Monday, January 22, 2007

Egg debate

It seems a little debate has started: Eggs from home reared hens versus shop bought eggs. (See comments from last post)

Economics v welfare.

Chris makes the point that our hens would have to lay 700 eggs each to reach the shop bought price of 25p per egg.

First of all you have to ask - is 25p a fair price to pay for an egg? Producing an egg at 25p means an egg produced under intensive conditions. Even so called 'free range' eggs are produced in conditions that would make most people feel slight uncomfortable. The EU law states that for a hen to be free range there can be no more that 9 hens per sq. metre, and it must have access to the outside. Just imagine a sq. meter on the floor, and then squash 9 chickens into that space. Not looking so free range now?

(Don't get me wrong - free range is infinitely better than battery produced eggs, which cost about 15p each in my local spar shop. If you can't keep your own hens then PLEASE buy free range eggs. A battery hens spends her whole life in a cage the size of an A4 piece of paper, can never turn around, and overcomes boredom by pecking out the feathers of her neighbour.)

Productivity.

Our Leghorn and Cream Legbar are reputed to lay 300 eggs in the first year, then steadily declining over the next 5-6 years. It is therefore conceivable that Omelet and Scramble could lay 700 eggs each over their (very happy) lifetime. Margo is a Cuckoo Maran and they produce less eggs, probably about 260 in the first year.

Food miles.

Another current hot topic. The food metres on a Simons egg is 3.5m Oh so environmentally friendly.

Taste.

25p an egg from a shop may seem like a bargain considering the convenience of it all, but what price would you lay for the MOST DELICIOUS egg ever to pass your lips? I would pay more, and evidently I do! However, once you have tasted had a poached egg, so fresh when collected it was still warm from the arse of your favourite hen, you will never look back, and that's a promise!

Useful by-products.

Before chicken keeping I bought large quantities of horse manure for my veg patch at quite a large expense. Now I have my own inexhaustible supply of free manure I'm hoping for some bumper veg this summer.

Fun.

Many people keep pets for the fun of it, and having chickens is no exception. They are hilarious to watch, and having them ranging about is like having your own personal pantomime in the back garden.

Conclusion.

Economically speaking, it will take years for our initial outlay to begin to look like a wise investment. We will be paying much more for our eggs than we would have if we bought them from Tescos.

BUT we know where they came from. We know what the hens have been eating. We know the chickens are healthy, with perfect glossy feathers and brights eyes, and are free from antibiotics and hormones. We know they have tons of space and interesting things to do in the day to prevent feather pecking and bullying. We know they are not overcrowded, stressed or over heated. We know that when they reach the end of their most productive time of life (their first year) they will not be slaughtered and burned, but will be able to live out their days in peace and quiet in our back garden. We know that by reducing the market in intensively farmed eggs we are saving more hens from a sad life.

Because of all these things I would happily pay.

6 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

Can I just say, 25p is what I pay for a free range, organic*, locally produced egg. Personally I think anything less than free range organic should be illegal.
I totally agree with your opinions on keeping chickens btw, wasn't trying to bamboozle anyway with economics in an attempt to say otherwise, I just thought it was interesting to look at the economics of it all.
Though I will say, in economics there is a thing called "opportunity cost", i.e. if you take the time and money you spent on chickens, would you have got even more fun and satisfaction out of live had that time and money been invested elsewhere.

* correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Organic indicates the birds are actually free range, rather than theoretically free range, as is the case with "Free Range" birds. It's all so confusing!

6:31 PM  
Blogger rach said...

You're not wrong there! It is so confusing!

(by the way Chris, Nick has just told me off for sounding too militant. I didn't think you would take offense, and I hope you didn't. In fact I thought you made a very good comparison which was interesting to consider further, which is what I tried to do.)

The Opportunity Cost thing is also an interesting idea. If only there was a way to wind back time and do something different the second time round in the interests of research. This could apply to all areas of life. I often think if I had invested all the money I have spent on chocolate on gym membership instead - would I would be a happier person :-~

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am new to blogs but see it can allow some HTML tags. that didn't work so will try url that not work either was going to show you one of my pretties.
They are absolutely a cool pet as well.
It can be fun seeing some one IE: My sister once run in tell me my chicken is hurt or something. I asked what she was doing, well she exclaimed... she is laying in a dirt hole rolling on her side and can't get up... her wing is flapping her eyes closing.
And let me add here... The sun was shining.
I had a chuckle because I never truly understood what an innocent persons view would be... Y yes! she was having a dust bath!.
I am enjoying reading your excitement with your chickens. Way cool!
~Moi~

7:27 PM  
Blogger Tony Ruscoe said...

More to the point, a blog about buying eggs from Tesco would be very, very dull indeed!

Personally, I've been silently reading about the ups-and-downs of keeping chickens with avid interest. I'd definitely consider getting two or three once we move into a more permanent home.

And with regards to the economic side of things, we all pay more for things for the most ridiculous reasons - I'm thinking about so-called "must-have" gadgets in particular - so I'd have no problem if the actual cost per egg worked out more... so long as I could carry one of the chickens around like an iPod so people could see how cool I was, of course.

7:44 PM  
Blogger rach said...

Hmmm - might be a bit tricky. Chickens don't really like being picked up that much, well ours don't anyway.

HOWEVER, recently there has been an alarming development in Scramble. Since she has been laying eggs she has also shown much more interest in mating.

Unfortunately we don't have a cockerel so she directs her interest at us, and Nick in particular. When we go near her she crouches down and sort of puts out her wings in preperation. At this point it is easy to pick her up or stroke her. I find this funny. Nick finds it a bit disturbing and says he doesn't like to think of his sweet innocent girls having these carnal thoughts.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

I think the economics of it are totally irrelevant - you cannot measure the joy they so obviously give you. I NEVER add up what my horses cost - I could buy another house!!! As for the cost of horse manure - just go to any stable yard and they will gladly let you take it away for free - as much as you can carry. You have to pay for it to be disposed of now as it's not "environmentally friendly"...what? it's the most eco-friendly substance on the planet!!!! Enjoy your eggs - and don't worry about the money. How much do we waste on the odd "starbucks" ? You can't put any price on the happiness and welfare of the birds. I once went to a turkey farm, and have never eaten turkey since.

6:44 AM  

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