Lead in Backyard Eggs: Don’t Freak Out But Don’t Ignore the Issue

Image: UC Cooperative Extension.

Back in 2018 UC Davis began a study of heavy metal contamination of eggs from backyard chicken flocks. The study analyzed eggs from 344 California residences using Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry to look for arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and and nickel.

The overall results for the study show that the main metal to worry about is lead, though some of the samples showed elevated levels of mercury and cadmium that could be a concern. The maximum lead level found was 27.97 ug/egg which is well over the maximum recommended exposure level of 3 ug for children and 12.5 ug for adults. That said, the average was 1.39 ug of lead.

I was eager to participate in this study since we found elevated lead levels in our soil when we did a series of soil tests back in 2011. Thankfully our egg results came in at 1.02 ug, just under the average level in the study. You’d have to eat a lot of eggs as an adult to go beyond the Federal Drug Administration’s maximum recommended lead intake level, though you could bump up against it if a child ate more than three eggs a day.

I’d suggest that if you live in an older urban location, next to a gas station or other industrial site or a recently burned area you may want to get your eggs tested. Odds are that your backyard eggs are safe to eat but, as the study showed, some of the lead results were well over safe levels.

Here’s what UC Cooperative Extension suggests if you have a lead issue,

Once potentially contaminated areas are identified, it is your job to prevent your chickens from coming in contact with those areas! You may choose to completely remove access to these areas or add clean cover material (soil, mulch, etc.) to reduce contact with or ingestion of contaminated soil. If you choose to use cover material, remember to inspect the cover regularly and add/maintain material as needed.

To further prevent ingestion of contaminated soil, provide chickens’ regular feed in feeders, and avoid scattering feed, including scratch grains and food scraps, on bare ground. Also, avoid feeding chickens unwashed garden scraps from these areas.

Consider providing a calcium supplement, which may help to reduce the amount of lead that gets into chickens’ eggs.

While we got a free test out of the study (thank you UC Davis!), you can have your eggs tested for a fee by contacting the California Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) laboratory (phone: 530-752-8700).

Saturday Tweets: Too Many Tweets!

Make Pizza in Your Oven

In addition to sharing a name, Eric of Garden Fork and I seem to exist in some sort of synchronicity vortex. This past Saturday, after I finished teaching a bread class in which I used the same dough to demonstrate how you can make pizza in your oven with a cast iron skillet, I settled down on the couch to catch up with Eric’s YouTube channel. And guess what he was demonstrating?

I first learned about this technique from Josey Baker. Basically, you start the pizza out on the stove top and finish it under your oven’s broiler. I’ve found that it works almost as well as having an outdoor pizza oven and it’s a whole lot easier.

Garden Update Part II: The Good the Bad and a Lot of Ugly

My last garden update post might have left the mistaken impression that one can just step out the back door of our humble bungalow into some kind of hipster Versailles. To correct this impression, I took a few more photos over the weekend to show the work that still needs to be done.

The good news is that we had a generous amount of rain as you can see from the photo above. It’s a reminder that Los Angeles has a Mediterranean climate and is not a desert, at least not yet. No need for those sparse cactus and gravel landscapes that the house flippers seem to love.

The bad side of the photo above is that, believe it or not, there’s a path somewhere under all that vegetation. A close look will also reveal a whole lot of baby fennel that, unless something called “weeding” is done, will take over the yard by summer. A greater threat is the asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus) on the right, a vile and invasive plant that is proof of the fallen nature of this vale of tears. The plant in the center is from Annie’s annuals and I can’t remember the name of it. Kelly knows what it’s called but she’s visiting family this week. You get bragging rights if you call it out in the comments.

Part of the reason for the lushness of the yard is that we divert the rainwater from the roof to a pipe that runs 20 feet away from the house and into the center of the yard. We get a lot of rain concentrated in February and March and it’s a whole lot easier to store it in the earth than to try to capture it in a tiny barrel.

Said pipe awkwardly crosses a path, however, something our landscape professional Laramee Haynes will address.

The pipe terminates in a slightly sunken area that was the quarry for our adobe oven. This is where the rain garden will go. Right now it’s a nasturtium farm. Nasturtium is what happens in our yard if you don’t do something else. We also have a generous amount of nettles this year, never a bad thing. And the artichoke in the background loves the rain too.

This shot shows the main problem with the yard. Marie Kondo would not be happy with the garden clutter. Does this pile of junk “spark joy?” Nope.

Some Marie Kondoing needs to happen in this area, on top of some weed wacking and the deployment of my electric leaf blower. There I said it, I have a leaf blower. Yes, a leaf blower is the gardening equivalent of vaping but it does make cleaning up faster. Don’t worry, I leave the leaves in place to enrich the soil. The leaf blower just helps me clear the hardscaping. There’s actually a nice brick patio under the weeds and clutter here.

Ugh, more junk.

Here’s the nice new patio the Haynes landscaping folks built. The adobe oven is under a blue tarp. Blue tarps are the architectural equivalent of a comb over. The oven needs a little roof which, to extend the metaphor would be the architectural equivalent of a decent wig, if such a thing exists. And, man, do we need some outdoor furniture. Thankfully I came up with an idea for some outdoor furniture that I’ll discuss down the road once I run it past the boss.

The chicken coop ain’t looking so good. One of the reasons I’m not going to replace our current flock is so that I’ll have a pretext for tearing down this eyesore. No more ugly. I may re-purpose the funny sign that I “borrowed” from a auto junkyard in Houston. It’s a joke, by the way. Some visitors to our yard seem to think that I actually electrified the coop with 7,000 volts.

Thankfully, most of the work that needs to be done in our backyard is a matter of tidying up and defining some paths. I suspect our landscapers will be able to do most of it in a day or two and I’ll be able to post some after photos. But then they’ll need to tackle the disastrous front yard which will be the subject of another exposé.

Saturday Tweets: DIFI, Shoe Updates and Squirrels