Lead in chicken eggs has been a hot topic in the news lately, apparently becoming the newest topic over which mass hysteria must be created. Despite the annoyance of having one more reason for people to object to backyard chickening, there is some validity to the lead-in-eggs argument. Whether or not that validity is enough to affect your methods and means and result in change is up to each individual, but if you have or fear a lead problem, there are options for making it less of one.
In urban areas, lead is present in the soil. This could be from a variety of sources. A very common one is the lead-based paint that was once widely used. Paint chipped and stripped off of old homes and businesses can allow for inevitable particles to make their way into the soil. Another source is automobiles; though lead was long ago removed from gasoline, lead from automotive exhaust made its way into city soil and in some places is still present. Being that backyard chickens spend much of their time in that soil, it is only reasonable to expect that they will suffer from some level of exposure.
Lead is also present in the air, especially in industrial areas where things such as waste incinerators are present. Deteriorating paint does not only allow lead to get into the soil, but also into the air. Other sources of airborne lead are fuel combustion and shooting ranges where lead bullets are used. In breathing air, both humans chickens are exposed to lead, in some places more than others depending on the environment around you.
Even water contains lead. Water sources such as lakes do not naturally contain lead; it finds its way there due to contamination. Lead is present in home drinking water when plumbing breaks down, such as through corrosion that exposes lead components. An example of this is solder containing lead that is used to join pipes. Modern plumbing faces lead restrictions put in place by law with the Safe Drinking Water Act but older construction that has not been updated could be allowing lead to leach into the drinking water of you and your chickens.
It is discouraging to think you are raising chickens to help keep your family healthy just to turn right around and be plagued by lead concerns. Raising chickens on certified organic soil is best, but not practical for many of us as it takes three years from the last date of harvest for soil to meet organic requirements. However, there is hope and perhaps all this freaking out can be mitigated after all. A recent study shows that while yard eggs in cities do have more lead than rural eggs, the transfer of lead from soil to eggs is lower than past studies show. Thus, all this worry might have been thanks to getting ahead of ourselves and giving merit to older data gathered under different circumstances.
If you are concerned about lead in your eggs, there are means you can take to limit exposure of your chickens to lead. The same study referenced above concluded that calcium supplements have the ability to reduce lead presence in eggs, so giving your chickens calcium is wise. Also, lay down bedding to act as a buffer between your chickens and soil that could contain lead. Finally, feeding your chickens out of feeders rather than scattering feed on the ground will inhibit accidental soil consumption.
While the mainstream media may be encouraging a lead-based freak out, do not let it get to you. There are a lot of opinions floating around as to what should be done to temper chicken lead exposure, but the most important opinion in your life should be your own. Educate yourself through reliable outlets and decide what is best for you. If you are raising your chickens in an urban area, simply make some adjustments and you should experience a decrease in lead. Remember that lead is everywhere, even in candy. You may not be able to eradicate it but you can work around it for the betterment of both your health and that of your chickens.