The way in which we buy and consume our food doesn’t always leave much room for thought. We shop in supermarkets where everything is laid out neatly on shelves in clean, pretty packaging. We might look at the price of different products on offer, or the design of the packaging but there is not much else for us to consider.
I started to become more connected with my food after I re-homed four ex-commercial hens. Suddenly my eggs weren’t packaged, clean and stamped. I found them in a bed a straw and if quick, still warm and occasionally a little bit soiled. The questions people were asking me about keeping my own chickens were very telling of our disconnected lifestyle.
“But isn’t it weird knowing that they’ve come straight out of the chicken?”
“If they stop laying eggs will you kill them and eat them?”
Simply because an egg has been stamped doesn’t mean it is now somehow different and suddenly fit for our consumption. We may be used to our boxed eggs but they all are laid out of a chicken’s vent and although they will stop laying, it doesn’t mean I will then find them worthless.
The longer we had our chickens, the more I got to know them all individually. First by their markings and then by their distinct personalities. It was when Ruby and Gwen began getting ill that I really discovered the price of our disconnected lifestyle. We took Gwen to the vet when she had been unwell for almost a week and nothing we were doing was helping. The vet told us sympathetically but quite plainly that our rescued commercial hen, Gwen was simply over-bred. Her body was simply an egg machine. Her genes had been selected and selected to produce so many eggs at the detriment of her health and longevity.
Commercial flocks are treated as just that, there is an expected fatality rate that is accepted and after their most productive laying year, which is the first, they are then killed before they lose their ‘commercial viability’. This is when we rescued her, when the farmer could no longer afford to supply the supermarkets with the cheap eggs they demand.
I like to think we did our best for Ruby and Gwen, we gave them a year of the outdoors, sunshine, dust baths and worms. But their fate was inevitable and this is the reality of the price these chickens pay, for our cheap, convenient food.