Answering your egg questions

Some  of the questions people always ask us are: Do hens need a rooster to lay eggs? How can you tell if an egg is fertile? Do fertilized eggs taste different? Is there a baby chicken in there?  How do they lay jumbo eggs and different colored eggs? Do brown eggs taste different from white eggs?

Wow, that’s a lot of questions. Let’s see if we can answer some of them today.

Does a hen need a rooster to lay an egg? No, she does not.  If you would like to raise chickens for eggs you absolutely do not need a rooster. They are good protection for the flock however, and necessary only if you want to hatch baby chicks.

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How can you tell if an egg is fertile? From the outside you can’t. If you don’t have a rooster then you will never have fertilized eggs.  One of our groups of hens, about 25 or so, has one rooster. We find a few fertilized and a few not when we collect their eggs.  When you crack open the egg a fertilized egg will have a bullseye as you can see in the picture below.

(photo credit: Les Farms)

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If the egg is fertilized does that mean there is a baby chick in there?  No, it does not. It means the egg could develop into a chick under the right conditions. If the egg is incubated  at 85 degrees or the broody hen sits on it an embryo will begin to develop.  Once incubation has begun you can candle the egg and check for development. This process takes a while, 18-24 hours.  You are not going to have development if you gather your eggs daily and don’t let your broodies (want to be mommies) sit  on them.  If you are unsure how long an egg has been out, such as if you find a few in an odd place instead of the nesting box you can candle the egg and see if anything is going on in there.  I like to err on the side of safety and gather often. My dogs get to eat eggs that still look okay if I have doubts about eating them.

Do eggs of different colors  taste different? Does a fertilized eggs taste different from a non fertilized egg?  No. There is no difference in taste at all.  Chickens lay eggs of various colors according to breed. Color can vary slightly among the same breed.  As far as its nutritional value,  there is no difference there either.  If you want to get the most nutritious egg get the freshest eggs available. The older the eggs are the more protein content is lost. Farm fresh is always best.

Beautiful colors!
Beautiful colors!

How do you get them to lay jumbo eggs?  I don’t. Just like different breeds lay different colors they also lay different sizes.  Our Ameracaunas lay a small to medium blue egg. Our production reds and  Rhode Island Reds lay a large and sometimes XL or jumbo brown egg.  Our bantams lay a pee wee sized cream colored egg! It just depends on the breed.  Our chickens are not given any artificial light to make them lay more or bigger eggs. We let nature do its thing.  Factory farms, where the hens are kept in tiny cages and roosters are unwanted and killed at birth, force the hens to go through a molt and withhold food to increase egg size after the molt. They use artificial light year round to produce more eggs. The hens bodies never get to rest.  This is another blog for another day and not how we operate.

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Hopefully I’ve answered some questions. Feel free to leave any other questions you might have in the comments and I will find an answer for you!

Chicksplosion

Spring has sprung and the chicksplosion has begun. Princess hatched her 5 chicks and since then we have 4 more hatch. We still have 3 hens sitting so more should be hatching in the next two weeks. Where we are going to put them all I just dont know! We expanded the nursery/grow out
area but may need to expand some more. We have been completely fascinated with the mamas raising their babies. I have discovered that the “rules” of chick raising we so carefully followed all these years may not be set in stone. Just the other day one of our mama had a less than 3 week old out and about before 7:00  on a chilly morning. We wouldnt have dared take a less than fully feathered chick out in below 80 degree weather. Mama knows best. We have watched as she clucks and leads them to scratch and forage and fly up and down to high roosts at a week old. We have watched her peck at them to get their attention when she needs to. And we have been treating them like fragile little beings. Again, Mama knows best.
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It’s 2016! Welcome to our little farm.

Few days old

When Farmer Cheese and I started raising chickens 4 years ago this March, I don’t think either of us envisioned nearly 90 of them! The funny thing is we are adding more. We can’t keep up with the demand for eggs and we are so infatuated with our little feathered friends. Since our humble beginnings we have learned a lot. We have suffered losses, watched new life hatch and can truly say this is what we really want to do now. In addition to the chickens this January we will be adding boer goats. We have been busy as little beavers getting the fencing ready. Milk goats are still in our future plans but yard goats are coming first. We are so very excited. We also garden to fill our freezer with fresh veggies. You will also find me in the kitchen canning and making jams and jellies in the spring and summer time. In Dec 2014 we processed a deer for the freezer so we still have plenty of meat for the upcoming year. We made sausage, steaks, roasts, and ground some for hamburger. We feel an accomplishment at having done this ourselves. (We have not been as lucky this year. The clear cutting of land all around us has scared all the animals away)
We are not nearly as self-sufficient as we’d like but we are working on it. Each day that we can spend less time and money in the grocery store is a step in the right direction.  We also plan on getting honey bees in the next year or so. We are working as hard as we can to prepare a homesteading life to enjoy when we retire. Some days it feels like we take a step or two backward for each step forward! Hopefully in a few more years we can both quit “working” and spend our time here on the farm. Thanks for joining us on our journey.

