Precious Eggs

chick-webAs fall progresses here in southwest Montana our  egg production has reached new lows.   Our flock is the smallest each year at this time.   Chickens ability to lay eggs is directly related to the number of hours of light, aka length of days.       This can often be compounded by a fall molt.

Egg farmers today often light their chicken barns to ensure that they lay regardless of what is happening in nature.  I raise my chickens more naturally and work with what light nature sends my way.  I allow the natural rhythm of the seasons of life to cause my chickens to slow down and even take a break from laying eggs.

Molting is that time when chickens decided that their feathers must be replaced.  For my birds  it  is usually happens during the fall and winter months.   It seems to be one of those things that is counter intuitive to mother nature.    Why would birds naturally lose all their feathers when it is getting colder out??  Who knows but molts traditionally occur in fall and winter.

With a small flock then compound in the shortening days and the loss of feathers eggs become a precious commodity.

Chicken Breed – Profile Norwegian Jaerhon

Norwegian Jaerhon Old Enough to Lay Eggs

Norwegian Jaerhon Old Enough to Lay Eggs

There has been a lot of interest in the Norwegian Jaerhon.   Well she is now started to lay eggs and it seemed like a good time for an update.

She has started laying little white eggs, at 20 weeks old.  This is not spectacularly early, nor a late bloomer.   This breed is said to lay large white eggs and it has only been a week so she still has time for her body to adjust and the larger eggs to appear.

I wish the photo could capture the contrast of gold and gray, but I have not jet managed to do so.   I am still fascinated by the color combinations and consider her to be a beauty only second to the Partridge Chantecler.   She is as small as the breed is described on most web resources for this breed.   I doubt that there will be much when it comes time to butcher her, but then that wasn’t her primary purpose.

She has a small single comb and unusually small waddles.   If this continues to hold true she should weather the Montana winter well.  I always worry when I choose to try a single comb.

Her personality is one of  don’t get too close.   Keep in mind I have a small backyard flock treated well and touched or picked up occasionally.  A few get names based on something they do but for the most part they are referred to by their breed.  I don’t think she is destined to be called more than the Norwegian. No names makes going the full circle of life for me easier.   Still this in all my years is the least humanly acclimated bird I have had.  It isn’t to say if you wanted to raise one as a pet or for a 4H project it could not be done, I just think the flight gene is still very much alive in this breed.

Would I do this breed again??  Possibly, we will see how her egg size and production develops in the upcoming weeks.

To Wash Eggs or Not to Wash Eggs

sdrum_kitschykitchen_eggBASKET

I recently found this article  and saved it for later to write about.  Today seems to be the right time to do so.

Why American Eggs Would Be Illegal in British Supermarkets and Vise Versa , from Forbes online.

It is definitely worth taking time to read even if you an experienced chicken wrangler, a foodie or just interested in food safety. Our food system is so hard to understand sometimes.   Why are there some things that are banned in other country’s food chain and not in ours?  This makes it even more confusing because what you hear might be true in Canada, but not south of the border in the good old US of A.  This article really sheds lots of light on the egg industry and what works; two completely different protocols.

In this country we often think of eggs as a vector for food borne illness.   I hear people say they are worried about farmer’s market eggs sitting there without refrigeration.   I have had social acquaintances comment that they would rather eat grocery store eggs than mine.   (Because????  Factory farms are cleaner than my little coop with my backyard chickens.)

Some of the highlights on this side of the pond and that are as follows:

  • In the UK they vaccinate all their chickens for salmonella and it is practically non-existent; in the US we generally don’t.
  • In the UK it is illegal to wash eggs, and in the US it is required.
  • In Europe eggs are store at the grocery on  a shelf near baking supplies, and the US in a refrigerated case.

I hope you will take a few minutes and read the full article it is well written and it is enlightening about the pros and cons to each.   There is no one right answer that is for sure.

I use a combination of both with my flock.   My coop and facilities are clean and my hens lay clean eggs.   I elect not to wash them and leave the natural antibacterial coating on the egg.   I store my eggs in the refrigerator, unless I plan to make hard boiled eggs.   In which case I will leave the eggs my hens laid  in a bowl on the counter for 3 or 4 days and they are still not as stale (easy to peal) as grocery store eggs.  I would never do that for eggs that I was unsure how they were handled.

It is like all foods and food borne illness know the risks and be smart in the handling and preparation of your food

 

Broody Hens – Three at one Time

Broody hen vs. a hen who wants to lay eggs.

Broody hen vs. a hen who wants to lay eggs.

I am so frustrated right now I have three broody hens.   What this means is I have 3 hens who think they should be hatching out eggs rather than laying them.    They want to spend almost every hour of the day sitting in the nest box, trying to hatch out eggs that exist only in their mind.   Preventing the chickens who want to lay eggs from getting in the nest box to produce.

