Chicken Island – Coop de Ville: Part Two

Two eggs: both cage free, both organic, what's the difference?Read Part One

A Few Terms to Understand About Chicken-Raising

Here is an outline of farmers who raise chickens and sell eggs.  There are many growers and I do certainly know many of them, these are the larger egg producers that I am familiar with.

The farmers I know who are feeding their chickens organic grain are:

  • Grey Barn, Lisa Fisher. In fact, Lisa Fisher and Grey Barn are the ONLY CERTIFIED ORGANIC FARMERS on MV. Grey Barn has multiple heritage breeds that are outside and pastured in large open fields. Lisa Fisher raises Rhode Island Reds and they are in a pen outside.
  • Mermaid Farm and Allen Farm only use organic grains (BUT ARE NOT CERTIFIED). Allen Farm chickens are 100% pastured and multiple heritage breeds.
  • SBS is transitioning to feeding 100% organic (their chickens eat mostly barley (not GMO), lettuce, and the supplement with local grain (NO CORN) – They raise several varieties of chickens that are outside running around.
  • Smith Farm raises hundreds of chickens that are inside free range – sometimes allowed outside, and are fed commercial grain.
  • The Farm Institute has a nutritional program that they design for their feed. It is conventional, but they are more concerned with antibiotics in feed than with GMOs in feed, so their grain does not have antibiotics but MAY have GMOs. They are good to question the use of antibiotics in the feed, which is equally dangerous. They have multiple heritage breeds that are outside running and scratching around in the sunshine (pastured).
  • Green Acres has hundreds of chickens that are outside running around soaking up the sunshine, eating bugs, and are fed conventional grain which most likely contains GMOs .
  • Morning Glory Farm has hundreds of chickens that live in a hen house and are fed conventional grain. As with all the farmers, they are always considering their options and what is best for them and their farm.

I see several local eggs cartons in the stores that have the word “ORGANIC” on them. Legally, a label cannot say organic if they are not certified organic. One can say “chickens are fed on a diet of organic grain”, but we have to trust the farmer on this and I do, for the most part. I personally do not know many of these egg farmers.

As for the question: Are Chickens Genetically Modified?

Chickens are not GMO (but one never really knows – all the research I read said firmly that no wheat was GMO, and then just yesterday it came out that most of the wheat from Oregon is GMO!)

Commercial growers from off-island, who supply many of our grocery stores are completely different than what I am referring to here. Most chickens off-island are raised in what is referred to as intensive farming. There is a list of inhumane practices that can and often do happen to chickens who are raised in this manner. Lets just say that these chickens are not allowed to behave as chickens do naturally: pecking, scratching, foraging, getting exercise and taking dust baths.

Some have asked me about organic commercial production. Oh boy! This could go on and on…

Again, one has to do their research and ask the questions. The issue with commercial organic eggs, is that while they are certified humane, the chickens still live in a hen house (some are let out a few months of the year, but only a few farmers do this). Chickens are not outside running around and freely doing what chickens were meant to do, which is BE OUTSIDE. There are many brands out there. A New Hampshire company that supplies both Dole and Bailey and IFP (suppliers to our local grocery stores), is Pete and Gerry’s. They have about 35 farmers that they work with to follow their required protocol. Many of these farms are located in Pennsylvania, so you think you are buying eggs from New England, but only MAYBE. That is a lot of travel for an egg!

Chicken-raising and egg production are the least sustainable aspect of the farm. My own experience is that I have to raise and sell a lot of eggs to make money. I break even but I am able to supply my kitchen and family with delicious eggs and we sell what we don’t use at Mermaid Farm for $8/per dozen. Yes, it is a lot of money for a dozen eggs, but I encourage folks to look into what it means to raise chickens and feed them. Check out the price of organic grain. We have a high mortality rate for our birds because of hawks who love our pastured chickens. Some might say that our practices are cruel, because of this. I call it nature’s natural reduction.

Bottom line, each farmer makes his or her own decisions based on what they believe works best for them. The more we know about farming practices, the better questions we can ask . We can start with that egg you ate for breakfast this morning: where does the chicken who laid the egg lie and what did she eat?

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