Egg Facts:

*The shells of eggs come in a variety of colors; different shades of brown, white and even blue and green. The size may vary also, depending on the breed, but rest assured the taste and nutritional value are the same. The only taste difference will be between store bought eggs and free range chicken eggs.

*The yolks are usually a bright orange in free range chicken eggs, with a creamy rich flavor.

*All eggs have a small white lump on the yolk called the blasoderm, which usually can be seen when the egg is cracked into a pan. Folks will sometimes mistake this for a little chick beginning development, but actually this is where fertilization takes place. You can sometimes tell if an egg is infertile or if the blastoderm is irregular and disorganized, and appears entirely opaque. If it is neat and rounded with a small translucent eye in the center, it may be fertilized.

*Fertility in an egg depends on how recently a rooster bred the hen that laid the egg and how vigorous the rooster is.

*Blood spots come from minor hemorrhages that occur along the hens oviduct. The spots are harmless, and it is usually a hereditary trait that can be culled out.

*You can usually tell how fresh an egg is by how much it spreads when you crack it in a pan.

*If in doubt as to how fresh an egg is and if it should be eaten, boil the egg if it floats when you put it in the boiling water don't eat it. If it sinks it is fine.

*The more fresh the egg when boiled the harder it will be to peal.

Chicken Facts

*A bunch of chickens is often called a flock

*Adult female chickens are called Hens, males Rooster, and a female under one year of age is called a pullet. A Capon is a male chicken that had it's sex organs deactivated.

*Chickens venture forth in the daytime but always return to the same place to roost. They like to sleep on with their toes wrapped around something like a tree or a branch, referred to as a perch.

*Chickens come in two sizes: large ( some referred to as heavy breeds) and small bantam or banty chickens.

chicken facts continued

Chicken Facts Cont'd

*The polite word for chicken manure is droppings, but we call them whitecaps. And the polite word for the opening it comes out of is the vent.

*The eggs come out a different tract called the oviduct.

*Chickens do not have teeth or stomachs! When they eat it goes directly into a little pouch at the base of their necks called a crop, which bulges after a meal. Eventually food passes further into the gizzard, where it is ground up for digestion. The grinding agent, usually little pebbles they eat , is called the grit.

*The superstructure on the chickens head is called the comb, and the dangly things under the chin are wattles.

*Fertility in an egg depends on how recently a rooster bred the hen that laid the egg and how vigorous the rooster is.

*When an egg is laid it has a slimy covering called a bloom that has eased the eggs passage through the oviduct. The bloom will dry quickly into a thin, invisible membrane that protects the egg from anything getting inside, keeping it's pours closed. It is best not to rinse an egg off because you will rinse off the bloom, giving the egg a chance to absorb odors from inside the frig.

*A batch of eggs is called a clutch.

*A batch of chicks is referred to as a hens brood. When a hen lays on a clutch of eggs, day and night and gets feisty if you try to move her, she is broody and is trying to hatch the eggs, which may not be all hers, but include eggs from other chickens that laid in the same spot.

*Chickens lay around an egg a day the first year. They lay them latter and latter every day until it gets to late, then they will stop laying for a few days and start the cycle over again. The older the chicken is the less eggs she will lay, and most breeds will stop laying in the winter. Not because it is to cold, but because the days are shorter.

*To encourage our chickens to lay their eggs in the nesting boxes we built for them, we placed golf balls in the nests. They thought they were eggs and laid their eggs next to them. Of course this does not work on all the hens, we still have some stubborn hens that lay their eggs all over the place. It keeps life interesting.

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The Peeps Arrive

We ordered our first batch of chickens (about 40 chicks) from McMurray Hatchery over the internet. They have a large variety of rare breed chickens to chose from. The chicks are really thirsty when they arrive, so the first thing we did is poke their beaks in the water feeder as we lifted them out of the shipping box and placed them in the brooding cage. They soon found their way back to the water, discovered the food dish and were peeping happily.

More about caring for peeps...

The Peeps Arrive Cont'd

We used our large dog crate as a brooder, placing pine shavings on the floor and attaching a small mesh wire around the sides to keep them from slipping out. We also kept it off the ground to discourage predators from getting them, as we kept them in the barn. We hung a 250W red heat lamp above the cage to keep them warm. Be careful not to put the heat lamp to close or you could literally cook the chicks. Put your hand under it for a while and if it feels comfortable to you it is probably fine for the chicks (about 90ºF). We were sure to keep the cage clean with fresh water and chick feed ( a high protein ration specially formulated for peeps).

The peeps will peck each other if they are cramped in too close. A red light bulb seems to help stop them from aggressively pecking each other, the best thing to do is give them plenty of space, food & water.

