Hen Keepers

Three percent of U.S. homes have a chicken coop in the yard. Of course, I don’t know how many homes have yards but those with egg-laying birds are on the increase. Is this fad or economics?

Clearly, it is a bit of both. Reese Witherspoon tends her hens as do other celebrity types. Our local permaculture guild recently organized a tour of our entire metropolitan area so we could see backyard poultry coops and talk with hen keepers about the nuances of raising chickens and in some cases, ducks.

My conversations were focused on eggs. How many eggs were they getting? How many years did the hens lay? How messy a process is it? But some of these coop keepers also focused on raising chickens for eating. Since 20th century industrial production made it widely available, the consistent texture and mild flavor of chicken has created a canvas for many a chef but in some cultures, chickens are treated as sacred. In ancient Persia, a rooster’s crow indicated a turn in the universal battle between light and darkness. Ancient Romans took chickens into war and observed their feeding behavior in order to foretell the outcome of the battle. Globally, the observant eye of a clucking mother hen has been a symbol of care and fertility. Conversely, the robust rooster has been a symbol of prowess – hence, the cock.

Chickens do not appear in Christianity until the New Testament. In the book of Matthew, a passage likens Jesus to a hen tending her flock. One writer speculates on how religious art might be different had the image caught on. Envision the good shepherd replaced with the tending hen. The rooster played a critical role when Peter was told that he would deny Jesus three times “before the cock crows”. This translated to roosters being placed atop weather vanes on homes and churches as a reminder.

The thing I found the most fascinating on my tour was learning the differences between chicken and duck eggs. Clearly, the latter are much less popular yet apparently, their high protein content makes them excellent for baking while their higher fat content gives a richer flavor. The downside is that increased protein can cause the egg to be rubbery if overcooked and with both comes higher cholesterol. Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs so have more of each vitamin but the “to be confirmed” fact that impressed me is that duck eggs are alkaline while chicken eggs are not. If true, those allergic to chicken eggs may be able to eat duck eggs and they can be wrapped into an alkaline diet which many people are attempting.

Perfect Egg
Serves 1

  • 1 farm fresh egg
  • 1 Tbs olive oil (can add butter if desired)
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • finely chopped herbs if you like

Heat a cast skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil or olive oil mixed with butter if desired. Let it heat but not smoke. Crack your egg on a flat surface. Open into the skillet. (Egg shells make a great addition to compost). Turn heat down and cover for one minute. When a thin layer of white has formed over the yolk, flip with a metal spatula. Flip with courage. Then turn off the heat and let sit for 30 seconds or so. Serve on top of your favorite toasted bread or sauteed greens or stacked New Mexican enchiladas or … Can you tell I love them? The trick is to not over cook.

Do you eat eggs or raise poultry? How have you found the experience? 

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68 Comments

  1. I too have noticed a rise in the amount of people raising chickens but all for egg production. I think it’s become a trend because people are becoming very aware of how chickens are treated in intensive farming and the cost of eggs ($8 – $11 for a dozen organic eggs here) and a lot of people are starting to grow their own vegetables. If you grow vegetables it makes sense to also keep chickens. I would love chickens – and a vegetable patch! xx

    Reply
    • I saw some coops where the owners had taken extreme care to make them low maintenance and they appeared to be but I do think a lot of people get into it not knowing how much work it will take. Lovely tour to show us both sides.

      Reply
  2. We raise chickens and of course love the eggs. My hens are my friends so they never have to worry about ‘the stove’ —shudder.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

    ¸.•*¨*•♪♫♫♪Merry Christmas to you ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥
    ˜”*°•.˜”*°•.˜”*°•.★★.•°*”˜.•°*”˜.•°*”˜”

    Reply
  3. It embarrasses me to admit this, but I don’t care for the taste of fresh eggs. I’m so uncool!

    Reply
    • I’m with you Diane. I don’t care for eggs . . . except baked into cakes and cookies. :D

      Reply
    • Not uncool, but honest. You know, twice in my life I have sort of “gone-off” eggs for a bit and I’m fussy about the way they’re cooked.

      Reply
  4. What a great post. Thoughtful, informative. I never made all the cultural and histrorical connections to chickens. I do, however, wish I had a yard in which to raise them. Perhaps one day?

    Really lovely!

    Reply
    • I just wish I had a very close neighbor with them. We have wild pigs and coyotes and I fear what they might get into.

      Reply
  5. Lisa H

     /  December 1, 2012

    The Tour de Coop was so much fun! My favorite was the bicycle wheels. We didn’t get to see all the coops, but we toured for at least four hours. Many of the houses who had chickens also had gardens, so it was fun to see how everyone planned their yards around the chickens (many times the raised beds had fences around them to keep out the chickens). Wonderful photos! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • I loved the bicycle wheel coop also but frankly, the wheels were so lovely, it could be wheels made into anything. Chickens seemed like a great way to use up garden scraps.

