This past August, I had the pleasure of attending the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in West Bend, Wisconsin. There, I got to see Robin Mather speak about the benefits of grass-fed beef. My grandfather was a cattle rancher. I grew up, loving everything about horses and cows. Each Christmas, my grandfather gave his six children 1/2 a cow to fill their freezer and feed their families. I had no idea that others did not eat as much beef as we did growing up. My grandfather lived to be 87. He ranched well into his retirement, living on whole foods and red meat. He was from a family of Italian immigrants and food was important. It was a way to nourish your body, but also your heart. There was not a gathering that did not involve lots and lots of food. Good food, not food products that lined the inner aisles of the grocery stores.
Today, I want to carry on the tradition of whole foods and grass fed foods with my own children. We live on a little acre homestead in a small village in Mid-Michigan. Cows, even goats, are out of the question for us, however, we have chickens. What kind of nutrition is our small flock of laying hens providing? Our girls free range for the most part, but I do supplement their feed with a crumble layer and tasty treats that I also forage or make myself.
In the past I posted about saving your grass clippings for winter. Sounds crazy right? Well I initially started saving grass clippings, dandelion, and clover for my chickens to scratch about and supplement their winter feeding. I knew this was nutritionally sound advice as the greater color variations in your chickens diet, the darker, richer, their egg yolks are. But, just how much richer our the eggs from pasture-fed chickens than the commercial counterparts? Robin Mather’s presentation on grass fed beef had started the wheels turning in my head.
First, I did what any home researcher would do. I poured a cup of coffee and I started to read. From Mother Earth News articles, journal publishings to University papers, I read a lot of information. I learned about nutritional deficiencies in mass produced foods. Some of which I had suspected, like why winter grocery store tomatoes are just not that good to some I had not known such as Omega 3 ratios in items. Fish is not the only source of this nutritional powerhouse.
Grass Fed or Pastured animals, poultry and fowl are being raised the way nature intended. In poultry, they are called pastured or free range instead of grass fed. The term may be different, but the basis of the diet is the same as well as the benefits. Not only is allowing animals to live the way nature intended more humane and sustainable, but it allows for better nutrition for us all. Pastured poultry are getting natural vitamin D from sunlight. They are getting protein from insects as well as omega 3’s from grasses. This all translated to healthier meat and eggs for you and your family.
Penn State University News published an article in July 2010 that sites research showing that grass fed, pastured poultry produces healthier eggs. In fact, lead investigator, an Associate Professor of Crop Production and Ecology, stated “”Compared to eggs of the commercial hens, eggs from pastured hens eggs had twice as much vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats, more than double the total omega-3 fatty acids, and less than half the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.” This is contributed to the variety of foods that the chickens foraged. They were able to eat grasses and insects throughout the day. They also noted that the pastured chickens weighed less and produced less eggs than commercially raised birds even if they were of the same breed. We can see this in our own backyards when we note the decrease in egg production over the shorter days of winter.
Mother Earth News Magazine conducted some testing of farm fresh eggs from Polyface Farm and compared them with USDA standard supermarket eggs. The findings show that there is an increase in nutrition from pastured eggs. Chickens living and eating as nature intended were producing eggs with more nutritional value than the mass produced eggs of commercial farms where chickens do not see the light of day nor scratch in the earth.
My family and I live in Michigan where it snows a significant amount during the Winter. In fact, this early September morning was a brisk 42 degrees. There will not be green grasses, dandelions or clover hanging around my yard for long. I can not truly keep my chickens free range all winter long, but I can help supplement their winter diet with things that I forage now.
Don’t let those grass clippings go to waste. They are easy to freeze and are a well received addition to your coop in the winter. A varied diet for the chickens you keep will not only keep them happy and healthy, but they will keep you in healthy eggs once Spring time comes back around.