Back in the day, the layers and the roasters were the same bird. Over the years commercial farming followed a practice known as “selective breeding” creating 2 types of birds: those that laid more eggs and those that grew bigger breasts and legs. The layer tends to be skinnier and the meat chicken more like a bouncer (you know, the big guy at the bar that kicked you out in college because you were out of control). Laying hens will begin laying around 6 months old and will lay for 3 to 5 years if they are raised on pasture, 2 years if in cages or forced to lay by using lights (keeps them thinking it is summer vs winter with less light when they will slow down production to rest their bodies in preparation for the laying season. Not natural or good for the bird).

The rooster does have a purpose. He warns the hens should prey such as hawks, coyotes, raccoons etc. come along. He helps heard them into the hen house in the evening and he does the tango. Okay, not necessarily the Tango we know but a good rooster will socially engage the hens. And there are bad roosters. Those bad boys that really don’t serve up anything useful but they fertilize anything with a feather and they are pushy about it. We call those bad boys Stew.

On the technical side the question of “Are the eggs fertilized?” Most likely they are. Rooster sperm lasts in the hen about 10 days or so and matures overtime fertilizing the egg just before the shell forms. Because the eggs are laid in nesting boxes and the chickens don’t sit on them they don’t become chicks (they need 99 degrees for 21 days to hatch a chick). Fertilized eggs are not different than non fertilized eggs technically. Ideally a chicken has pasture to be a chicken in and mating is a normal process for chickens to engage in. So a fertilized egg indicates that a chicken has a life worth living but I digress.

We have mostly Rhode Island Reds and White Leg Horn chickens and they lay the brown and white eggs respectively. We also have some of the Araucana’s that lay the pink, yellow and green eggs. We got those for the kids knowing they would be excited to look in the carton to see if one of the special eggs was in there. Personally those birds, the Araucana’s, are not nice. They pick on younger birds so we have to keep the younger crowd separate until they are old enough i.e. big enough to join the larger flock.

All poultry are omnivores. They are meant to eat meat i.e. insects, bugs, worms, mice and small rodents or fish should they get the chance.

Things I find interesting or disgusting or it just makes me mad to be mislead (marketing gone awry):
• The free range chicken – I always thought of this chicken as being out on the range, cowboy hat, spurs, 6 guns, taking on the insect world. The truth is that free range only means “access to the outside”. No requirement of what that outside means or length of time. And it doesn’t apply to laying hens only to meat chickens. Lovely.
• Organic eggs from a factory farm means the chicken is fed organic soy or corn. It does not mean the chicken was out on pasture.
• The Vegan egg means the chicken has no access to any kind of meat. That means no insects, grubs, worms etc so it is defiantly in a cage and by the way it also means someone makes sure in that stinking barn, full of caged or crammed in chickens with dead animals and feces all over the floor that the chickens choose to NOT eat the flies because they know that their eggs are supposed to be meat free.
• The latest legislation to increase chicken living space from ½ x ½ square foot to 1 x 1 square foot is a huge step….what?
• There is an ugly truth to roosters and hens in hatcheries. The roosters are sold the day they hatch to make cat and dog food. 2 million a day. There is a solution to this that I want to tackle before the end of the year. It’s to hatch our own hens/roosters. Grow the rooster for meat birds. If grown on pasture they taste just as the meat birds but with less meat.

At the end of the day you get what you pay for and you pay so much more for food at the grocery store. Don’t forget to view the 15 minute movie at: (Tiff can you put in the Sierra club movie link here) if you haven’t already.

Vote with your dollars….your farmer.