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About Our Chickens

My hens have access to a community hen house with nest boxes, roosts, and feed. Some of them prefer to roost outside even in inclement weather. They are all free to roam about and scratch in the dirt and be real chickens. However, this practice cuts down on egg production as it requires more energy than is needed by commercial hens confined to a small cage. I enjoy my chickens and they often accompany me as I work outside.

I’m working to establish small flocks of several heritage breeds. There are many varieties of heritage breeds adapted for different purposes, for example egg production or meat, and adapted to different geographical locations. Modern crosses have their place but I’d like to have a part in preserving the genetics that made modern breeds possible.

I have MINORCAS, beautiful white egg layers with white legs and large red combs. These birds are the largest and heaviest of the Mediterranean fowl. As lovely as they are, the freezing temperatures of winter often damage the rooster’s large comb. These birds were the commonly kept egg producers before Leghorns became popular. Minorcas do well in free range situations and did not adapt well to the cage laying conditions that gave rise to Leghorns.
Photo: “ Minorca” 2007-04

The chickens that lay the dark, mahogany eggs are CUCKOO MARAN. This breed originated in western France in the town of Maran. They look much like Barred Rocks, except their legs and skin is white instead of yellow. In the Cuckoo Maran, males are lighter in color than females–it is said to be possible to color sex them even as chicks with pretty good accuracy.

Another dark egg layer is the WELSUMMER, beautiful brown chickens with yellow skin and legs. This Dutch breed, called the Welsumer in its native land, takes its name from the small village of Welsum in The Netherlands. Developed just after the turn of the twentieth century, it was first shown in 1921. Its main characteristic is the large dark brown egg. Although considered a light, soft feathered, nonsetting breed, the hens frequently do go broody. Welsummers are good foragers on free range.

I’m increasing my flock of DELAWARES, an American breed from, as you may guess, Delaware. It was developed in the 1940s through crossing Barred Plymouth Rocks and New Hampshires. It is a dual-purpose breed and lays brown eggs. The Delaware is a white bird with barring on its tail and hackle. The Delaware is one of the breeds used to produce the modern production sex linked hybrids. My Delawares lay well throughout the winter.

More recently, I have added Kraienkoppes and Ameraucanas. The Kraienkoppe was developed in the border region between Holland and Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. They are active birds and excellent foragers and do well in free range conditions. The walnut comb and wattles are quite small. Although their eggs are medium size, they are plentiful. I particularly like that the hens tend to go broody and I hope to use them as setting hens.

Ameraucanas are sometimes called “Easter Egg Chickens” because they lay eggs in shades of green, blue, and olive, as well as brown. Ameraucanas are similar to Araucana chickens because both have pea combs and lay blue shelled eggs, but they have many differences and are completely different breeds. Ameraucana traits include full tails, muffs, beards, and slate or black legs depending on the variety. I enjoy the variety of colors of the birds and my customers enjoy the egg colors. A dozen eggs in white, cream, brown, and brown speckled, along with the greenish-blue of the Ameraucana eggs is quite beautiful.

About our Eggs

Did you know that you can tell what color egg a chicken lays by observing the color of their ear coverings? White ear coverings indicate white eggs, and colored coverings indicate colored eggs. There is an exception to this; aren’t there always exceptions!

Egg production, under natural conditions is seasonal. My Dad always said that an egg was a whole day’s work for a hen but actually, sometimes it takes longer than a day. A hen requires a certain amount of light for each egg she produces; the light affects the pineal gland. As the days get shorter in the late summer and fall, production drops dramatically. After December 21, the shortest day, day length increases until we have our longest day around June 20. So the greatest egg production is in late February through June. Late spring and early summer is the time when hens go broody and want to start a family, if that trait hasn’t been bred out of them. Commercial chicken producers use artificial lighting to stimulate daily egg production, then after about a year of laying, send the hen to the stew pot. I don’t have electricity in the hen house so my hens rely on natural sunlight. I also keep my hens for two or more years. As they get older they lay larger eggs, but less frequently.

Did you know you should keep your eggs in the carton in the refrigerator? Refrigerators dehydrate exposed food and eggs are no exception. So they will stay fresh longer if stored in the egg carton. However, I know people who prefer to keep their eggs in a container on the kitchen counter. Eggs at room temperature do beat up more easily and work better for use in baking. However, I would not recommend keeping them on the counter for more than 2 weeks. I have kept eggs in the refrigerator for over 2 months without them going bad. They just become less fresh.

As you’ve no doubt heard elsewhere, rising feed costs necessitate raising egg prices. Duck eggs and extra large or jumbo eggs are $3/doz., large eggs are $2.50, and medium eggs are $2. Egg sizes are based on weight. I have an egg weighing scale so I can fairly accurately size the eggs. I will try to give you the size eggs you request, but I cannot always guarantee that.

Photo 2006-08 “Cleaning up After the Sheep”

Egg Information

Following is some information about eggs. Most of it is copied from the American Egg Board website at www.aeb.org. There is more information at the website if you are interested. I have also added a few observations of my own.

