Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's All in the Egg

Of course, any person who has been in a grocery store knows that hens lay different sizes of eggs. Some hens lay large eggs, which some lay medium-sized eggs and some lay small eggs. And everyone knows that eggs come in different colors. The standard grocery store eggs are either brown or white. Chicken aficionados know that eggs can also come in olive, chocolate brown, and varying shades of blue, green and pink. You might find it interesting to know that hens also lay eggs of different shapes. We can tell which of our hens has laid which egg when we collect them from the nest boxes. It helps that we only have four laying hens at the moment. Though it won't be hard when the youngest two start laying because they're bantams and will lay tiny white eggs -  not hard to distinguish from the larger brow eggs we're already getting.

You might be wondering how chickens can lay different shaped eggs. Well, it's not like one hen lays oval-shaped eggs and another lays rectangular eggs. Except for that one time, but maybe I'll save that one for another post. An egg is shaped based on the passageway out of the hen. Some eggs are narrow, some are pointy, some are quite round, and some are just odd looking. Seeing is believing, so here are examples of our girls and their delicious, yet differently-shaped eggs.

Meet Bossy. She's a Barred Rock. Some might call her a Plymouth Rock.

She lays large brown eggs. They are always the biggest of our four hens' eggs. Though the others are catching up in size.

Next, meet Pouncey. I call her an Ameraucana, but she is more accurately a mutt. She's an Easter Egger crossbred with something else.

Pouncey's eggs are a little smaller than Bossy's and are severely oval in shape. They're sometimes almost pointy at the top. They're lighter in color too. Lately, they've gotten a bit larger and are getting almost too similar to Bossy's to tell them apart.

Then there's Erickson, named by my son after his best friend. She's a fluffy and fat buff Brahma. Her eggs are fat. They have a roundish shape to them.

Last, but not least, we have Ochocinco. She's an Iowa Blue that's probably got a little something else mixed in there too.

She's was making quite a loud barking noise when this photograph was taken. That's how she rolls. Her eggs are the smallest of the four girls. They are cute and little. Her eggs usually have little raised spots all over them. They're little buildups of calcium. Apparently, this trait is hereditary. 

It's interesting how varied eggs are. What you see in the grocery store is a mass-marketed product of what someone decided was egg "perfection." Wouldn't it be cool to go to the store and be able to buy chocolate brown or pastel blue eggs? Or there could be like a grab bag carton that had a variety of colors, sizes and shapes. I'd buy them. Well, I'd buy them if my own hens weren't laying me a third of a dozen eggs a day nearly for free.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Coop of Personality

Here's my ultimate wisdom from my near year of raising chickens. Wait for it. Wait for it. Every chicken is different. Aren't you amazed? The thing is, I mean it. I'm a planner and a researcher. I majored in English in college and went on to perform a short stint as a high school English teacher. I love writing a good research paper. More than writing the paper, I love researching for a paper. I carry this skill with me in my regular life (as I'm sure you're starting to pick up on if you've read any of my other blog posts). I read a bunch of books and did hours of research online before we got chickens. I read about their development, the different breeds and their characteristics, coop design, predator problems, feeding chickens, and anything else I stumbled upon in my quest for chicken knowledge. I'm still reading and learning about chickens and I'll have gotten chickens a year ago come October. Along with all that I've learned during my research, I've also learned that everything you read is not going to be true for your chickens. Hence my epiphany: every chicken is different.

What I mean by this remarkable piece of knowledge is that just because a chicken is a particular breed or gender, does not mean that he or she will follow the standard protocol you've read. Take the Brahma. They are a dual purpose breed (meaning they are raised both for eggs and meat) who are medium layers (in terms of frequency), are often known to go broody, lay well throughout the winter, have a docile temperament, and bear confinement well. My buff Brahma hen, Erickson, was docile until she went broody and hatched her clutch. Now, months later, she is trying to usurp the top spot in the pecking order, is mean to the hens lower than her in the pecking order, and clamors to get out of the run whenever someone goes out to open the door (to let them out or not). She is an excellent layer, laying a medium-sized brown egg at least 6 days a week. So she follows the standard protocol about half of the time. On the other hand, you may have a breed of hen that most people say are great layers and never go broody and yours lays half the time and has tried to go broody twice in as many months. I've learned that it's nice to read the information and get a baseline for the kinds of breeds in which you're interested, but don't be discouraged when things don't go the way you've planned and know that it doesn't mean your particular girls (or boys) are going to do what the internet says they should be doing.

