a £1 box of caged hens’ eggs or the £3 free hens.
The real reason for this post is that next Saturday I, along with hundreds of other people across the country will be taking part in one of Fresh Start For Hens re-homing days.
The organisation buys hens from farmers who would otherwise be heading for slaughter.
All of the hens that are re-homed are ex-commercial hens, be they from enriched cages, barn or free range so it really is pot luck as to what kind of condition they are in when they arrive.
Many of these hens may have never seen daylight. Grass is a new thing to them and an open field is just like Christmas.
We have re-homed before and the chucks we got were not as bad as I had feared. Their wattles (the red things on top of their heads) were floppy and drooped over to one side (due to lack of sunlight) and, apart from being a bit thin and featherless, they perked up in no time.
The reason farmers get rid of them is because commercially, all hens are slaughtered after about a year of laying, when their production drops below the six eggs a week Their carcasses are worth very little and are usually sold for dog food, baby food or cheap processed pies etc.
Organisations like Fresh Start For Hens do warn that you may get hens who never lay again but all of the ones I have had were great layers,
In terms of the cost of these chickens, they are the cheapest sort you can buy. At £2.50 donation per hen which covers most (not all) of their costs.
If you think many chicken breeds like Orpingtons and even hybrids like White Sussex can cost anything from £18 upwards per bird, unless you buy hatching eggs or hatch your own eggs with broody hens, rescued hens are very economical.
We have noticed however that our eggs from birds that have free run over a whole field lay eggs which taste far superior to even the most expensive egg in the supermarket which had led us to wonder how free they actually are.
So this is what I will be doing a week today, welcoming ten new ladies to our farm who will hopefully live out the rest of their days in happiness.
To find out more about Fresh Start for hens and to see when their next re-homing dates are, visit: http://www.freshstartforhens.co.uk/