Like many consumers, my husband and I do our best to buy sustainably produced foods, such as free-range eggs. We have been uncomfortable, however, knowing that free-range does not necessarily mean cruelty-free. The sad truth is, farms that raise egg-laying hens usually rely on large hatcheries for their supply of hens — hatcheries which routinely kill the male chicks shortly after they hatch. According to a report from the Daily Telegraph, male chicks are typically placed on a conveyor belt and minced alive or gassed.
Fortunately, sustainable farmers have found a better way! Turns out that centuries-old farming practices are making a comeback — and rightfully so.
One of the leaders in the effort to produce eggs in a sustainable and humane manner is Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm in California. Walker is raising heritage chickens, which are breeds that were naturally bred in the United States prior to the mid-twentieth century. These dual-purpose breeds do very well outdoors and have long lifespans. The sustainable food blog Civil Eats notes that instead of relying on hatcheries, farmers will be able to breed their own male and female chickens and raise them sustainably and humanely for eggs and meat.
Sustainable agriculture offers a variety of benefits. Besides living healthier and happier lives, for example, free-range chickens provide natural fertilizer for plant crops and produce better tasting eggs and meat. When we step away from the factory farm and embrace the independent family farm, we regain our connection to the food we eat.
The change will not be instantaneous, but it is encouraging to know that groups such as The Livestock Conservancy are working to protect and promote sustainable agriculture. To learn how you can help Eatwell Farms and the movement toward humanely raised poultry, visit Barnraiser.