New Chicks – the Jury is Still Out

We have been debating on and off about getting chicks this year. There are so many reasons to do and just as many reasons to sit out a year.   We are approaching the end of chick days, so if we don’t buy some soon, then the decision will soon be out of our hands.

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A sign of the times…Chick Days.

One of the reasons we need to consider new birds is predators.   Last year we lost a number of hens to a fox.  We have not lost to predators every year, but it is always a possibility.    We could not take that same kind of predation again this year.   We have already seen a large fox this year. Our hens already are not doing as much free ranging as they would like because of this.   We are keeping them in the run more hours and close to the house when they are free ranging.   It is not a guarantee that they will not meet an unfortunate demise, but it does decrease the odds of them being fox dinner.

Another reason for thinking about adding some youngsters to our flock is some of our hens are past peak laying and if we don’t retire them to freezer camp this year, they will only be good for stock.   I hate to be wasteful.   It seems to me that is almost disrespectful to not fully utilize the bird.   When they get beyond tough it settles wrong with me, it seems that I have been less than a good steward. You want to rotate out your heavy laying hens every 18-24 months if you hope to eat them.

One of the reasons to not get chicks is we would get to put off one of the worst parts of backyard chicken wrangling, butchering.  I would so love to put them in a cage haul them off to be butchered and come back neat little hens in a plastic bag, but it doesn’t work that way.   It one of those things that is a reminder to me of the hard work that goes into putting food on our table.

Another reason to not get chicks is I just plain old don’t like the part of raising baby chicks.   They are sensitive to cold, drafts and require lots of work to get them to the laying age.   Some people love this part, to me it is just one big hassle, I’d rather skip. There is a period where we are running two separate flocks and two separate sets of chores for each of them.

The local ranch supply will be getting birds in only for a couple more weeks, so we will soon be making the road trip to get some chicks or by procrastination the decision will be made for us.  Either way is ok with us this year.

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Signs of Spring

This week there was the hint of spring in the air here in southwestern Montana.  We opened the gate on our chicken run and let the hens have a little free range time.   They were excited and ready to run free.     They are looking for the little bits of green that are starting to show up.

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We still have some snow on the ground but they can work their way around it. We pulled out some straw from the coop and spread it around on the ground which is still quite muddy, to help their human caretakers not track so much around and beat what little grass we have down.

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The hens thought that we were tossing the straw about to make it easier to find tasty morsels. We had to do a double take and recount the hens, because all the feathers from the molting they did this winter looked like a fox had been in the hen house.   Fortunately it was a false alarm.

We are all ready for a little spring weather here.   Everyone is tired of being cooped up.

A Good Winter

spring-eggThis has been an exceptional winter for my laying hens.   This is the first time we have not had to buy a single store bought egg all winter since we have had been in the chicken business.    Now we have gone from one egg every other day or so to a two egg day.  It may be some of the coldest weather of the year, but two eggs in a single day is a sign that we are on our way to spring.

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

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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.