Since my blog last Friday, we lost one of our chickie girls. If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you’ll know this was tough to take. If you read my On Counting Your Chickens post, you’ll know how much I worried about losing a girl.

Chickie Girl #17 didn’t have a name because we can’t tell our Rhode Island Reds apart, and now that she’s gone, it seems even more tragic that she didn’t have a name. But she was loved as a part of my collective “girls” and loved with all of my heart. We do so much to protect our girls from predators and work so hard to give them a healthy, happy life that it was especially hard for me to take it that we lost her to a health problem she had related to laying eggs. She had a prolapsed vent, and, apparently, not all chickens die from this, but our girl did.

It was a sad night.

I was cooking a late supper, and my husband came to the kitchen door and said, “I think tonight might be the night.”

It was the night I had dreaded—and the night we spoke about so often. Our girls free range most days, and they just can’t stand it otherwise. And even though we do a “chicken count” many times a day, we will sometimes get busy and not count as much. So, when the girls come into their coop at night, it’s always an extra relief when you do your final count for the night and get 17. But, this night, there would be just 16.

I cried harder than probably a grown woman should, said goodbye to her as she lay in my husband’s arm, and watched as my husband buried her in the backyard near the woods, where the beloved pets of the previous owners of our house were laid to rest.

I wasn’t going to write about this experience. It seemed wrong, like I was exploiting her death. I also worried about sounding a little too much like the crazy chicken lady because I was so broken up over the death of one of our chickens. But something happened this week that made me think I really need to tell this story.

As I was mourning the death of Chickie Girl #17, I took a moment to mourn the bigger picture—the animals who are unfortunate enough to live on factory farms where they are abused and subjected to the most inhumane treatment. Our girl’s death reminded me to remember.

Then, this week, this story hit our local news about an egg factory farm here in Maine where the chickens are, apparently, living in deplorable conditions. According to the news, the state is now investigating, but, for me, this story is just another example, another reason why we, as consumers, need to force change with our pocketbooks.

I don’t want to be preachy, but factory farming in our country is awful for the animals and awful for us. I certainly won’t get on my soapbox about the conditions in factory farms for all animals, but I will do this: I want to share some options with my readers about getting eggs and share why I think these options are important. My goal is to be helpful and help spread the word about better alternatives to factory-farmed eggs.

First, if you can, it’s certainly best to buy eggs from a local farmer you know. Just driving to a friend’s house a few miles away on Route 9 yesterday, I saw several signs up from local farmers selling eggs. If you can see where the chickens live, that’s even better.

image of eggs
We have Rhode Island Reds, so all of our eggs are brown. But there is such variety in terms of shade, speckles, and shape. These are like little treasures to me, and we sell them to friends and neighbors, who also seem to appreciate these eggs.

It’s important that chickens are allowed to be chickens. They need to be able to spread out, be social, eat bugs, complain about the little things, like somebody else being in one certain nest box when five others are clearly available. If you live in Maine and are reading this blog, I’m guessing you probably even have a friend selling eggs. It seems like chickens are everywhere here. Take advantage of this.

If you don’t live in Maine, I want to share some links that might be helpful.

  • EatWild offers an interactive map to local farmers who raise grass-fed animals. The site does not guaranty each farm, but each farmer has signed a statement about the way their animals are raised in order to be listed with this organization.
  • Agrilicious.org is a site devoted to connecting people with local farmers. Local farmers and artisans can sign up to share information about their goods, and you, as a consumer, can get connected.
  • Of course, be sure to check out your local farmer’s markets. In addition to getting connected to local food and handmade goods, they are just fun. This site, from the USDA, lets you search for local farmer’s markets by your zip code.

If you’re busy and feel you don’t have time to buy local, then it’s important to be aware of what the labels mean on the egg cartons at the grocery story. “Cage Free” is not necessarily good, and most of the labels like “All Natural” don’t mean a thing at all. You want to look for “Certified Humane” and/or “Pasture Raised.” I found this great article from NPR that provides interpretations for all of those labels on your egg cartons. It’s a huge help.

Having chickens of my own has taught me just how unique and important each little life is. I still eat meat, but we are working very hard to only buy our meat from places where the animals are allowed to be animals and live a good life while they live—or raise the animals ourselves.

Our little chickie girls are funny, interesting, and each one is unique.

curious chicken
This is one of our curious girls. I was taking pictures of the chickens at snack time, but this little girl seemed way more interested in my camera.

Some are mama’s girls, some are daddy’s girls, and some are just their own girls. Some are scared of a new bowl, the baby ducks, and maybe their shadows. Some are way too bold, in my opinion.

Right now, we have a broody hen, who is so grumpy when we take her eggs, but we have to because we have no rooster yet. So my husband takes her grapes in the evenings, her favorite treats, and he talks to her while he reaches in and takes the eggs. She calms down when he talks to her. She lets him rub her little beak and head, and she talks back. I watch this in awe—two species, unable to communicate with each other, but the chickie girl seems to somehow understand my husband means her no harm. It’s a powerful sight to see.

It was a tough week for the Sands “Coop”eration with the loss of one of our girls, but I hope that telling her story can help just one more person decide not to buy eggs from a factory farm anymore.

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