SHELL

The shell is the first line of defense against bacterial contamination. Seven to 17 thousand tiny pores are distributed over the shell surface, a greater number at the large end. As the egg ages, these tiny holes permit moisture and carbon dioxide to move out and air to move in to form the air cell. The shell is covered with a protective coating called the cuticle or bloom. This gives the shell a dull look. By blocking the pores, the cuticle helps to preserve freshness and prevent microbial contamination of the contents. (I do wash eggs if they are soiled, as when it has rained and the hens enter the nest with dirty feet. Washing removes the cuticle.)

Shell strength is greatly influenced by the minerals and vitamins in the hen’s diet, particularly calcium, phosphorus, manganese and Vitamin D. Shell thickness is also related to egg size which, in turn, is related to the hen’s age. As the hen ages, egg size increases. The same amount of shell material which covers a smaller egg must be “stretched” to cover a larger one, hence the shell is thinner.

COLOR

Egg shell color may vary, but color has nothing to do with egg quality. Shell color comes from pigments in the outer layer of the shell and may range in various breeds from white to deep brown. The breed of hen determines the color of the shell. Since brown-egg layers are slightly larger birds and require more food, brown eggs are usually more expensive than white. (Joyce’s note: the brown egg color is on the outside of the shell and can actually be scrubbed off when the shell is relatively fresh. Green and blue colors from Americana or “Easter egg chickens” are imbedded in the shell itself and cannot be washed off.)

YOLK

The yolk or yellow portion makes up about 33% of the liquid weight of the egg. It contains all of the fat in the egg and a little less than half of the protein. With the exception of riboflavin and niacin, the yolk contains a higher proportion of the egg’s vitamins than the white. All of the egg’s vitamins A, D and E are in the yolk. Egg yolks are one of the few foods naturally containing vitamin D. The yolk also contains more phosphorus, manganese, iron, iodine, copper, and calcium than the white, and it contains all of the zinc. Yolk color depends on the diet of the hen. If she gets plenty of yellow-orange plant pigments known as xanthophylls, they will be deposited in the yolk. (Joyce’s note: The yolk color of my hens is a rich yellow because they eat a lot of greens. Even in the winter they are out eating grass. But I’ve noticed that a few hens still lay a lighter color egg. I think maybe they don’t get out and forage as well as the rest.)

Sometimes there is a greenish ring around hard-cooked egg yolks. It is the result of sulfur and iron compounds in the egg reacting at the surface of the yolk. It may occur when eggs are overcooked or when there is a high amount of iron in the cooking water. Although the color may be a bit unappealing, the eggs are still wholesome and nutritious and their flavor is unaffected. Greenish yolks can best be avoided by using the proper cooking time and temperature and by rapidly cooling the cooked eggs. (Joyce’s note: I place eggs in already boiling water and simmer gently for 15 minutes for large eggs. Then I pour off the hot water and run cold water into the pan until the eggs are cool enough that I can touch them. Then I crack the shell on each egg and leave them in the cold water for another 5 or 10 minutes. Using this method not only avoids green yolks, but it also makes the eggs easier to peel.)

ALBUMIN

Albumen (egg white) accounts for most of an egg’s liquid weight, about 67%. The albumen consists of 4 alternating layers of thick and thin consistencies. It contains more than half the egg’s total protein, niacin, riboflavin, chlorine, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfur. Cloudiness of the raw white is due to the presence of carbon dioxide which has not had time to escape through the shell and thus indicates a very fresh egg. So the albumen of older eggs is more transparent than that of fresher eggs. Egg whites also tend to thin out as an egg ages because its protein changes in character. That’s why fresh eggs sit up tall and firm in the pan while older ones tend to spread out.

BLOOD SPOTS

Also called meat spots are occasionally found on an egg yolk. Contrary to popular opinion, these tiny spots do not indicate a fertilized egg. Rather, they are caused by the rupture of a blood vessel on the yolk surface during formation of the egg or by a similar accident in the wall of the oviduct. Less than 1% of all eggs produced have blood spots. As an egg ages, the yolk takes up water from the albumen to dilute the blood spot so, in actuality, a blood spot indicates that the egg is fresh. Both chemically and nutritionally, these eggs are fit to eat. The spot can be removed with the tip of a knife, if you wish. (Joyce’s note: Blood spots may be seen with the candling process used commercially to examine eggs, and those eggs are eliminated from sales. I don’t have a candler.)

CHALAZA

Ropey strands of egg white which anchor the yolk in place in the center of the thick white. They are neither imperfections nor beginning embryos. The more prominent the chalazae, the fresher the egg. Chalazae do not interfere with the cooking or beating of the white and need not be removed, although some cooks like to strain them from stirred custard.

FERTILIZED EGGS

The germinal disc is barely noticeable as a slight depression on the surface of the yolk. There is no nutritional difference in fertilized and non fertilized eggs. (I do have roosters and my eggs are fertile. Since I refrigerate the eggs, there is no chance of the embryo developing.)

