Posts Tagged ‘Eggs’

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!

The tradition of the Easter bunny

From the beginning of time spring has symbolized new life and rebirth. Eggs were an ancient symbol of fertility, as were rabbits and hares for having so many offspring in this season. The idea of an egg-laying bunny came to the United States somewhere around the 1500’s with the German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area. Their children were told the legend of “Osterhase”, an egg-laying hare who brought gifts of colored eggs to good children if the child made a “nest” of their caps or bonnets the night before. The first story was published in 1680 about a rabbit laying eggs and hiding them in a garden. The tradition of making “nests” for the rabbit soon followed. Eventually the nests made from caps and bonnets turned into baskets, and the eggs were replaced with candy and small treats.
So in the spirit of tradition, we brought the farm bunny, MacGyver, to St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Ojai to play the part of “Osterhase” on Easter Sunday. He turned out to be a real trooper and the children and parents alike all loved him being part of the day. Even Father Jeff took a break from his busy day to enjoy a moment with the Easter bunny.

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Daylight Savings Time and Ready for Spring

I have always liked the concept of daylight savings time, but when it actually comes around it always messes me up for a few days. First, I always have to remember the “spring forward, fall back” thing, to be able to remember which way to turn the clock. Then I have to fight with the VCR, microwave, clock in my dashboard and my cell phone- I am really bad with all things tech, so this is a problem for me every year. It always takes a few days for my body to adjust to the “extra” or “missing” hour-but I never did understand why they say we gain or lose an hour, when there are still 24 hours in a day. We did not “gain” an hour in our lives-if that really happened we could just give ourselves more hours in time and at some point I think it would cause some time warp in the universe. I guess it is just something that the government cooked up so we would not have to drive to work in the dark in the winter months when the days are shorter. Anyway, to me it just feels like jet lag, but without getting to go on vacation. I do like getting home and being able to get a couple of things done in the goat yard before it gets dark though.

I am ready for spring. We have had over 2 1/2 months of freezing temps every night and no rain (and remember, we get to complain because this is Southern California.) Everything has been brown and crunchy for a long time. I am starting to see little signs that spring is trying to peek out in a few places, hoping that the freeze is over. The last frost date for our area is April 9th – so we may still get hit with some low temps again, but it has been 38 degrees and above for the last 4 mornings in a row. So this gives me hope that the worst is already over. The plum tree has put out a timid row of blossoms and the mulberry tree has broken bud. I planted out some artichokes that we started in the greenhouse a few months back, and put down very heavy layers of mulch to protect them. I also put some rose clones into the ground that had been hardening off outside near the house, and have moved more from the greenhouse to the front garden to get them used to the outside temps. I have tomato starts that I am chomping at the bit to plant out but I know full well I will have to drag out the Wall-O-Waters and keep a close eye on them if I do.

I have been eying the boxes of seed packets on the kitchen shelves that I have earmarked for this planting season but I don’t want to jump the gun. I will not let myself be seduced by their glossy photos and promises of days to harvest. I know the ground is still too inhospitable to plant warm weather veggies, no matter how tempting it becomes. It will only end in heartbreak otherwise.

We are on the dark side of the moon cycle this week, so I will spend this week battling weeds, pruning the last of the frostbitten canes and branches and putting up bean poles and trellises.

The incubator is now full of eggs that are set to hatch the week before Easter and the fertility is up in all of the breeding pens now. I got the first turkey egg of the season yesterday so I am sure the other game birds will follow along soon. I have been keeping an eye on the nursery pen, and have my birthing kit cleaned up and organized, and a stack of clean towels at the ready.

Spring is always a crazy time on the farm, but I am ready!

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.

Hatching, continued

My good friend Katie came over this morning with her first goose egg of the season (she has Embden geese) for me to put in the incubator for her. She loves her geese. She is also the duck keeper among us. She sells a lot of duck eggs to people who bake and to people who have allergies to chicken eggs. Katie loves her ducks. Katie loves all ducks. Me, I like baby ducks for about the first 4 days when they are cute, then I hate them. I keep a small flock of Tufted Roman geese and a pair of Mandarin ducks, and that is it for me and waterfowl! Every year one of my teachers will get ahold of some duck eggs from somewhere, and hatch out a bunch and then bring them to the farm, and I will moan and roll my eyes and take them in, and then foist them off to new homes as soon as I can!

I was greeted once again this morning by a peeping incubator with a lovely tray of little warm fluffy balls of new life. I don’t think I will ever get tired of this. Yes, of course there was one who bailed out the back of the tray and I had to retrieve it with the paint stir stick (see yesterday’s rant), but the chick had the top part of the shell stuck on it’s little bottom like a little brown turtle, so it was too cute for me to be mad at.

