Can you guess which chicken egg is store-bought? 🙂 Chickens that get to free-range and eat green plants, insects and other things produce much darker-colored yolks than grain-fed, confinement-raised chickens. In my opinion, the true free range eggs are much more flavorful and delicious as well. I feel certain that they probably contain more nutrients and trace minerals, though I’ve not found a study that has proved this. Probably another case where there is no funding for such a study.

Romantically Labeled, Same Pale Eggs

The above picture happens to be a “regular” store-bought egg compared to one of ours. But I find that even the store-bought eggs that are labeled “free range” do not share the deep color of our egg yolks. If the stocking rate of the free-range pen is such that there isn’t a blade of grass or beetle to be found anywhere inside (and that’s probably the case for most commercial chickens), then there is really no point in paying extra for the eggs. They’re the same as the grain-fed ones from “indoor” chickens!

I’m amused by all of the different labels on eggs in the store these days. “Access to outdoors” is another one that I think is funny. I’m not sure what it means, why it’s differentiated from “free range,” or if truly justifies a higher price. And “vegetarian fed” is another label that cracks me up! I’ve had a lot of people question me about this, saying “I thought chickens were vegetarians?” Well, sorry to disappoint any lacto-ovo’s out there, but no, chickens are omnivores and they think meaty things are delicious!

Bugs, Amphibians and More

Chickens are very aggressive bug hunters, and quite visually stimulated by anything that moves in the manner of an insect. Ours are very wise to any bug-uncovering opportunities. If they see anyone working in the wood pile or lifting up an object on the ground, they are right there. They can clean up dozens of fleeing insects 100% in a matter of seconds. They spend their days scratching the soil and uncovering little creepy-crawlies for snacks. Just two day old chicks are already carrying out their hard-wired behavior chain like little professionals, scratch-look-peck, scratch-look-peck, over and over. I suspect our chickens are much better than any chemical insecticide we could apply to the land, and they are fertilizing while they work!

They also tackle bigger carnivorous endeavors, like when they stole a dead mouse from our cat. Sometimes I see them snag a big newt and fight over it until its devoured, and they’ll go for small frogs, grasshoppers and whatever else they can catch and tear asunder! Though we’ve not yet had opportunity to have our chickens range in the same pasture as our sheep, I know others have had excellent luck with chickens eating parasites eggs and larvae from ruminant manure, serving as superb pasture cleansers.

Will Learn For Food

People generally think of chickens as dumb, and in some respects, they are. But they have high aptitude when it comes to observing and learning food availability trends. In just a few repetitions of showing them some new food source, they never forget it. They know if I walk across the yard with a bowl, that it’s probably vegetable peelings for them and they all jog behind me until I spill it for them.

One day I caught the chickens having stolen a sheet of Styrofoam packing sticking out of the garbage can, and they were eating that too. So,that’s the dumb aspect of chickens, at times, they eat non-food. 😛 They also eat a lot of stone and gravel, but that’s normal, it stores in their crop and helps them grind tough seeds and grains. They do like greens and grass too, and do a lot of grazing. So, really, anything goes with chickens; and there is no controlling what they might decide to consume while they are free-ranging. Thus, it’s best to keep a tidy yard and the garden securely fenced.

Joining Us for Supper

Last summer we tended to eat most of our meals outside on the picnic table. One day a chicken  happened to jump on the table, and as a lark, we started feeding her some tidbits of bacon. Well, we should have known better, but in no time, a trend had started where chickens were hanging around begging every time we ate.

But, it was kind of funny to watch, so in the end, we resolved to teach them that they could wait at the edge of the table, but no stealing off plates while we were eating. When we were done and slid the plates towards them, then they had the green light to eat whatever was left over. Kind of the same rule the dogs have, that they can’t eat off plates until we give them the plates. The chickens were surprisingly trainable to this rule. And it drives the Border Collies crazy knowing the chickens are getting the plate lickings that they believe rightfully belong to dogs!

Cannibals? I Thought They Were Moral Beings…

And, here are the chickens, eating, well, chicken. A drumstick, specifically. Notice they’re passing over the edamame in favor of the drumstick-they are confident in their preferences!

imageYes, it’s the bitter truth, they can be cannibalistic; and will gleefully polish off a peer who has died if you don’t get the body out of there right quick. One can only imagine what happens in high density CAFO chicken houses where a lot of birds die every hour! :-0

They equally enjoy a meaty beef rib, a corn cob, fried rice, a piece of sandwich, or whatever we’re having. They clean out all the meat drippings from under the BBQ too. Now mind you, a majority of  their diet is always-available poultry feed, and whatever they forage on their own.  But, I don’t mind it if they get a little treat now and then. I feel that fully cooked, fresh food poses no risk to them. And it goes a long way towards making them calm around people (if not also making them pesky dinner guests!) So, there you have it, the truth about what chickens really eat!