      Reply
  6. One of Aubrey’s favorite things is to go and feed chickens. :) We pick dandelions leaves and grass and give them their ‘salad’. There is a coup where she rides horses at, new this year, and she gets to help gather eggs, hold them ( many have names) and feed them. Great post and research on this, Tammy! Oh, Aub calls the chickens at one of the parks, her “girls”.

    Reply
    • Great learning for her Debbie. My boys really wanted to hold the chickens (I did not) but I do love the fresh eggs.

      Reply
  7. Very surprising to see 3% have chickens. Good for them. Now, if they want to sell me eggs & meat, I’m a fan!

    Reply
    • Yes, I’m with you Henry. There is a woman across town where I am able to get eggs but I sure wish that I had a closer neighbor.

      Reply
  8. Glad you enjoyed the tour, Tammy. We don’t eat eggs or chicken, so we won’t be adding a chicken coop to our “yard.” ;)

    Reply
  9. I have a couple friends who raise hens for the eggs (and companionship?:). I will pass this on.

    Reply
    • Some keepers seem to be really fond of their hens. Those will keep them for eggs and not for meat. Do you live close enough that you can buy eggs?

      Reply
  10. Pam Barton-Miranda

     /  December 1, 2012

    I have raised chickens in the past, for the eggs and for my boys to show their fancy hens/chicks at the County Fair. This was a wonderful experience for the kids and they are partial to fresh eggs to this day, 20 years later. I miss fresh eggs and would love to do this again, just for the eggs this time… If you live in the outskirts of town, coyotes are a problem. Coups need to be kept clean daily and I would rather have them roam free during the day and put them up at night. My boys enjoyed these chores and now, just chatting about it has me thinking seriously about it again :)

    Reply
    • Let me know if you do it Pam! I’ll be up to buy eggs from you. I also had them when I was young but between coyotes and javalina and my dogs and cats, I am afraid of what might happen here.

      Reply
  11. I didn’t realize that Duck eggs are alkaline. I don’t eat any eggs often, but once in a while they are my comfort food for dinner. That can mean cooking them with veggies or simply having them poached on bread.

    A woman from NY came to live on the island and decided to raise chickens. She knew nothing about it so headed for the library and to local chicken raisers.

    One day she invited me over to check out her top drawer chicken run and shed. When we walked into the shed, she discovered her first egg. She burst into tears! :D

    Reply
    • A delightful discovery! I was amazed by the idea that the duck eggs might be alkaline Amy. That would cause me to seek them out and I thought of you also.

      Reply
  12. I love this post! I love chickens! Lobbying my homeowner’s association to allow chickens has been futile, but there are people nearby who raise chickens so I’ve been able to buy glorious eggs. Our local tea house cooks with duck eggs. No wonder the food there is so rich and yummy.

    Reply
    • That’s a pity about the HOAs, isn’t it? Learning about duck eggs was fascinating to me Shelley.

      Reply
  13. Fresh

     /  December 2, 2012

    You may want to check out http://www.eggzy.net, an online network that connects people who raise backyard flocks to people who want to get their eggs from local sources. It’s a project some friends of ours started a while back. They haven’t added ducks to their own flock (yet?), but their chicken’s eggs are delicious!

    Reply
    • What a terrific idea! I just registered. I need to explore it a bit more in order to see exactly how to connect.

      Reply
  14. Wow, didn’t know much about duck eggs. Lots of interest in Boston in raising hens, but it’s not legal (yet). I’m for it in theory, but am worried about how people manage to keep pests away in the city. I’m sure the most responsible folks will do beautifully, but seems like you need a good sized yard and lots of care to do it right.

    Reply
    • I had no idea that it would be illegal in some places. Of course, it wouldn’t be here in the wild west. :-) Seems like it would be a good employment opportunity for a “chicken inspector”!

      Reply
  15. Great post. My mother raised chickens on our farm as her income. She didn’t keep hens though, I would have enjoyed that much more than just one year springers they were called. I hated the butchering part, main reason I can’t be a farmer. I did love taking care of the chicks. New law in North Dakota allows any of us to raise chickens in towns as long as we use “modern farming practices” and “sell” the products. I am waiting for someone in a large urban area to test the law. No local or state zoning can touch it. Could be a neighborhood nightmare. Just what I want to smell and hear each day.

    Reply
  16. I prefer ducks (Khaki Campbell), mostly because the eggs are substantially larger, tastier, and content-rich…as you’ve noted. But also because they get much of their diet from free-ranging–much more than chickens–and the cost of (store-bought) feed is substantially less. That, in addition to their more gentle temperament, is mostly why I prefer them over chickens…which are a little too ‘cocky’ for me. ;-)

    Reply
    • You know, my grandfather always kept ducks and he loved them and I honestly don’t remember having their eggs. Perhaps we always did and I didn’t know it!