We, as adult human beings, are wired for disappointment. We get all excited and set our expectations for one thing and have a long way to fall when those expectations aren't met. I say, don't do that with your chickens. But honestly, I think they're so cute and so much fun that they make it pretty hard on you to be too let down. Will you be sad when half of your chicks turn out to be roosters and you can't keep all of them? Yes. Will you hate it when none of your chickens are super duper friendly like you've seen on BYC and you think you've done something wrong because none of them will jump up into your lap? Uh, yeah. Will you be disappointment when your "Easter Egger" lays brown eggs instead of blue or green or pink eggs? Big time - I know about this one first hand. Will you love all of your chickies more than you thought you could love birds that live in your backyard? Sure thing. And that's what happens to just about everyone who starts a backyard flock. Then one day, you'll be a salty old veteran chicken farmer and you'll roll with the punches. I try to keep my sodium levels down, but I'm pretty excited about getting to the salty old stage.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Crazy Chicken Lady

Let this be a warning for people who want to start raising chickens or who are just starting to raise chickens. You're about to embark upon something that is bigger than you are. I say these things because I am in love with the website I check in there nearly every day. Okay, every day. I'm obsessed. My favorite part is the forum where members can post questions and other members can reply. People share pictures and stories of their chickens. Other people ask questions about raising chicks, chicken behaviors, illnesses, breeds, and anything else you could ever imagine that deals with chickens.

One recent thread on the forum made me realize something about myself. I'm a crazy chicken lady.

Someone started a thread with the following phrase, "You know you're addicted to chickens when…" Of course, I clicked on it, read many of the responses, and then added my own. But it got me thinking. I have a serious chicken problem. I'm not to the level of crazy where I have any live chickens in the house (though I might be if I were single or if my husband was not adamantly against having a chicken in the house. He won't let me get one-day old chicks - yet - because they'd have to live in a crate in the house for quite some time). Even so, I'm pretty sure I'm already one chicken over the legal limit for where I live, which is inside city limits; however, that one is getting ready to go off to live with The Chicken Man, and another may be going to my parent's flock, so I don't feel bad about it. I'm already working on my husband about getting a Silkie. I desperately want one. You might say, "Well, LovinChiknFarmin, that's not so bad. Lots of people who raise chickens want more than they're supposed to have and favor particular breeds." My Crazy Chicken Lady-ness is not solely based on these two things. I've compiled a list. You're going to judge me.

The following list is comprised of things I own or do that I believe contribute to my obsession.
- Rooster salt and pepper shakers
- A collage of pictures of my family and our chickens, which was a birthday gift and hangs over my bed
- Chicken and Egg, a combination memoir and cookbook (also a birthday gift). Awesome book. Read it.
- I write this LovinChiknFarmin blog (seriously, you didn't see that one coming?)
- Daily monitoring of (BYC)
- My cell phone background picture is currently of my chickens
- A chicken hat (a hat that when you're wearing it looks like a chicken sitting on your head)
- A Mosaic Rooster that is in my garden
- Plastic rooster lawn ornament outside by the chicken coop
- I keep containers of scraps in my fridge to feed the chickens
- I'm currently contemplating keeping a baggie in my purse so I can bring home any little tidbits my chickens might like…I already take home pizza crusts or any leftover bread from restaurants when getting a to-go box
- Rooster kitchen timer
- Handmade wooden chicken statue on my desk at work (there are two more at home)
- Multiple chicken/rooster statues throughout my house
- Chicken coffee mug
- Chicken serving platter
- Chicken pitcher
- Basket made of chicken wire with a metal chicken on each side
- Eggs cookbook
- Borrow any chicken book I come across from the library
- Occasionally check out to see what kinds of hatching eggs they have for sale or to see pictures/info on different chicken breeds
- Buy Chickens magazine published by Hobby Farms
- Chicken hand towels (multiple!)

