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You know that old joke about what came first, the chicken or the egg? I was reminded of it when I began this article. Which do I talk about first? The delicious egg that I ate this morning, or the chicken that provided it?

It’s a real dilemma, just as puzzling as the joke, so I’m doing both. I ate a free range egg produced by my son and daughter-in-law’s hens. It reminded me of my childhood when all hens were free range.

This morning’s egg was delicious; my tastebuds are still reeling two hours later. The yolk was rich and creamy and kept its shape and the shell was firm and needed a good tap on the bench before it would crack. Even those eggs I buy from the supermarket that proclaim themselves to be the work of happy hens don’t have such solid shells.

I’ve been eating free range eggs, or their cousins for four years now. That was about conscience. I didn’t like the thought of chickens with clipped wings and beaks living their short lives cramped into cages not much larger than a postage stamp. Today I experienced the real deal. An egg was collected by my grandson and delivered to me by my daughter in law who looks after the two hens, Betsy and Dorothy. Betsy and Dorothy stomp freely around the backyard and in a matter of weeks have wrecked my daughter in law’s little herb garden and everything else they could lay their three toed claws on. Well worth it, I told her. You can always keep your herbs in pots on your kitchen windowsill.

Given the excess of eggy riches available on the supermarket shelves, you’d think that hens must produce dozens of eggs each, each day. The truth is that Dorothy and Betsy provide one egg each, each day. That’s the average output for hens, unless, so I’m told, there’s a rooster around hrmph, to egg them on. Even at the rate of one a day, pushing a large object through a small opening well it must be hard going; we women who produce two or three large objects through a small opening in a lifetime (children, not eggs) have it good in comparison. But I digress. This is about eggs and how we love them. I do have to wonder how many chickens it takes to feed us those eggs and what farmers are doing to ensure we get our fix. Even the ones that say their hens are free range.

And then there are the researchers and scientists who are forever getting in the way of our enjoyment. We’ve known for years that salmon produces Omega 3 which is good for us, but now those busybody scientists are saying that ‘What’s good for the heart may not be so healthy for other organs, says the latest study that links omega-3 fatty acids to an elevated risk of prostate cancer.’ ***

For years we have been told that red meat is good for us, then it’s bad; white meat is good for us then it’s not. Then there are any amount of rumours about eggs. Eggs contain cholesterol, so don’t eat them; eggs increase the amount of cholesterol in high-density lipoproteins (HDLs)—the good cholesterol so you can eat them.** Eggs are rich in anti-oxidants; eggs are filling.

Glory be. I just love eggs. Let’s vote an egg in as our next prime minister. It can’t do any worse than our last two (three if you’re counting the first who made a comeback). All right, I’m ranting.

In case I haven’t made myself clear yet, I just don’t trust researchers or scientists (or politicians.) I think that in the end moderation is the key. So, when it comes to eggs at least, I’m being moderate. But this morning I cooked and ate an egg. It was free range. Nobody locked Dorothy or Betsy up and clipped their wings (thus reducing their lives to a matter of weeks) or pumped them up with hormones so we can get more meat and good value for our bucks. (Not that we would do that to Dorothy or Betsy.)

Once I had heard that some farmers cram hens in cages, clip their wings and beaks, I decided on free range eggs. Even though they were three times the price it was worth it for peace of mind. But having made my mind up, as a former Australian Prime Minister once said, ’life wasn’t meant to be easy.’ Neither was choosing my eggs. There are free range eggs; barn laid eggs and cageless eggs to name just a few variations on the theme. (Sorry if I’m going on about our Prime Ministers, but ours have been driving us batty and the opposition option doesn’t fill me with confidence either. And we’re having an election in a matter of weeks. Help!) Back to the eggs. Did you know that you can buy organic eggs? Apparently hens are fed organic food so they and their eggs can taste nice. Whether the organic hens are kept in a barn or left to roam at will isn’t said. Supermarket labelling makes our lives a misery. I won’t even go into the issue of fat free, 99 per cent free and lite (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) yoghourt. I’ll save that for another day. ‘What’s in a name’, said Shakespeare. Whatever it is, there’s ‘something rotten in the state of Denmark’ when it comes to eggs. That Shakespeare was a pip. It’s no wonder that people still watch his plays.