      Reply
  17. Love it! Can’t wait to start my own coop…

    Reply
  18. It’s just recently become legal in my city (in New Hampshire) to raise backyard chickens: no more than five, and coop must be at least 50 feet from property line, which rules out many city yards. The people I know who are doing it are doing it neither for economics nor (I think) because it’s a fad. They’re looking for better-tasting, cleaner, more humanely raised eggs. In fact, with regard to economics, it doesn’t seem to add up on a home scale. Perhaps the fad is that we’re all clamoring to do things better, more thoughtfully and looking for better quality in our food. I love that….
    Eleanor

    Reply
    • Interesting Eleanor. It sounds like it is becoming a trend. Myrna said it’s becoming legal in Boston too. And you’re right about the economics. I should’ve pointed that out but there is not a huge savings in egg dollars by doing it this way.

      Reply
  19. Our town voted to not allow backyard chickens or I might have given it a try. I may need to seek out a duck egg after your comments to see what that is like!

    Reply
  20. I would love to have my own hens but our dogs would kill them. I get eggs from my friends hens and ducks. Have a great day :)

    Reply
  21. A lovely ode to the beautiful egg! I love my eggs also like this sunny side up! :) Yummmmmmmmmmm!

    Reply
  22. i didn’t know that about duck eggs. How cool! I’d like to raise chickens, but the township we currently live in has a policy against it. :(

    Reply
  23. “Flip with courage” – I love it! BTW, every time I have a duck egg in/on a dish, I think how extra delicious it is. Such a treat.

    Reply
    • I am going to try to procure one or more this weekend to give it a try. Honestly, my grandpa had ducks but I can’t remember eating the eggs.

      Reply
  24. Love that 3% of people have chickens. Local eggs are everywhere in Santa Fe. We hold a Kitchen Garden & Coop Tour each summer to show how people have chickens, bees, goats, edible gardens and any other community homesteading ideas.

    Reply
  25. Love this! We get eggs from our CSA each week ($5/dozen for organic local eggs!). I swear the taste so much better. I wish we could raise our own – for eggs not eating, but our city has laws against it :(

    Reply
    • If it makes you feel any better, it appears that $5 could also be what it would cost you to raise a dozen eggs of your own. This doesn’t appear to be a cheaper alternative – only that you know exactly where they’ve been.

      Reply
  26. Meg

     /  December 4, 2012

    My girls, Florence, Mildred and Bitsy, are great fun. I got them as chicks this summer but still haven’t gotten any eggs yet, despite feeding them lay pellets. I try to let them out each day for some roaming and to eat bugs in my yard. They even eat scorpions and black widows when opportunity knocks! Such a bonus.

    Reply
    • Well, that is a bonus Meg! I love their names and hope you’ll sell eggs when they do lay! I’ll be a first customer.

      Reply
  27. I never considered that one might need to teach chickens where to lay their eggs! Lovely post, Tammy, free ranging round the chicken world.

    Reply
    • I didn’t know that either Kate and I thought it was lovely. Do people keep hens where you live?

      Reply
  28. We had chickens for part of my childhood. I remember being so surprised at the much more vibrant color of the yolks compared to store-bought eggs. My husband would LOVE to have chickens now, but our city does not allow it. I’ll have to try to track down some duck eggs to try. I’ve never eaten one.

    Reply
    • Melissa, I’m so surprised by the number of comments where they are not allowed. I figured there were zoning restrictions but had no idea that some cities simply banned them. When I go walking in our neighborhood in the early a.m., I can hear a rooster crow but don’t really know where it is.

      Reply
  29. This is fascinating, thanks! Urban homesteading also a trend I wish I knew more about, although I doubt I would undertake it myself! As you can imagine duck eggs are quite popular and prevalent here in Cambodia. There are even food trucks that roam the streets selling them. I have never tried them but am curious about adding them to baking. Love your blog! Going to peek around some more!

    Reply
    • I love the idea of an egg truck! Thanks for the visit – it’s great to have you here and I’m interested in hearing more about your life wandering!

      Reply
  30. Hi Tammy – love this post & love having hens too, but the rats are something new backyard henkeepers need to be aware of: http://everydayprimate.org/2012/07/25/a-rat-on-his-back/. Also I’m curious where the 3% figure came from – with so many people living in highly urban areas it seems high to me, but fantastic if it’s really true!

    Reply
  31. Very informative, Tammy. I didn’t know they get taught where to lay. Duck eggs are very hard to come by over here.

    Reply
    • I actually don’t know where I’ll find them either Cindy. I’m thinking perhaps the Asian grocery?

      Reply
  32. My friend Alan has had a bout of cancer (he’s in remission now and doing well) and is striving to eat in a more alkaline manner (he was already a nutrition saint in my book). He and his wife are surrepitiosly raising some ducks for eggs in their home in a fancy suburb – shh! don’t tell! I’ll let you know how the duck eggs are once they start laying. The ducks are fun.

    Reply
    • There is quite a growing population of support for the alkaline diet. I try it periodically but it’s hard for me with a family. Give us a report on how it goes.

      Reply
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