Spring Chickens

Seventy-some new boarders arrived at Country Haven yesterday.  When I went to the post office to pick them up, I could hear them before I could see them.  They peep-peeped from inside their cardboard box all the way home, arriving alive and ready for their new adventure.

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Sixteen of them will be laying hens–a mix of Black Australorps and Silver-Laced Wyandottes.  We’ve never had the australorps before, so we’re excited to get acquainted with this brown-egg breed.  The wyandottes are beautiful at maturity, and I look forward to eating their eggs as well as watching them scratch around in the yard.  The rest of the babies will grow at science-fiction speed and be ready for our freezer in eight weeks.  Truly remarkable.  People often ask me how I can eat those cute little baby chickens.  I find this to be an interesting question.  First of all, by the time these cornish-cross meat birds are ready to butcher, they do not even remotely resemble the fluffy yellow chicks that I shuttled home from the post office.  Second of all, every shrink-wrapped package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts began in some commercial mega-brooder somewhere; it’s no secret.  Well, it shouldn’t be a secret, anyway.

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For the first time, my husband constructed a nipple-based watering system, which will greatly reduce the hassle of continually cleaning and refilling traditional waterers.  It will also help the bedding stay dry a little bit longer.  Brand new chicks need to be introduced to their water supply, which is a time-consuming but necessary task.  The kids and I gently held each fuzzy baby up to a water nipple, releasing the water with our fingers until the chick got a taste, then making sure the little one could release the water on its own before setting it down in the brooder area.  I was surprised to find that the meat birds caught on much more quickly than they layers.  Apparently, I’ve held to a stereotype that big equals dumb.  Please forgive me, little chicks.

We have “city folks” come out to our family’s farm from time to time, and they ask a lot of questions about chickens.  Sometimes, they discover that they’ve been duped when it comes to chicken knowledge, and they are often astounded by what they learn.  The kids and I love busting agricultural myths, mostly because we have had so many of our own myths busted since we began our little hobby farm ten years ago.  It feels good to learn new things and to pass along that info to other folks.

Just in case you don’t make it out to our farm, here are the answers to some of the most common chicken questions we receive:

  1. The color of a chicken’s eggs is not determined by the color of a hen’s feathers.  Most often, the egg’s color is determined by the color of a chicken’s ear lobes, though that is not always the case.  (Who’d a thunk, right?)  Egg color also does not affect the quality or taste of the eggs.
  2. The two biggest factors in an egg’s taste are what the chicken has been eating and the freshness of the egg.  Our eggs are richer and more flavorful in the spring and summer, due to the fresh forage material (bugs, plants, seeds) that the hen eats.
  3. Hens can, indeed, lay eggs without the aid of a rooster.
  4. An egg can only grow a chick if it has been fertilized by a rooster.  So…no rooster, no chicks.
  5. A rooster fertilizes the egg before it has been laid.
  6. If eggs are gathered daily, fertilized eggs can be eaten without any gross-out factor.  If you let the eggs sit a couple of days before gathering them to eat, you will see a bloody-looking spot in the egg yolk that is off-putting for most people.  It will not hurt you to eat the egg at this point, but most Americans do not even want to try.
  7. Most of the hens we have will lay 6 eggs each week.
  8. Chickens are wonderful garbage disposals, and will eat almost any kitchen scraps we give them.
  9. Farm-raised eggs laid by hens who forage for at least part of their diet have way less cholesterol than store-bought eggs.
  10. Butchering our own chickens, which we do from time to time, does not make us insensitive bloodthirsty monsters.  It makes us involved in our own food production.  Every chicken nugget had to be butchered by someone (well, kind of).
  11. Chickens do not have nuggets or fingers.  Honest.
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