The value of fresh green feed for laying hens has been recognized for many years. In a Perkins Journal issue of May 5, 1927, there was an article about poultry production. It said that if laying hens had access to green grass that the egg yolks will have a darker yellow color and the egg shells will stringer and not thin.
My grandmother had a hand-operated machine that chopped green grass for layers.
Also, the article said that yellow corn was better for hens than white corn because it had more Vitamin A.
Back in the 1930's, many families both on farms and in town had laying hens. The hens were allowed to run outside and would have access to green grass. Pastured hens also have access to insects. This is a form of insect control. Having layers sure takes care of grasshoppers around the yard.
In the 1940's and 1950's, there was an increase in the confi nement of laying hens in a poultry house. My dad Ephraim would pasture the pullets in an alfalfa fi eld in the summer, and then bring them into a confinement laying house in August.
As years went on confi nement became more widespread. In some cases layers were kept in cages. I believe that now most eggs are produced in confi nement.
Nevertheless, in the last 20 years there has been a resurgence of the idea in smaller fl ocks of letting the hens go outside. A specialty market has developed for eggs produced by "grazing poultry." The eggs are called "outdoor eggs."
Some customers prefer outdoor eggs. They have a darker yellow yolk. These customers also prefer eggs from chicken breeds that lay brown-shelled eggs. In 1946, white shelled-eggs were preferred, except in Boston, Massachusetts where people preferred brown eggs.
A farmer in the State of Virginia, Joel Salatin, has advocated pasturing poultry and other livestock. He has written books on these subjects. He and his family developed a portable laying house on wheels called an eggmobile.
A recent magazine started nine years ago, Backyard Poultry, covers topics of interest to smaller poultry owners who like to produce outdoor eggs.
Then this spring the Oklahoma farm Bureau magazine had a featured article about a farmer in Stillwell who had a large operation of pastured poultry. That part of the state has a lot of confi nement poultry. Marty Kester has two buildings, each with the capacity of 4,000 hens. He has 10 acres of pasture for each building. The eggs are organic and pasture raised. They are sold at the Arkansas Egg Company, which distributes to stores in several states.
When the weather is above 32 degrees, the hens are allowed to go outside. The photos showed brown eggs and hens of Rhode Island Red breeding.
My son Robert and his family have had some experience with pastured poultry. Just as the article in 1927 said, they also said yellow corn was better for the hens than white corn, and gives the egg yolks a darker yellow color.
Green grass pasture gives the egg yolks a darker yellow color. Also, alfalfa leaf meal helps.
Another interesting feed additive is powder from dried yellow marigold blossoms. Purina Company has a layer ration with dried marigold, and it results in a darker yellow egg yolk. I personally feel that eggs produced in confinement are safe and satisfactory to use, but the availability of pastured outdoor eggs gives the customer a choice. Outdoor eggs are available at the Stillwater Farmers Market.