Archive for the ‘Blue Hill Farms Guide to Basic Chickenkeeping’ Category

Spring Egg Olympics 2012

We have been in full swing with the incubators since the Easter chick rush, and we have been selling chicks almost as soon as they hatch these days. We have met some wonderful new chicken keepers and some really nice 4-H families this season, as well as repeat customers.

Here is the lineup that made our “Odd shape egg contest” finals this spring.

Top row is a normal size/shape standard egg.  Below that you can see some of the funny attempts our girls have made so far.  The bowling pin in the first row is my fave.  The big green oval at the bottom was a double yoker!  Yes, as you can see,  some of our hens have a great sense of humor!  Way to go gals!

Summer daze and a few very lucky chicks

The Summer Solstice is the day of the year with the most hours of daylight. In the Northern Hemisphere, it always occurs in June between the 20th and the 21st. The Sun will reach its highest position in the sky on this day north of the Tropic of Cancer (23o26’N). Even though we have been experiencing a certain amount of “June gloom” in our area, my thoughts are starting to turn towards long, warm evenings, mint ice tea brewed by the sun and setting up the hammock for lazy naps.

We spent this last weekend working diligently in the vegetable garden, digging competing weeds, planting out starts, watering all the crops in well and then applying a thick, heavy layer of mulch from the goat barn to keep all the root systems moist and cool. It looks like we will be getting a bumper crop of plums and grapes again this year and the pomegranates, bursting with their bright red flowers, are keeping the hummingbirds very busy these days. Most of the roses are repeating their blooms and the house is filled with their beautiful colors and fragrant essences. The smell of the Scotch broom in the riverbed behind us, blooming in its full bright yellow splendor comes across the back field on the evening breeze, sending our senses reeling. The plums from the trees are so sweet they almost hurt your teeth to eat them and we have even caught the dog raiding the blackberry patch a few times.

Summer daze is upon us!

All the poultry pens are in full production now and both of the incubators are running with full trays of eggs. We are hatching many nice chicks, turkeys, and pheasants and selling dozens of hatching eggs to people who want to try their own hand at it. So far all of the new poultry families that have bought our birds have reported success and here are some photos of some VERY lucky chicks that became members of the Shahin  family a few weeks back – what great digs they ended up with! WOW!!!

Marans and the Giant Egg

I have a small flock of Cuckoo Marans chickens that I have been working with for the past four or five years now. I like this breed of chicken, not only for their gorgeous dark chocolate brown, almost round eggs, but for their calm temperament as well. The flock as a whole is a peaceful, slow moving group, and nothing really seems to bother them as they go about their days. To their credit, the 3 roosters in this pen have never given me a bit of trouble, and do not fight among themselves. Though I will still never fully trust a rooster of any kind (if you’re curious about why, read my book!)

Just as we were about to set the clocks ahead this year for daylight savings time, and there was an increase in the daylight hours, I went into the Marans pen one morning to collect eggs. I found two of the normal dark brown eggs in the box, but then there was something very strange in there with them. It was a huge egg with a very light colored, thin shell, like something a Sussex would lay. When I picked it up I was really surprised at just how large this egg really was. I have been raising chickens for a long time and have seen a lot of large and/or misshapen eggs, but this was about the biggest I had seen on this farm.

A friend of mine has a very sensitive balance that can weigh within a 100th of a gram, so I borrowed it and went about the task of recording this freakishly large egg with a scientific approach. I first weighed the other two found in the nest with it- they weighed in at 59.29 grams and 62.84 grams. The next day, I found another large egg in the Marans pen, it was much more normal looking than the giant egg, but it weighed in at 90.03 grams and had a double yoke when I cracked it open (there’s no picture of that one because it ended up as breakfast.)  The giant egg weighed in at 152.20 grams – over twice the size of a normal large egg! I also measured it to be 3 and 1/2 inches in length and 7 inches around, exactly. Ouch!

Next, I tried to candle the egg. I could not see the normal air sack at the top end of the egg, there just appeared to be a watery liquid in it. I could not see the yoke/yokes, which I thought was odd. To my surprise, when I cracked it open I found a perfectly formed whole other egg inside! The shell of this inner egg was dark brown and just as thick as they normally are.

In all the years of my chicken keeping, I have never seen this before, so of course I immediately started to research it. I found that what causes this oddity is when an egg gets backs up in the oviduct for some reason and then goes through the last few stages of production twice. Rare, but not unheard of. I just had to feel empathy for the poor hen who finally had to lay it!

More About Marans

This breed originated in western France in the town of Marans, and the word itself is both singular and plural – you have one Marans or many Marans. They do well in damp areas, having been developed in a marshy portion of France. Marans are a large, heavy breed that grows and matures slowly, with the roosters reaching up to 9 lbs, and the hens around 7 lbs. I raise the Silver Cuckoo color variety, and my stock has the feathered shanks like the original French birds (for some reason this characteristic has been bred out of the British lines.) The French recognize 9 color varieties:

1. Silver Cuckoo

2. Golden Cuckoo

3. White

4. Black Copper

5. Black

6. Wheaten

7. Black-tailed Fawn

8. Ermine or Columbian

9. Birchen

The Cuckoo variety is very similar in appearance to the Barred Rock, except the barring is not as distinct, giving it less of the striped appearance. The cuckoo pattern has all feathers marked across with black and white bands. This pattern is the result of the action of the sex linked barred (B) gene which is dominant.  When the males are homozygous for the Barred gene (BB), their color is lighter than that of the hemizygous (B-) females because the Barred gene produces the white bars.   In Cuckoo Marans, males are lighter in color than females–it is said to be possible to color sex them even as chicks with pretty good accuracy. If I stand back from the brooder and narrow my eyes a bit, I can pick out some of the young roos right away, but for the most part this is a breed that you really have to wait until they 5-8 weeks old to really sight sex. Even then, I did have a roo a few years who did not get his saddle or tell-tale neck feathers until he was about 4 months old.