Humanely Raised Eggs
Recently, we sat down with Grazing Fields General Manager, Jane Bush, and talked about Grazing Fields’ commitment to humane practices.
What does it mean to say Grazing Fields’ chickens are “humanely raised” and why does it matter?
Jane: We make sure that all of the animals on our farms are raised in a humane manner that reflects and respects their natural behaviors and needs. In the case of chickens, that basically gets down to five things. (1) Can they wander? (2) Can they scratch in the dirt? (3) Can they fully stretch out their wings? (4) Can they dust their feathers? And finally, (5) can they perch freely and comfortably?
Those are all natural behavior for chickens—
Yes. Chickens are curious and they want to express that curiosity by walking around. They scratch up the soil to look for bugs. They keep their wings folded most of the time, but they like stretching, just like we do. They also stretch out their wings so they can clean them. Dusting their feathers is a natural thing that kills the mites that they pick up when they scratch in the dirt. And, when the sun goes down and the lights go low, chickens like to perch. They like to perch “up,” off the ground, because they like to protect themselves from predators.
And, of course, they just like to drink and eat and lay eggs!
So, it’s about having enough space to stretch and perch, and enough space at the water and feeding troughs, and plenty of space for just walking around.
Chickens need enough room inside and outside of the coop to express their natural behaviors so they don’t have to be aggressive and compete with the other birds for space on the perches and at the feed and water troughs.
Does all this influence the quality of the eggs?
Yes, because they don’t have any stress levels when they can freely do these behaviors. They’re contented. They’re happy. When there are no stress hormones produced in the chicken, it’s reflected in the quality of the egg. Raising and handling our chickens humanely is important to assuring the high quality of our eggs.
And chickens are—some people would dispute this—but chickens are a “being.” And to abuse that life in any kind of thing is inhumane. We’re all attached to the earth, and so, the better we treat animals, and life in general, the better we’re going to be treating ourselves.
What does it mean to be “certified” humanely raised?
It means we’re not just making unfounded claims. We are verified that we are meeting established, respected standards.
There are two parts to certification.
First, there’s documentation on the farm every day in terms of how much the chickens are eating, how much they’re drinking, the air quality, when they’re laying their eggs inside the coop, and mortality (if a chicken is found dead, why did it die?), and proper disposal of a dead chicken. The farmer is watching everything very closely and documenting what is going on, on a daily basis, with the health and well-being of their flock.
Second, there is a periodic inspection, where certifiers come in and check all the records, look at the coops, note when a new flock was introduced, when an old flock was taken out, inspect the cleaning of the coop, the sanitation of the coop, and the cleaning of the watering and feeding systems.
Some farms claim to be raising their animals humanely, but they may not be certified, right? The certification process is quite rigorous.
Oh, yeah! A lot of people will claim it. But it took us about a year and a half to be certified, with all the farmers in our cooperative going through training on the standards and how to set up systems, on the documentation and cross-checks to make sure that standards are being adhered to. Also, there were modifications that had to be made to meet the standards. We’ve invested a lot of time and resources into achieving the standards.
It’s important to note that this is an independent, third party who is coming in and saying, “Yes. You’re following these standards on every farm and because of that we can certify you.”
Who certifies you?
We’re certified by Human Farm Animal Care (certifiedhumane.org). It’s the non-profit organization that developed the standards. They worked with a board of experts from different universities and veterinary schools and other organizations to set scientific standards. They all have agreed “this is what we can call ‘humanely raised.’”
When people consider the large manufacturing, commercial egg-laying places, we think of small cages, and the eggs rolling down…that’s not how it is at Grazing Fields, is it?
No, not at all. Our individual farms have somewhat different designs, but on all our farms the chickens are in an open coop facility. They can go out of that at any time into a pasture. They have at least a half an acre of pasture.
But, you know, chickens are herding birds. They like to stay together. It’s a rarity that a chicken will go off wandering by itself. They like to “herd up” or “flock up.” This gives them a sense of protection. And they just like hanging out with one another.
But they can go outside and scratch.
Yes. And the farmers rotate the pastures. They’ll shut one pasture down and re-seed it so it can regenerate, and put the flock out into another part that’s more grown and covered for pasturing. The coops are fashioned with a door going out to one pasture; and then, when that pasture needs renewal, the farmer will shut that door and let the chickens out another door, which opens to another pasture.
But they don’t eat the grass.
No, they’re just exploring and scratching for bugs. The reseeding keeps the dirt from getting too compacted, and there are more bugs when you have grass. Some farms incorporate other livestock that do eat grass in the pasture.
Two final questions: How much do chickens eat, and how often do the hens lay eggs?
They eat about a quarter of a pound of feed each day, and there’s about an 80%-90% chance that a chicken’s going to lay an egg once a day throughout its reproductive life.
And at Grazing Fields all of that happens in a humane environment. That’s why you can count on Grazing Fields for the best taste and the most earth-friendly practices for your family.