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What’s this in our fridge? Oh, it’s a clean slate. December 29, 2007

Posted by Joe in Farm.
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Over the past three years, we’ve learned a lot about chickens. Laura has done a ton of reading on the topic and really enjoys the nuances and characteristics of the different breeds. And the distinct personalities that some individuals seem to have. She’s introduced you to many of the birds in the series of postings that she’s entitled “Meet the flock”.

We currently have approximately 70 chickens running around Blessed Acres Farm. Getting an exact count is rather difficult since they are free range and prefer not to be still or line up for any sort of roll call. About the only time they will assemble for us is during the morning or afternoon feeding. Then they come running; well actually stampeding is a better term. To the uninitiated, it’s actually a bit unnerving. None of our chickens are aggressive towards people or kids. Still when you see 140 or so chicken legs propelling their 5-pound feathered frames at you as fast as they can from all directions, it can be intimidating.

The number of chickens we have will vary due to the natural attrition caused by local predators. Dogs, raccoons, and opossums periodically dine in or around our chicken house. However the number one predator is hawks. They swoop down, grab an unsuspecting chicken, and fly off to dine high-on-the-fowl.

One of the things that we’ve learned is that during the winter months, egg production for chickens goes down considerably. At first I thought that this was in direct proportion to the air temperature, that more of their energy went into keeping warm, leaving less for their reproductive cycle. But no. Laura has learned that it’s actually the amount of day light hours that is the true cause of the diminishing return on our investment.

Last year we did a very unscientific experiment. We added an incandescent light in the chicken house and turned it on for 3-4 hours each evening when the chickens came back to roost. It seemed to make a difference; egg production did decline some, however we still received more eggs per chicken per week than during the prior winter. It was unscientific because we didn’t have a control set, we didn’t record the exact number of eggs per chicken per week during the prior year, etc. And I’m not really sure how to have a placebo light installed anyway. Nonetheless, we think it did make somewhat of a difference. Was it worth the added cost of the electricity required to illuminate their abode for several hours at dusk? I don’t know.

This year, our egg production dropped off considerably. Starting in July! We assumed it was due to the really high summer temperatures combined with the record drought in our part of creation this year. We were averaging 6 to 8 eggs per day – this from the 90 or so chickens we had at the time! Chickens should lay one egg every 36 hours. We cut them some slack because you could actually seem them panting from the heat.

As fall rolled around and the mercury fell, our egg production didn’t improve. In fact it got worse. That’s when we discovered that the chickens had developed the really bad habit of eating their own eggs. Lucy and Daisy, our two dogs, were also sneaking into the chicken house and absconding with eggs during the day. We tried several times to identify which of the fowl had developed this foul habit. We tried isolating them, collecting eggs several times throughout the day, etc. But to no avail.

Reluctantly, we had to tell friends and patrons that we didn’t have any surplus eggs. 

Just before Thanksgiving, I opened the fridge to retrieve something and noticed a covered bowl full of bright white eggs. “Aha! We’re actually starting to get some eggs”, I thought. But white?? I didn’t think we had but a few chickens that laid white eggs? That’s when I noticed the small “NH” stamped on the chalky-white side of the eggshell. NH? “What’s this in our fridge?” I wondered.

That’s when Laura admitted that she’d resorted to buying eggs for our own use. We have almost four-score of the little free-loaders running around outside, and we have to buy eggs from the grocery store. Arrgh!

So, we’re going to start over next spring. We’ll buy some eggs or chicks and raise them to produce our farm-fresh eggs. Sure we’ll keep some of existing chickens that we’ve grown rather fond of, but most of them will eventually participate in our agrarian life-style in another way. I do love chicken and dumplings.

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Comments»

1. Mama Knucker Hatch - December 30, 2007

I wish you could see how hard I’m laughing right now. We have 9 hens, and I can’t keep up with the eggs. Brought in 8 today. We have the opposite problem…eggs are in bowls because we don’t have enough egg cartons to hold them all.

I do agree, that there are few things sillier than seeing a herd of chickens running towards you for slop. I can only imagine 70.

2. Amy - December 31, 2007

Mmm-mmm, fried chicken sounds delicious! 🙂 Still, I can imagine that having to buy eggs is discouraging. Hang in there!

3. Anna - January 2, 2008

Wow, not 1 out of seventy chickens that can get th egg laying thing right!
That must have been frustrating! ….then again, are all seventy hens? Anyway, I agree with Mama Knuker Hatch, last time I visited Romania my grandma had about 20 chickens and a bowl full of eggs that won’t fit anywhere else. I guess it’s cause the chickens can go in the cellar and barn all the time to stay away from the heat, but most don’t last through the winter though…fried chicken is good.

4. Joe - January 3, 2008

This is certainly a drastic change from prior years. We used to get 18 to 24 eggs per day, every day. So going from that to none was a pretty significant change for us.

We’re still learning about farm life. But one thing that we have learned is that everything on a farm can be productive in one way or another. So these chickens will be productive by helping us to meet our meat needs. We’ll just get some new recruits to help out with the eggs.

5. Theresa Baker - January 6, 2008

I can certainly sympathize with the egg-buying frustration. I saw a book at the bookstore the other day called, “The $68 egg” or something like that. That’s me totally. I need to find it and see if it’s anything like what I think it is! Hilarious. Well, you are not alone!

6. Sheryl - January 14, 2008

Amazing that production fell off so sharply and stayed there. If all the chickens are roughly the same age, maybe that has something to do with it. But I’m sure Laura has considered that. And yes, I think it is absolutely hilarious to watch them suddenly assemble and walk in unison in the same direction like a tiny little fluffy marching band at half time. If they learn to carry little flags I will wet myself.


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