Hello. My name is LovinChiknFarmin and I am a Crazy Chicken Lady. It's a disease, really. A chronic disease that you just have to learn to live with. Well, I'm off to BYC to see what all the peeps are up to today...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Crazy Freakin' Chickens

I'm finally back after a bout with strep throat. I'm glad  to be back. Today was the first day I've spent any quality time with the chicks since I got sick over a week ago. I sat with them while they free ranged in the yard and fed them treats. They were jumping around and off the ground to get the treats as I was handing them out. I even got one of the bantams, a little roo, to take food out of my hand! That's a first. The bantams are such spazs that they've not been easy to domesticate.

In terms of the spaz mob, we've had a major change since August. There are two less bantam Japanese-Old English Game roosters in our coop. They now reside in the countryside where I went to high school in Oxford, North Carolina. Their new dad, someone with whom I went to high school, is a big time chicken lover and so are his two little girls. I know those little roo's - Luke and Han - went to a good home. They were in their little temporary pen preening and checking things out when we left them. Back at home, the others don't seem to notice that they're gone. Their absence has to be good for the remainder of the flock because space was getting a little cramped with five bantams growing like weeds out there. Nighttime roosting was getting tight and treats don't go as far with five extra mouths to feed. Next month the final bantam rooster will be moving out to live with The Chicken Man. And then there will be two bantams and our four original big mamas. Here's to hoping the absence of so many tiny roadrunners will allow my girls to calm down again. They've gotten awfully pushy lately.

For some reason the chickens have become especially crazy in recent weeks. When we go out to feed them, they are all over the coop and jumping and trying to get out the door when you open it. I literally have to put my foot on Erickson's chest when I open the door to bring them their morning treats. For one thing, the dogs go out in the yard with me in the morning and we would probably have one less chicken if they got out when the dogs are out. And two, I don't have thirty minutes of leisure time in the morning to let them out to forage in the yard. They do not look kindly upon short stints of freedom. They revolt actually. They've always been fond of their treats, as I wrote about last time, but lately they've become little savages. They now try to tear your hand off when you're dolling out the treats while pounding the hell out of each other to steal each others finds. It's insanity. I'm not sure what has started the crazy savagery except what I mentioned above: treats are thin with five more mouths to feed. Yes, we generally bring out more scraps than we did when there were only four girls, but I'm sure the ratio of treats to chickens has shrunk. I only have so many scraps from a family of three people!

Besides the food savagery, the tiny bantams are balls of nerves that have to be making the big girls anxious. The littles are like roadrunners and doves all rolled into one. They fly around in the coop when they get scared or nervous and if you saw them from afar you'd think we were keeping doves or pigeons out there. Except that they are the fastest little chickens I've ever seen. Image me and my husband wrangling them up and trying to put them in a pet carrier for transport last week. It was crazy. It didn't take very long; I'm pretty good in my chicken catching skills. Our only major problem was that one escaped after he was captured and put in the carrier, so we had to start over and catch another one. I'm sure our neighbors, who happened to be in their backyard while all of this drama was transpiring, got a nice show. We must have looked like lunatics out there. Let's not talk about how my four-year-old son thought one of the roosters was dead because of the way he was hanging (seemingly limply) from my hand when I was holding him upside down by his legs until I could get him in the carrier.  It may be standard chicken handling to most chicken-savvy adults, but not to a four-year-old, albeit it a chicken-savvy one.

So I have a crazed mob for a flock of chickens and we're headed into fall and winter. Bossy, the Barred Rock and once head of the pecking order (I'm trying to figure out if she's still in charge. Erickson has become pretty witchy and is throwing her weight around a lot lately), started molting a bit. She looks a little ragged right now with her head and bum feathers a little sparse. I'm waiting for the rest of her to molt all at once so she looks like she has the mange. That would be just like her to do. Then the eggs will begin to taper off. I'm most sad about that part of the coming months. I love our delicious eggs. That's okay. I'm trying to convince my husband to add a Silkie to our flock, so seven chickens would certainly give us enough eggs to make it through the winter, don't you think?