As we are writing this, we are thinking of the oxygen-starved dead zones in our world's oceans. We are also thinking about the most delicious eggs we have ever eaten. Stick with us and we will explain how those two things are connected and why we really are what our animals eat.
First the Eggs
When we visited New Zealand several years ago, we were delighted by the numbers of people who kept small flocks of chickens to raise for eggs, even more so by the flavor, texture and color of the eggs! We were accustomed to the typical store-bought eggs we get here in the USA, where even the organic and free-range chicken eggs have thin shells and yellow yolks. The eggs we had in New Zealand, on the other hand, had thick shells, deep orange yolks and a LOT more flavor than the eggs we got here. It also turns out that the eggs we ate in New Zealand have better protein and fat, less cholesterol and more vitamins.
Oxygen-Starved Dead Zones and Animal Feed
Oxygen-starved dead zones are areas in the world's oceans that can no longer support life. When fish or other sea creatures drift or swim into them, they suffocate and die. Often, the bottom of the ocean in these dead zones is littered with the bodies of the victims. The largest dead zone now measures more than 27,000 square miles and they are growing. Large-scale agriculture is largely to blame for these areas of mass death. The overwhelming majority of the agricultural land in the USA is used to produce animal feed. A whopping 41% of the contiguous US is used to feed livestock. And, because agri-businesses like to maximize profits, they usually grow these animal feed crops cheaply, unsustainably, and using copious amounts of fossil fuel-based and toxic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. This is largely true of the produce we eat, too, which is one of the reasons we like to say that vegans who consume commercially grown, unsustainably farmed produce are killing more animals than they might like to know.
Lessons From Our Chickens
With all that in mind, our goal when we got our chickens was to try to recreate the delicious eggs we experienced in New Zealand, by raising our hens to be as care-free and happy as possible and by feeding them as healthfully and naturally as possible. With that in mind, when we first got our chicks we purchased an organic chick starter food. As new chicken owners, we had little experience with different feeds and we got what we were told was a good organic food. However, we were disappointed when we opened the bag and found that it consisted entirely of processed pellets.
Since we do not like food to go to waste, we fed it to the chicks and they ate it and have grown beautifully. Wanting to feed a food that, well, you know, actually looks like food, we began doing some more research and began reading chicken feed labels a bit more diligently. We decided we wanted a feed that was natural whole grains, that was also organic, GMO-free and that came from sustainable sources. We settled on one we really like. Even though our chicks did not need to switch off the starter food, and we still had quite a lot of it left, we decided to buy some of the new Scratch & Peck Grower, and we have been mixing it in with the original food we bought.
The difference is obvious: Our chickens are picking out and eating the new, natural food and leaving the old, processed stuff. So, even though it is a lot more expensive (really, a LOT more expensive) we figure our girls are worth it. So are we and so is the planet.
What we feed our chickens will change the eggs that we eat and will have an impact on the planet in either a positive or negative way. Based on their preference, our chickens seem to know that, too.