We’ve all heard it before: Dark yellow yolks are a sign of healthy, nutrient-rich, farm fresh eggs. If you’re raising chickens for eggs, you likely already know that just about any egg will taste better than its commercial equivalent, but how do you make sure your hens are producing the healthiest eggs possible for your family?
Here’s six ways to ensure your chickens are producing the healthiest eggs possible:
1. Put them out to pasture.
A 2007 study found that truly free-range chickens, raised in backyards and on small farms, produce eggs far more nutritious than the USDA’s standard for commercial eggs. Compared to an industrially farmed eggs, home-raised eggs from chickens allowed to forage naturally contained:
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less saturated fat
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more Omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
What’s the difference? Home-raised chickens that are allowed to roam and forage freely have a leg up on commercially raised “free-range” competition. Eggs labeled free-range are legally required to be allowed outside space, but often that outside space is a fenced-in concrete slab with no forage and nothing to entice a chicken off its comfortable indoor perch. Eggs from chickens allowed to free range, even in a small backyard or chicken run, generally have access to bugs, and get an extra protein, calcium and trace mineral boost from a readily digestible source.
2. Provide fresh greens.
On a stale diet of commercial feed, chickens are receiving all of their nutrition from corn, soy and mineral powders. Corn and soy provide everything a chicken needs to survive, but baseline survival will not get you the best possible eggs. Science is just beginning to understand that all fat molecules are not created equally nutritionally, especially when it comes to omega fatty acids. Seed sources of omega fatty acids such as corn and soy provide omega-6, whereas grass sources provide a much harder-to-come-by form, omega-3.
As it turns out, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in your diet is more important than the total quantity consumed, and it’s hard to keep that ratio in a healthy balance. By feeding your chickens green sources, rather than just seed sources of omegas, you’re enriching their eggs with a higher percentage of omega-3s and helping to balance out your family’s ratios through healthier fats in your egg yolks.
3. Supplement with herbs.
Beyond fresh greens, incorporating fresh or dried herbs into your chicken’s diet can have profound results. Try these three for starters:
- Its aromatic qualities naturally repel rodents, and mint contains compounds that naturally help keep both human and animals cool in hot weather. Growing mint in and around your chicken run can help keep fleas, ticks and disease-spreading rodents out while keeping your chickens naturally cooler in the summer as they graze on the leaves.
- A natural antibiotic, oregano is used by commercial organic egg farmers to help keep their hens healthy. It’s currently being studied for its ability to combat diseases in poultry, including bronchitis, avian flu and coccidiosis. It’s also a natural source of antioxidants and vitamins E and K.
- Fed as you would any fresh green, parsley contains a number of essential nutrients, including vitamins A, B C, E and K, as well as ample amounts of trace nutrients such as zinc magnesium, calcium and selenium. It also naturally encourages healthy blood vesicle development, which can mean better nutrient transfer from the chicken to your eggs inside the oviduct.
4. Keep a low-stress environment.
There’s a reason cowards are called “chicken” in our society. Chickens are naturally predisposed to the “flight” part of the “fight or flight” response. They don’t have a lot of natural defenses, and unfortunately for them, they’re quite delicious to just about any able-bodied predator. Environmental stressors such as neighborhood dogs, wild predators, extreme heat or cold can cause chickens to lay malformed eggs in the short term, and can make the chickens susceptible to disease in the long term.
5. Manage your sex ratios.
In many places in the country it’s illegal to keep roosters, which is a shame for the health and productivity or your layers. Many people believe that hens will put more nutrients into fertile eggs, but the science behind that is mixed. The real reason roosters are important (other than for making chicks) is that a gentle, well-behaved gentleman rooster keeps the ladies happier. He guards them and helps them feel safe to lower stress, and he has a specialized noise to call the ladies when he finds a particularly rich source of food out free-ranging. Roosters also help to naturally manage the flock hierarchy, breaking up fights between the hens, and preventing any one female from becoming too dominant over her sister hens. All of these things contribute to happier, healthier hens and as a result, more nutritious eggs.
6. Don’t wash your eggs.
Of course, no one wants a dirty egg, but the best way to prevent dirty eggs is with clean nesting boxes, not by erasing the dirt after the fact by washing them. Eggs have a natural coating on the outside of the shell that allows air in for the developing embryo, but keeps germs and spoiling bacteria out. When you wash eggs, you’re washing that protective coating off and allowing your eggs potentially to become contaminated by just about anything in their environment. Unwashed eggs can be kept at room temperature, sometimes for months at a time in cooler seasons, whereas washed eggs will rapidly spoil outside the fridge. If you truly want the healthiest eggs, keep bacteria out and nutrients in by either not washing your eggs, or only washing them right before use.
What advice would you add on helping chickens produce the healthiest eggs? Share your tips in the section below: