What good is in an egg?
Are eggs good for us and for the planet? There is a lot of debate about this and there is evidence to show that even some medical practitioners are confused about the nutritional value of eggs.
“Eggs are a nutritious food. They contain 11 different vitamins and minerals in good amounts…They are also one of the few food sources of vitamin D, a nutrient many of us lack – putting ourselves at increased risk of conditions ranging from brittle bones to cancers.”
Eggs keep you fuller for longer. This helps us go to work with a contented tummy. “Go to work on an egg“ was an advertising slogan used by the United Kingdom’s Egg Marketing Board during the 1950s as part of more than £12 million it spent on advertising. Lets put the advertising aside and have a look inside the modern egg.
Don’t hens produce methane?
Most land-dwelling animals, including us humans (dare we say?), produce some methane. Over 60% of total CH4 emissions come from human-related activities. 
Most people blame the cows. But are chickens contributors too?
Cows don’t have teeth to break down their food. Cows have hardened gums, they rip at their food, drink a lot of water and then ferment the grasses in their guts. They produce ferment in their gut to increase the nutritional value of their very fibrous food. They have 4 stomach chambers to be really sure that the ferments create nutrition for them before the food is wasted. Cows burp a lot of methane.
Cows are vegetarian whereas chickens are omnivores. Like cows, hens don’t have teeth either but they peck tiny, almost-readily digestible amounts of food every time. The hen has a stomach like a dinosaur – she eats a bit of grit and this helps grind up the food. Hens need less water per volume of dry-food than cows, so they have less ferment. Hens love meat in their diet as easy protein and they love to be part of a rich web of life (bugs, ants, worms, beetles and more).
Poultry are not fussy ‘foodies’
Hens will eat food-waste, garden pests and the less palatable proteins [yucky stuff]. Hens (if trained from early life) will eat most garden weeds, food scraps, snails, insects, small snakes and moths. Sadly, they will eat small frogs, worms and beneficial insects, so we need to fence them out of areas where you will be nurturing wildlife.
Permaculture Principle: ‘Integrate Not Segregate’
Hens want to be integrated. Their natural habitat is not a hot shed with wire fencing. Through good design and management we can reduce our own work-load (chickens will clear and eat the weeds, distribute their fertiliser and focus where ever we drop a little food for them). Of course there is a delicate balance between protection and freedom. Protecting your chickens from dogs, hawks/eagles and foxes needs to be balanced against allowing them self-determination especially in severe weather events such as wild-fire, floods or high wind. Through intelligent design, we can provide choices for the chickens. We can offer them several protective day-shelters, water sources and safe night-time housing. Chickens are woodland creatures, they love to hide in dense scrub, eat berries as well as insects and make baths out of dry dusty soil at the base of large trees.
Not all eggs are the same. But even the battery-laid fresh egg is still good protein. Not all hen lifestyles are the same. In a permaculture design, the hen is a valuable tractor, pest controller, live entertainment an incubator and companion.
The hen in a permaculture design serves a lot more functions beyond egg-laying. When birds are not stressed by over-population, enjoy a healthy diet and feel secure, they can lay for years. Some birds have been known to lay eggs after decades.
Here is a way to integrate chickens into a complex web-of-life and suits a small garden.
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