Like Shakespeare, if he’d known about it, I’m suspicious about the labelling. The labels are misleading and confusing. I don’t believe in those happy frolicking hens on the egg cartons. I’m checking out my garden and wondering whether I can sacrifice it for a couple of eggs a day.



23 thoughts on “The chicken or the egg?

  1. Choosing the right egg is not much different from picking the right politician, is it? A thick shell may be a good thing — and a necessary one — but it makes it harder to see what’s inside. And then we’re forced to believe the advertising.

    Excellent post, Mary. Now you have me thinking about getting a few hens. But how do you protect them?

    • Charles, you can trust a free range hen to deliver the goods. The same can’t be said about pollies.
      Not sure how you can protect your hens, but my son and his wife have what was once a cubby house. The hens roam freely during the day, but they’re locked in the cubby house at night.

  2. I agree with everyone. Nothing can be better than a good egg from a hen that’s living a good life. A lot of so-called nutritional advice is complete bunk – often media completely misrepresenting interim scientific findings. But it would be nice to have food that is not manipulated or smothered in chemicals. Like Shimon, I think of happy carrots. I grow mine in big rubber buckets!!!

  3. Dear Marymtf,

    I’ve found your blog via Shimon’s Human Picture.

    I once had 5 hens, and they lived in the Omelet coop (as in your image) too. However, the hens have all died, and some were killed by foxes recently. This is one of my stories about my hens: Why did the chicken cross the road? Now we’re left with a chicken run with a much quieter back garden. We used to have fresh eggs everyday and they were delicious, fresh, and the egg yoke bright yellow. Once we even got double egg-yokes.

    We occasionally needed to clip their wings as they flew away and ended up on the road. Our hens made the best companions and I really missed them.

    All the best to you.

    • Checking out the readers of a blog that you like is the nicest way to find people, isn’t it? I think it’s a great way to make new friends.
      In our story, why did the chicken cross the road, you talked a lot about immaculate gardens. How’s yours now that those three toed vandals are gone? 🙂

      • Our hens used to damage all our grass, as they roamed our garden. Now our grass has grown back, but I do miss the old messy, muddy garden, with the chittle-chattle from the hens.

        p/s: We’re not emulating neighbours’ immaculate gardens.

      • Grass is lovely but it takes a lot of work to keep up and yet gives you nothing in return. Hens are a lot of work but are worth the effort. 🙂

  4. I think you’ve got the right idea. If you’re going to eat an animal… or drink it’s milk, or eat its egg, it’s much better if you see him or her enjoying life a bit before. Actually, I feel pretty much the same way about carrots and fruit. They always seem to be better if I saw them growing,,,

    • When I was a child, my mum would keep two chickens. They were fed corns. Before the Chinese New Year, my mum would slaughter them and I would help. I know how to kill a chicken and my honourable job was plucking their feather. For a child, playing with their feather was quite fun.

      In those days, we wouldn’t get sentimental over the chickens. We knew why we kept them.

  5. With all the things that are bad for us now, including eggs, it’s a wonder so many of those born in the 1920s and 1930s lived long lives and/or are still living. The little googies can’t be that bad.

    • I haven’t heard anyone say googies (or googie eggs) for years. It brings back fond memories.
      All I can say in favour of scientists and researchers is that they too must make a living.

  6. Another topic dear to my heart. I am in complete agreement about everything you said here, damnation of cruel farming practice, the love of a good egg and the complete disillusionment in our politicians. FYI Organic eggs must be free range and comply with regulations limiting hormones and antibiotics and of course be fed organic feed. I frequently travel on rural roads (when we’re at home) where free range eggs are offered for sale at the farm gate, the best I can do without access to my own cooks.

    • What’s the point of organic chooks for people like us who don’t want them messed at all as opposed to limiting the amount of hormones and antibiotics they’re getting? It’s truly nutty.

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