The easy way to solve this problem is to put them in a dog crate on sawhorses for 3-5 days to break the spell.   Right now we have some exterior forces pulling at our household so the dog crate solution is NOT going to come to fruition anytime soon.  (The one extra dog crate we have for this purpose is stored up in some hinder regions of the garage attic, that only the males of this household can get to).    In the meantime every day, I pull the broody girls  out of the nest boxes each morning and put them in a covered puppy exercise pen so the girls who want to lay eggs for our family can get to the boxes.  It won’t break the spell like a elevated dog crate would, but if I don’t do this they refuse to give up the nest boxes, causing all sorts of problems.   Problems are not good.

We had planned to butcher our extra roosters this weekend, which is now up in the air due the possibility that Mr. Ranger Sir won’t be here to help.  Lucky for the broody b&%$(‘s because at this minute I would gladly send them with the boys to freezer camp.  Like roosters they are not laying any eggs and good enough reason for me to call it enough.

Cooking with Eggs – Quiche

9eggsIf you have laying hens you learn to cook many ways with eggs.   You accumulate a large collection of good ways to cook eggs.   Quiche is one the house favorites here.   It is something I often serve to guests, who seem to enjoy it.   This is the recipe I use.

1 cup shredded cheese.   (Swiss, sharp cheddar, gouda, use something good)

4 slices of bacon, or diced ham   (you want enough to sprinkle across the bottom of your tart or pie pan without making it solid covering)

1/4 c. sweet onion saute until clear in good olive oil.

3 eggs, beaten

1 c. half and half or whole milk , or mixture of them.

1 T Dijon Mustard (now I have told you my secret)

1 unbaked pie shell in a 9 pie or tart pan

Preheat oven to 375.  Toss together in a bowl the cheese, meat and onion, then spread the mixture across the bottom of your pastry.   Combine the eggs, milk and Dijon mustard, wisk until well mixed.   Pour over the cheese mixture.   Bake 25-30 minutes.   You can tell it is done when a knife inserted comes out clean.   Enjoy!

Free Range Chickens

Look closely my chickens are out in the pasture.

Look closely my chickens are out in the pasture.

Recently  I wrote about not being happy with a white chicken.   If I kept my chickens confined then this would not be an issue.   Lucky for my chickens I let them free range.   Free range is a natural method of raising chickens.   It allows them time to range out in nature, eating bugs, slugs, seeds, grasses as they naturally would.     Free range chickens produce eggs that with yellower yolks, have a creamier taste, and are naturally higher in Omega-3!   Unfortunately running around free range also has some serious risks.   Predators love chickens.   Predators can be what you all think of,  foxes and coyotes.  There can be some not so common predators from the air hawks or an occasional eagle.   It can also be the neighbor’s dog.  When a pet kills or maims your livestock this can create some serious conflict.   Everyone in this picture has some responsibility.   As a chicken keeper I have an obligation to reduce the risk of running in to predators, by picking chickens who blend in with my landscape.   I also reduce the likelihood they will meet a predator by keeping them in the chicken run until the sun is up and confining them as the sun starts to set.   I have lost one to a hawk.   I have added some more cover for them after that loss.     I have had  to called the neighbor two pastures over when her dogs decided to do a long-distance adventure and came pouncing into my chicken run.  Occasionally I have found the chickens  further from home than I would like.   When that happens I haze them and then reward then with food treats when they come home.     Those birds are my responsibilities.   It isn’t a perfect science. but it works well enough for me.

Now you know why a white chicken wasn’t my first choice.  One look at my photo of my pasture this spring with my existing flock tells you she would have a bull’s eye on her.  I suspect I will have to make some adjustments to how I manage my flock for her safety when she grows up.

Its a Boy

Gold Laced Wyandotte, male at 4 weeks.

Gold Laced Wyandotte, male at 4 weeks.

I buy sexxed chicks.   This means I buy chicks that someone has decided their gender on the same day they are born, before shipping them to me.   Sexxing chicks is done by one of three methods.

  • Some chicks are color sex linked.   This means that when they are born they have a color trait that is specific to one gender or another.    Easy as pie
  • Some chicks are feather sexxed.   This means someone looks at their emerging wing feathers and a pro can tell by what they see if they are male or not.   Not so easy
  • Lastly it is just like you think.   A pro takes a look at the little parts.  Pretty amazing they can sex chicks at all. Beyond hard and gross.

As you can imagine sexxing is an inexact science.    Though my hatchery has done  a pretty darn good job over the years.  This year I have one who slipped by and tricked the sexxers.  My gold laced wyandotte is a boy!

Some baby chicks will not reveal their sex for a many weeks, but most of them start to shows some sign of gender between four and six weeks.    This boy is already showing deep red in his comb and his waddles (that part that hangs below the beak) is already starting to develop.)   I must admit I am disappointed this breed has always been sold out, or when I have bought it the local farm  supply it has not survived.   I finally get one and it lives and it is MALE!

Male Gold Laced Wyandottes can be very handsome roosters.   I am hoping he might be a rooster with a good disposition and he can stay around for the summer.   A good rooster will keep watch on the flock while they are out free ranging.   I will keep you posted on this developing matter.