FRESHNESS

How important is “freshness”? As an egg ages, the white becomes thinner and the yolk becomes flatter. These changes do not have any great effect on the nutritional quality of the egg or its functional cooking properties in recipes. Appearance may be affected, though. When poached or fried, the fresher the egg, the more it will hold its shape rather than spread out in the pan. On the other hand, if you hard cook eggs that are at least a week old, you’ll find them easier to peel after cooking and cooling than fresher eggs. Older egg whites tend to beat up better. And older eggs incorporate into mixes more easily. (Joyce’s note: eggs that are good enough for consumption sink in water; rotten eggs tend to float or at least the large end floats up so the eggs stands on end.)

ORGANIC EGGS

According to the American Egg Board, the nutrient content of eggs is not affected by whether or not the ration is organic. Of course organic should mean there are no undesirable chemicals added to that nutrition. ( My eggs are not certified organic because I purchase some commercial feed. However, as I noted earlier the hens are free to eat as much natural rations as they want. Egg nutrition is a function of the hen’s diet.)

FREE-RANGE EGGS

Due to higher production costs and lower volume per farm, free-range eggs are generally more expensive. According to the American Egg Board, the nutrient content of eggs is not affected by whether hens are raised free-range or in floor or cage operations. (Joyce’s note: I disagree with this statement. The book, Why Grassfed is Best by Jo Robinson, quotes a USDA SARE program that tested pasture raised chickens. Compared to conventionally raised chickens, the birds having access to greens had 21% less total fat, 30% less saturated fat, and 28% fewer calories. The meat had 50% more vitamin A and 1005 more omega-3s. Eggs from pastured poultry had 10% less fat, 40% more vitamin A, 400% more omega-3 fatty acids, and 34% less cholesterol. Omega-3s are essential for brain and heart health and decreasing vulnerability to cancer. My birds are definitely free range.)

SIZE EQUIVALENTS

Although any size egg may be used for frying, scrambling, cooking in the shell or poaching, most recipes for baked dishes such as custards and cakes are based on the use of Large eggs. To substitute another size, use the following measurements. An extra large or jumbo egg equals approximately ¼ cup. A large or medium egg is slightly less than ¼ cup, requiring 5 eggs to equal 1 cup.

TO MAKE 1 CUP

EGG SIZE WHOLE WHITES YOLKS
Jumbo 4 5 11
X-Large 4 6 12
Large 5 7 14
Medium 5 8 16
Small 6 9 18

About Our Bourbon Red Turkeys

The large, “double breasted” commercial turkeys must be artificially inseminated and the eggs incubated. I wanted to raise a breed of turkey that could breed and raise their young naturally. Although there are several heritage breeds available, I have chosen the Bourbon Red. I enjoy their relatively mild temperament as well as their warm color. The hens are very curious and even get in the way sometimes when I’m working. The toms do their strutting to impress anyone who is around, person or beast. I do incubate turkey eggs in order to make sure I get as many as possible. If I collect the eggs to hatch, the hens will lay eggs for a longer period of time. Still, they only lay for a limited time, not like chicken’s extended laying cycle. I always allow each hen to hatch out one clutch on her own. I hope to increase my flock size enough to sell breeding stock as well as turkey for meat.

This popular turkey is believed to have been developed from the Tuscarora Red turkey. The Tuscarora, or Tuscawara, was developed in Pennsylvania by selecting Buffs for darker color. The Tuscarora Reds were taken to Kentucky where their development was continued until the deep reddish-brown color of the Bourbon Red was finalized. At one time, they were called Bourbon Butternuts and/or Kentucky Reds, but the name or the variety did not become popular until around the turn of the century when they were promoted as the turkey from Bourbon County, Kentucky.

Photo: 2005-05 ; 2007-03

About Our Pilgrim Geese

Geese live for many years and I hope to have mine for a long time as I enjoy their antics. Pilgrims have a nicer temperament than some geese I’ve had! I’ve never seen one attack a person, although the females hiss fiercely when they are setting. They behave as a flock, grazing together and sneaking out of their pasture together, but when their creek is dried up and they have to use the wading pool for refreshment, they take turns!
This is the only breed of goose that can be sexed by color: males are all white with blue eyes; females grey with some white on the head and brown eyes. The Pilgrim Goose was developed in Missouri in about 1930 by Oscar Grow, a well-known waterfowl breeder. I’ve read other explanations of their origins, also. Pilgrims are fairly docile, quiet birds and good foragers. They are ideal for a home flock.

The geese begin laying eggs early in the year, sometimes January or February. Their eggs would freeze if I didn’t gather them. They lay for at least a month before they decide to set, so I gather and incubate their eggs so I can have enough babies. When they finally decide to set, I leave them to do so. They may only hatch a few goslings out of a dozen or more eggs. Sometimes they “group” set which is usually disastrous, resulting in broken eggs. Geese do form pairs for life and the gander hangs around while the goose is setting and even helps raise the goslings once they hatch.

Last year we lost our Pilgrim breeding hens to predators. Finding replacements has been difficult but I’ll keep working on it.

Photos: 2006-05 “ Pilgrim Goslings with Muscovy Duckling”
2007-04 “ Pilgrim Flock”




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