Last night I dreamed of Chickens!

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Enjoying some pumpkin!
Enjoying some pumpkin!
Pretty Meg posing
Pretty Meg posing

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I love this poem! It has become one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it too!

Last night I dreamed of chickens,
there were chickens everywhere,
they were standing on my stomach,
they were nesting in my hair,
they were pecking at my pillow,
they were hopping on my head,
they were ruffling up their feathers
as they raced about my bed.

They were on the chairs and tables,
they were on the chandeliers,
they were roosting in the corners,
they were clucking in my ears,
there were chickens, chickens, chickens
for as far as I could see…..
when I woke today I noticed
there were eggs on top of me.

Jack Prelutsky

Our hatchery chicks arrived- Follow along with us.

We ordered chicks a little earlier this year. We wanted to get a jump on the spring laying. Maybe they had a rough shipment, maybe they got too cold. I just don’t know. Out of 40 we lost 14. The hatchery we used is reputable and is making good on the chicks and they have been very kind. But we’d like to understand what happened so history never repeats itself! One chick arrived suffocated by the others. That was disheartening to begin with but we do hear that happens sometimes.
Upon their arrival home I immediately put them under a heat lamp in their packing box until the brooder temp was set and ready. I made sure that each chick drank some water. After we put them in the brooder which was in the shed at a toasty 95 degrees we put their food in with them. We added the gro gel as recommended. This is the first time we’ve ever used it. That night we lost 2 chicks that were acting weak. By the next morning another was dead and a couple more were weak. Strange. This has never happened before. Is it too cold in in the shed? The brooder is 95 degrees. We made the decision to move them indoors that afternoon, just in case. By the time I arrived home from work 4 more were dead. It was warm enough in the shed in the afternoon. . We began work on getting them in the house amidst a busted water pipe and Sara Lee’s emergency trip to the vet which is a post for another day. (You can read all about Sara Lee on our Facebook page) Farmer Cheese and his brother got them in and settled and our son has been taking care of the chicks for a couple days while we tend to Sara Lee. Final count is 14 down. The rest seem to be thriving happily.
The chicks reached a week old on January 30th. Hopefully they are out of the woods. The replacement shipment ( plus a few extra) arrives next week. I’ll keep you posted.

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The Nursery is ready! aka Necessity is the Mother of Invention!

We don’t normally get little ones in the dead of winter but when a teacher friend hatched eggs for her class, I was absolutely ready to adopt those babies! They were ready to go outside at about 7 weeks, which was January 18th. Luckily here in Georgia it warmed up some that weekend. We also had just re-homed 2 roos so we had their hoop house to work with.
We moved the house to cleaner pastures and added a lower roost for Chico and the little Chickalettas. We know that one of them is a roo so far. Please, Lord only one! We added some wood panels we already had to close up the back. It is still cold and we want this to be a nursery for little ones. We were debating what to do about the front when we realized we have the perfect tarps- all those feed bags! We secured feed bags with staples and cable ties. Now we are thinking for future projects we may even cut and sew those little boogers together and make our own tarp. Some of the bags along the bottom are upside down because we used the whole bag and don’t want rain getting in. After using them that way we decided to fold the edges under. For the door I cut the bags and just used a single layer. It is snug and cozy inside.

Covering the front's open areas with feed sacks.
Covering the front’s open areas with feed sacks.
Added some extra protection to the back which will be north facing.
Added some extra protection to the back which will be north facing.
Front finished
Front finished

At night the temps are still dipping quite low so they will need some supplemental heat for a few weeks. We will be using a heat lamp. It is affixed securely and will be turned off mid morning. I know that there are a lot of mixed feelings about heat lamps, but little ones without a mama need some supplemental heat. The chickies are doing just fine in their new nursery. We will have more ready for the brooder in a little over a week. And then before we know it they will be needing the nursery!

Enjoying the day
Enjoying the day
Heat lamp hung and ready for the night.
Heat lamp hung and ready for the night.
All set!
All set!

Homestead life and full time jobs

I’d like nothing better than to never have to set foot in a grocery store again! Of course there are some things a person has to buy but to become as self-sufficient as possible is our goal. Unfortunately now we both still work full-time jobs. Then upon coming home tending to the gardens and the chickens is another full-time job. It isn’t easy making all this work but it is well worth it. One day we will be able to leave the working world jobs behind and focus on our homestead. Right now we are weekend warriors and work until dark or dark-thirty everyday, but we love our little farm. 🙂 Here is my little poetic thoughts on that subject. I hope you enjoy.

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Gardening in the spring, summer and fall
Canning, freezing, preserving it all
Making pickles, jams and jellies
Growing enough to fill our bellies
Hens and roosters running everywhere
Providing plenty of fresh eggs to share
Milk goats are next in our master plan
Along with bees for honey, making pies and jam
One day we’ll leave the rush of the world behind
And live content here in our homestead life!