I will never in my life cease to be fascinated by a chicken egg. Each one is like its own self-contained little space ship. They can be laid on almost surface, left out on a chilly night, kept on the counter for over a week, packed and shipped through the postal service to just about any destination. Then taken and placed in just about any kind of unit that will hold a temperature of around 100 degrees and about 30% humidity, rocked back and fourth, and in exactly 21 days, produce a fluffy little bird that is up and ready to go in about an hour! Think about it- what other organic product can you find that is porous – it can allow air in, yet so sterile that it can be placed in 100 degrees for the better part of a month and not go bad. It still blows me away every time!

I have had much success over the years hatching out quail (they take 18 days to hatch), turkey, pheasant, duck, geese and even 1 peacock egg (they all take 28 days to hatch). But the crowning achievement was a pair of Emu eggs that were hatched two years ago. They took 55 days at a temperature of 97 degrees and 20% humidity. We were surprised ourselves when we first saw them!

Emu babies

For years I use to run what I called a “natural hatchery” that consisted of 8 to 10 broody hens that would set absolutely anything you shoved under them. It was not uncommon to see one of these hens with up to 5 different species of young, in all shapes and sizes, at their heels at the same time. I think the best memory I have is of a guinea hen, who was almost prehistoric looking, proudly protecting her nest box with the cutest little gray-green gosling peeping out from under her. Two very different types of birds, one common goal – hatching!

I had this wonderful system in place with these broody hens for years, and ran at a very high hatch rate, and derived much joy from it, until one horrible fire season a few years ago, when the Malibu fires drove a huge number of predators into our area, who then discovered our beautiful little freerange farm. We were wiped out in two nights. We were heartbroken. All of the broody hens that escaped are now in safe pens for their own sakes, and my idyllic set up is no more. I hatch all my eggs in the Sportsman incubator now, but it’s just not the same. I get good results, but still miss the joy of seeing those dedicated broody hens with their motley clutches in tow.

Incubators, hatching and such

There’s not much else I enjoy more than the sound of a peeping incubator first thing in the morning! I have a clear acrylic door on mine so I can see all the little fuzzy heads bobbing up and down in the hatching tray on the bottom. I love to flip the switch and wait with anticipation as the setting trays right themselves, then I open up the latches and pull the hatching tray out. It always feels like opening presents at Christmas to see what you got! I am in the habit of counting the empty egg shells in the tray first, and then looking to see if there is a coinciding number of chicks in the tray. If not, drat! That means I must pull the whole tray completely out of the incubator because someone has jumped ship out the back, and is on the floor in the dark nether regions of the unit.

The model I have is a GQF Sportsman 1200A, with upgrades of the clear acrylic door and metal mesh hatching tray. It is a good unit and has served me well over the years, despite the fact that I am SURE that they manufacture these things knowing full well that the cabinets are just shy of anyone’s arm length when a chick jumps out of the tray in the back! I have visions of the production team sitting around a conference table at their annual meeting, giggling to themselves and slapping each other on the back about this. Come on GQF! We like your products! We pay a lot of money for your products! Don’t you field test these things? Can’t ANYONE there figure out a way to just make the thing four inches WIDER and not so deep? Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if you changed it? Haven’t any of YOU ever had to crawl around on the floor and try to reach all the way to the back to retrieve a stray chick? Farmer’s tangent- sorry.

Ok, so if there IS a chick stuck in the back, (and there is more often then not) I pull the whole tray out, get a flashlight, and use one of those wooden paint stir sticks that I get free at Lowe’s to scoot the little bird forward far enough so that I can reach it. Otherwise, I am joyful to see my eggs come to fruition after the 21 day wait. No matter how many times I experience it, it never ceases to amaze me.

We have a group of teachers who like to hatch eggs in their classrooms every year. Most of them have those Styrofoam incubators with automatic turners and they work fairly well. I have a “Hatch and return” program set up were I give them fertile eggs and they give me back whatever hatches. They can keep the chicks in the classrooms for a few weeks if they would like the class to watch them develop for a while. The kids all seem to love this!

Chicks! Chicks! Chicks!

Organic Poultry and Eggs

Sexed pullets available just in time for Easter – Gold, Red and Black Stars. Will be excellent layers of large brown eggs. Can begin laying as early as 18-22 weeks old.

We also have heirloom breeds – Morans, Speckled Sussex and more – inquire for pricing and availability. Please contact us if you need laying hens or have other poultry or gamebird needs.

Farm fresh chicken eggs available and duck eggs (seasonally.)