As our peeps got older we gradually increased the height of the heat lamp so it was not as hot, plus we put it on a timer to be sure they had some quite dark time. At about 8 weeks our chicks out grew the dog crate so we built a temporary pen in the barn so they would have more space. We put up some roosts we made using pine saplings. They stayed in this pen until they were nearly all feathered out, giving us time to build them a proper coop.

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The Rooster

The rooster in the picture at the side is not actually being kicked, although when a rooster spurs you it is about your only defence-it hurts! I stuck my boot in this roosters space, and he got all upset and spurred me. I only did this to get a demonstration shot of how they spur. Believe me it is not a good idea to "egg on" a rooster to fight. They can do damage. They are very sneaky and will wait until you turn around and aren't paying attention and blind side you. I am always aware of where our more feisty roosters are. Usually they don't pay any attention to us, but for reasons unknown to us, occasionally they get rather aggressive.

Spurs are the sharp, horny protrusions on the roosters shank that he uses to defend himself and mating hens with... and also to poke people he doesn't like!

They fly up, flapping their wings and stab their legs and spurs at you. If you see a rooster come at you with his hackles (neck feathers) up, be prepared to defend yourself! A swift kick, or a garbage can lid used as a shield are affective. It can be rather amusing to watch my 6 foot 4 husband and former college football player defending himself against an angry rooster.

Not all of our roosters are mean. The largest bird in the yard, "Adicus" named after the movie To kill a Mockingbird, is rather subdued and quite regal The rooster with the funny hair at the right is "Boo Radley" and he hasn't the foggiest idea he is a rooster. He follows us around making a cooycluck noise and does the love dance, rather like a "skip to the lou", hopping around on what foot. I am afraid he is a very confused rooster, sweet but confused.

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The Coop

Chickens need a place to feel safe from predators. Our coop is inside our yearling male alpaca pasture. Although the chickens do not stay in the pasture, they readily jump the fence and go where ever their hearts desire, but at night while they are roosting in the coop, the fence provides extra protection from opossum, stray dogs and the like.

We also have 24 nesting boxes in the coop, where we encourage them to lay their eggs. I say encourage, because they don't always lay them in the nesting boxes and will lay them in all kinds of little secret spots. Although some are not so secret, as we had a hen who for a while insisted on laying her eggs in the middle of the driveway for some strange reason.

Usually the hens will find a nice quite dark place to lay.

We use hanging feeders to keep them from eating where they leave droppings.

At the back of the coop are about 10 roosting posts, or perches, all at different heights, where the roosters will sleep at night. Some as seen in this picture prefer to sleep on the top of the nesting boxes. They like to roost fairly close to each other. And we have noticed the certain breeds will stick together.

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Chickens are incredibly amusing to watch. They each seem to have different personalities, likes and dislikes. It is big fun to see a hen find a succulent bug then proceed to run around the yard squawking as if to say "look what I found, and you can't have it", reminding me of that Bill Cosby skit "I've got some ice cream..."

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Recipes:

Seafood Fondue ( yummy brunch dish, I sometimes add a little Guyere cheese, I am not a big veveeta cheese fan but it really works well in the recipe)

(make a day ahead) 1/2 lb sliced velveeta cheese
1 1/2lb cooked shrimp
6 slices cubed bread
3 well beaten eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. minced onion
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 can crab meat

Place bread cubes in bottom of buttered casserole dish, add cheese, shrimp & crabmeat. In bowl add milk to eggs & butter then add dry ingredients. Pour over casserole, cover and place in refrigerator over night. Bake at 350&Mac251;F for about 1 hour. ( spinach & mushrooms or chicken & ham may be substituted)

Quick Ride to the Top

White Chocolate Créme Brulee (to die for!)

4 cups of heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces of white chocolate, chopped in small pieces
3/4 cup of egg yolks (about 10 large lightly beaten)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar

preheat oven to 300 F. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and 3/4 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to prevent the sugar from burning. Place chocolate in a bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk gently until all the chocolate melts. Slowly, add the warn cream mixture to the eggs, stirring constantly. Make sure that the liquid is not too hot before you add it or the yolks will cook too quickly. Pour mixture through a fine strainer. Carefully fill 6-once remekins with the mixture to just under the rim. Place the ramekins in a baking pan. Fill the pan halfway with warm water. Bake for about 45 minutes or until just set. The custard should jiggle slightly when shaken. Cool in the refrigerator for two or more hours. Sprinkle with sugar to coat the top, and caramelize the sugar with a hand-held kitchen torch until brown and bubbly.

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