Thursday, September 23, 2010

Let's talk about eggs

No doubt many of you have heard the news by now - at least if you live in this part of the world.  Iowa's egg industry has been responsible for some really nasty illnesses lately.  Mind you, this is not a problem with my eggs!  No way!  I have been eating eggs from my hens for over 2 years now, and have never had any sort of gastro-intestinal problem. In fact, you know what?!  I keep my eggs ON THE COUNTER!  That's right - not in the refrigerator!  Oh, the shock!  The travesty!  The shame!!!
Let's take a minute, shall learn about the egg-straordinary egg.

When a hen lays an egg, she deposits a layer of "mucoprotein" on the eggshell.  Mucoprotein?  Ewwww... what's that?!  It's a thin layer of protein composed of mucopolysaccharides!  Muco-what?  Ok, simply put, it's a layer that the hen's body deposits on the outside of the eggshell.  This protein layer protects the egg by preventing bacteria from entering through the pores (tiny holes) in the eggshell.  Mucopolysaccharides also exist in the fluid that keep your knees working properly!  They are entirely safe and healthy!  Sometimes, this layer is referred to as the "bloom" on the egg.
Most of the time, the eggs you buy in the store have been washed, commercially, before you buy them.  Why?  Well, it would be dreadful to buy an egg with a little bit of hay on it, or, heaven forbid (!!) some chicken poop!  What happens when you wash the egg?  The protective layer of protein is washed away.  That means that bacteria are now free and clear to enter the eggshell pores.  Woohoo!  Bacteria party in egg number nine!

I don't wash my eggs.  I leave them alone, on the counter, with their bloom intact.  I gently brush off hay bits or feathers.  If an egg is really dirty, I gently wash it and put it in the fridge.  When I use an egg, from the counter, I wash it immediately before use.  This means that the egg is clean, and there is no way for surface contamination to affect the egg contents when I break it open.  It also means that bacteria have about a 30 second window, if that, to contaminate my egg.  Ha!  Fat chance!!  I have left eggs on the counter, at room temperature, for over a month.  No problems have occurred.
Did you know that in France, it is actually illegal to sell washed eggs?  That's because they know that washing the egg leads to a higher chance of contamination!  It's also a fact that in France, many people store their eggs on the counter-top, and not in the refrigerator.

So back to Iowa.  What's going on with those eggs anyway?  Well, I took a course in Animal Law earlier in the summer, so I can tell you exactly what's going on with those eggs.  First of all, the hens in the egg batteries in Iowa are kept in conditions that are apparently acceptable to the egg industry.  What sort of conditions are those, you might wonder?  Well, by law, they can be kept in cages that are stacked up to 4 levels in height.  That means that the hens on level 3 are pooped on by the hens on level 4.  It also means that the hens on level 2 are pooped on by the hens on levels 3 and 4.  Finally, the hens on the dreaded level 1, are pooped on by hens on levels 2, 3 and 4!  Those poor hens are often in cages that are so filthy and poop-filled that they get their legs stuck.  See the pale, floppy combs on these hens?  Not healthy.  Not at all normal.  They should be red and perky looking.  The bright red things you can see are plastic water drippers.
Furthermore, these hens are kept in cages that give them an "ample" amount of space, according to the poultry industry standard.  How much space is that, you might wonder?  Well, the amount of floor space per hen is less than a standard sheet of paper.  Seriously!  They have 67 square inches of floor space, for their entire lives, because apparently, that's all they "need."  Oh, and there are usually 6 of them per cage.  Slightly more than 8 by 8 inches.  Let me tell you, as someone who has kept chickens for a couple of years now, chickens need a lot more space than that.  They love to run, to flap their wings, to chase one another, to take dust baths (for parasite control), to fly onto low-hanging branches, to explore, and to have time to themselves.  Here are some dust bathers.  They are so funny to watch!
Can you imagine being stuck in a small apartment your whole life with 5 roommates, each of you with 2 square feet (or less!) of floor space, with 3 floors of apartments above you with wire mesh floors through which your neighbors dump their poop?  You'd lose your mind!!  And your health!  It's no wonder that these poor birds peck out each other's feathers out of sheer boredom and aggravation.  So let's add a little blood amidst all that poop, not to mention a wide variety of insects that like to inhabit such places.
So it's not entirely surprising that under such conditions, salmonella and other bacteria have a tendency to proliferate.  It's not a real stretch, to imagine, that birds who are stuck in such conditions might become unhealthy, and might develop illnesses themselves.
So next time you're in the grocery store, considering eggs, think about where they came from.  Think about the situation those hens are living in, and what those eggs are exposed to.  Make an informed choice.  Buy from a local farmer's market, or a local farm.  Get your own hens if you can.  The "big egg industry" can only be changed little by little, and it starts with consumer choices....with people like you.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

In which I get an award! And for goats: Driving 101

The human says she is "losing the battle" this semester at school, and that she can not seem to catch up.  Again, she has put me in charge of the blog post today.  I know that really, she knows that I write better blog posts than she does, and that everybody would rather read stuff from me.  But, we won't tell her that.  It might upset her.

So guess what?!  I won an award!  Yes, I know, it's expected really, but I was particularly thrilled that this one came from Millie, over at Eden Hills.  Millie hasn't been feeling all that well lately you know.  She has said is actually a bit anemic.  The vet said so.  But she doesn't realize she spelled it wrong.  It's actually akneemic.  It's when you have a microphone implanted in your knee, usually by aliens.  Poor Millie was abducted by aliens one night, you see, and they put a microphone in her knee, and now they can hear everything she does.  And her knee hurts.  Anyway, I always avoid alien abductions and my knees are fine.  You should all go say Hi to Millie and wish her well.  They really should remove that microphone.

Anyway, Millie sent me the butterfly award!  Isn't that lovely?!

It's because I am dainty and beautiful, like a butterfly.  Thank you very much Millie!  I am honoured!  Claire said I have to choose who to send it to also, because her head is too full of too many other things to be able to make decisions.  I, of course, am a natural leader and decider of things.  Clearly, it should go to my dear friend Isobelle, because she is a very beautiful goat, like me, and sometimes her ears are sort of like butterflies.

I can't fly, personally, yet.  I am quite good at leaping and jumping though.  I think Isobelle is working on goat flight too.  But until we have that sorted out, I am learning to drive.  I thought I would give some tips to any other goats who wish to follow my lead.  Naturally, they will all want to follow my lead.

First, you must learn how to get into the vehicle in a dainty manner.  No leg flailing or anything else that would be unseemly for a beautiful goat.
Then, you have to survey your adoring fans from the seat of the vehicle, once you have entered it, because you know that they all want to see you.
That done, you should carefully inspect the surroundings in case there are leftover human foods to be had.  Unfortunately, there were none.  Oh, also get yourself into the driver's seat.
Driving requires three things - concentration, facing forward, and looking beautiful.  I'm still working on the concentration part.  The steering wheel is rather cumbersome for hoofed creatures.
You can always be a back seat passenger, if you prefer!  Except when the back seat is full of bags of fleece.
Also practice getting out of the car in a dainty manner.  And never, ever poop on the seats.
I suppose you want to know why there was all that fleece in the back seat.  Well, Claire went to a dye party with some of her friends who are all obsessed with sheep and goats and llamas and stuff.  She seemed very pleased with the results of her efforts.
I hope she doesn't decide to dye me anytime soon.
In particular, I do not want to be hung on a fence to dry.  Thank you all the same.

Wishing all you goats a lovely weekend from here in Iowa.  Goatie kisses from me.