Poultry - Kate Crowley
By Kate Crowley
Right now most everyone is thinking about turkeys; how big, fresh or frozen, brine soaked or traditionally stuffed and roasted. But I am thinking about chickens. Not that we are planning to have this smaller fowl for our Thanksgiving feast, but because I am thinking about eggs; locally produced, free range, and fed with non-GMO grains. It just so happens, Minnesota is in the spotlight for just these sorts of eggs and chickens. A small company called Locally Laid (Lola) could bring national attention to our state and this type of animal husbandry on – believe it or not – the SuperBowl! Maybe you have seen some of the ads and news stories about Lola and their efforts to win the contest which would result in an ad to be shown on the televised football game.
But before I describe this effort let’s take a look at the bird (or birds) itself. Today, the American Poultry Association (APA) recognizes 64 breeds of chicken, but looking at a variety of websites I saw numbers that ranged from the mid-fifties to seventy.
What we call chickens are the domesticated version of the wild red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) still found today in most of Southeast Asia. In the process of domesticating these birds they were likely bred with grey jungle fowl. All of this occurred somewhere in the range of 7,000 to 10,000 year ago and we humans have been tinkering with these birds ever since. What physical resemblance remains is the red wattles and comb of the male, as well as the spurs and urge to ‘cock-a-doodle-doo”. The females brooding behavior and characteristic ‘clucking’ is the same as the wild females. Wild jungle fowl are not great flyers and this probably contributed to their appeal to humans. Their diet of seeds, insects, fruit and flies remains the same today, although we have added all sorts of ‘supplements’ to their feed in order to maximize their size and production of eggs.
When hybridization begins, genetic mutations naturally occur and in the domestic chicken a couple of specific mutations have been identified which relate to size (bigger) and being able to reproduce all year long. Chickens spread throughout the Old World through trade and human migration and it is not known exactly when they arrived in the Americas, but some suggest that the Polynesians brought them to the Pacific coast of South America well before Columbus sailed. When chickens actually arrived in North America remains uncertain, though they mostly like arrived with one of the many waves of explorers.
Raising chickens for eggs and meat was long a tradition on farmsteads, but also in towns. A small coop and a few hens were not unusual in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. But as cities grew larger and suburbs spread into formerly agricultural land, people found it easier to just go to the store to get their eggs.
Today we are seeing a growing resurgence in small coops and flocks in urban settings. There are lots of reasons for this trend - some would call it a fad – but the desire for the freshest and best known source of food has brought more and more people back to vegetable gardening and for some, raising chickens. The latter has become even more popular as people have become aware of the appalling conditions millions of egg-laying hens live in.
I have long wanted to have my own small flock for fresh eggs and for the pure aesthetic pleasure of multi-colored hens pecking through the yard – eating ticks, in my dream. However, our lifestyle does not allow my dream to come true. Like all livestock, chickens require regular feedings, maintenance and supervision. So I have sought out others who raise the birds and produce enough eggs to sell. Over the last few years I have bought eggs from four different people. When I can’t, I always look in the stores for eggs that are listed as free range – ‘cage free’ does not guarantee the birds are not overcrowded in large coops. Free range eggs, like most organic food tend to cost a bit more, but for my money they are well worth it.
So, back to the Locally Laid Egg Company. Jason Amundsen from Wrenshall began with a small flock, but noticed that there were few retail outlets where you could buy locally raised eggs. Inspired by the writings of Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin, and mentored by Lake Superior Sustainable Farming Association, the University of Minnesota Duluth Center for Economic Development, and Springfield Farm in Maryland, Locally Laid was hatched.
Not only does this nascent business work hard at producing eggs in the most humane and healthy way, it is also committed to larger environmental issues. They plant a tree for every delivery, taking direct action for capturing excess carbon dioxide. It’s easy to see why this company has captured the attention and imagination of thousands. Of 15,000 entries into the Super Bowl Ad contest (sponsored by the American software company Intuit), Locally Laid has made it into the top four finalists. This is a grassroots (how appropriate) contest and the winner will be chosen by the number of votes they receive by December 1. I hope you will join me and thousands of others who want to see this northern Minnesota Company shine the light on locally raised, healthy food. Go to www.Votelola.com and see if we can win the Big one. The website for the company is www.locallylaid.com.