The eggs shown here are all from free-range chickens here at the Yardstead.  You can see they are all different colors including green, blue, pink, beige, brown and white.  They vary in size a bit as well.  They all look the same on the inside though, and taste the same, which is far better than mass produced eggs from large poultry farms.  They have more flavor and many studies have shown they are more nutritious. 
The first thing most people notice when they crack open one of our fresh chicken eggs is the thickness of the shells.  Because these chickens eat a more varied diet than "sweat shop" chickens, they get more nutrients such as calcium (good for shells) in their diet.  The fresh egg yolks also look different.   They are more orange than yellow and appear thicker. 
I was going to crack a store bought egg and one of our's side by side on a plate to illlustrate the difference, but I couldn't bring myself to buy eggs at the store.   It is interesting  to see them together.  I will post a picture for comparison later in the forum.  I'll just borrow a store bought egg from a neighbor.  
One of our goals here at the Yardstead is to produce as much of our own food as possible.  By growing our own groceries we have much more control over what we put into our bodies.  We feed our chickens mostly garden waste, grass clippings, food scraps and occasionally scratch feed to supplement when things are slow in the garden.

Some of our chickens can fly out of the pen and these chickens spend most of the day scratching around the lawn and garden, eating bugs and worms.  The chickens that stay in the pen also spend hours a day scratching for bugs and sifting through old pile of leaves and clipping.  I rake the old debris out of the pen every few weeks and dump the leftover material (rich with chicken manure) into the compost pile.  Bugs are a rich source of nutrients for chickens and they will scratch the ground and hunt for them.  Large egg farms feed their chickens commercial feed laiden with antibiotics and other chemicals. 
A majority of large chicken farms also keep their chickens in our opinion some pretty terrible conditions.  Some chickens spend their entire lives in small cages under bright lights where they have no room to move or do anything other than lay eggs.  Some egg farms have better records than others, but it is difficult to know without doing extensive research.  You may see eggs in the store marked "Free Range" and hopefully the claim is true, but there is no inspection system for companies who make this claim.  For broilers (chickens raised for meat) to be labeled free range, they must have USDA certified access to the outdoors.  There is no criteria however, for the size of outdoor space, the space alloted per bird, or environmental conditions.  There are however, some responsible and humane egg production farms and as awareness grows more will be moving in this direction.   
Harvesting the eggs is simple,  just remove from the nest and store in the fridge untiil ready to eat.  Most of the time the eggs in the nest are very clean.  Sometimes after a rain when the ground is muddy, the hens will get muddy tail feathers  and smear a little mud on the eggs.  If the eggs are a little dirty, I usually just wipe them clean with a damp cloth.  Eggs are laid with a natural antibiotic coating that help protect from disease and keep them fresh.  Washing with soap can remove this coating.  I usually collect eggs every couple of days.  Sometimes I go a little longer before collection, but if the nest gets to full eggs can get broken.  We currenly have 11 laying hens and with spring approaching and more sunny days, they are almost at full production which is about 1 egg per day per chicken.  
We love our chickens here at the yardstead and plan on adding a few more soon.  Our egg-layers are fun to watch too.  We will probably get a few to slaughter this year also, which will be covered in a future article.  We have no rooster at the moment either, but may add one in the future and try to raise some chickens from eggs.  It should be interesting and I will also cover the incubation of eggs in a future article.  If you would like more details about yard eggs or chickens in general, stop by the forum and read more in the chickens category.  If you dont find what your looking for, as always, feel free to post a question or comment in the forum.

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