Monday 25 July 2016

There are chickens in the hen house! Part 1

  After a 28 year absence, fowl once again roam the grounds of my homestead. Chickens again rule the roost, although not physically, for now they prefer to sleep in the nest boxes or the small doorway to their run. 
  Late last fall I made up my mind that eradicating the local tick and earwig population and enjoying fresh eggs with rich orange yolks (not pale yellow) would be my goal. Now I can't say for sure but since the seven girls began free-range foraging approximately 10 days after they arrived on May 10th, not one tick has found it's way onto my tick-sensitive body and the earwigs aren't as prevalent either. And then there are the 6-7, gorgeous brown eggs ranging from a light tan to a dark brown, that magically make an appearance daily.
The first egg! Nobody claimed it.
  I mention the number of eggs because there are seven ladies and most days only six eggs. So I figured somebody was slacking off until I did some research at the library. I thought I knew all there was to know about chickens. I mean, ever since I can remember, a flock of approximately 15 hens and the odd rooster occupied the old chicken coop, now long gone. So I figured I was an expert. NOT!
Good production.
  Now I do know that hens don't need a rooster to lay eggs. He is basically a spiffed up lord and protector. He settles squabbles, (and the girls do squabble a lot, hence the terms, 'pecking order' and 'hen fight'), and he seeks payment for his services lustfully and often! What I didn't know was when the young pullets (find that term in this book) would start to lay, how often they will lay an egg, the nutrition they need, the extra calcium they may require for shell formation, how to store eggs and how long eggs will keep under different conditions. Did you know that, when the egg exits the hen's vent (look it up) it is covered with an antibacterial secretion called the bloom? The bloom is a natural protectant to keep the egg from deteriorating and unwashed eggs can be stored for several weeks in a cool un-refrigerated environment for several weeks. Washed factory eggs (bloom removed) with the pale yellow yolks have probably been sitting around for a couple of months before they even make it to the store cooler. Fresh huh??
First stroll out of the compound.
  Now, depending on the type of hen, they will start laying at between 20 weeks or up to 6 months old, give or take week. Some are prolific layers, up to 300 plus eggs per year at peak production and some are laying 150 or so. It basically depends on the breed, whether purebred or a hybrid and also the age. Production declines as a hen ages, and size and colour of breed depends on a bird's parentage. Certain breeds will lay white eggs, others shades of brown, from an off white to a dark mocha brown, some speckled and others green or blue, some large , some small. And guess what - a white egg tastes the same as a brown egg or a blue!! You don't eat the shell.
Tick check!!
  When you get past egg differences, looking at hundreds of different breeds and sizes with different colouring and feathering and wattles is a whole new ballgame.
  Now the coop. No wait! I'll save that for part 2. Because deciding on a coop was a whole different stress level!!
 Tim Jackson
Community Engagement Assistant,
Annapolis Valley Regional Library
and Very Small Scale Chicken Farmer

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