FLOAT THOSE EGGS
There is a simple way to know if your eggs are fresh—or NOT. Simple cover them with water and see which ones float. You do not want to eat or keep the “floaters”. They will not be good. The good eggs are the ones that sank. The reason old eggs float is that the egg shell is porous. Water vapor escapes and air replaces it, especially as the hen keeps the egg at hatching temperatures.
Sometimes, one of our hens moves out of the chicken house and takes up residence in the barn. She makes a nice nest for herself and proceeds to lays eggs. When she gets about a dozen together, she will sit on them. Since there is no way to know how long she has been hiding out, I do not know if the eggs are any good when I do find her.
I do one of two things when my run away hen is discovered. I let her hatch a bunch of babies and increase my flock of chickens. Or, I chase her off the nest, gather the eggs, and float them. We do not need a lot of chickens and usually maintain a flock of 12 to 20 hens and two roosters.
Remember to keep the “sinkers” and get rid of the “floaters”. That way, you will protect yourself from unpleasant surprises when you crack the eggs.
THE CHICKEN PLAN
I like my chickens. They are easy to get along with, simple to care for, and don’t cause trouble. At first glance, it may appear that they are an after-thought to the farm activities. They roam around, lay eggs, and crow. They always seem busy, not doing much of anything. Once in a while, the roosters will squabble, but it doesn’t last long. They have learned to get along. They are, however, an important part of the workings of the farm. There is a plan and a purpose for them, and they do it well.
We have two chicken houses. One is close by the garage and the greenhouse, the other is attached to the main barn. It is really a converted milk house. Each coop houses about a dozen hens and a rooster. Each coop contains nesting boxes, roosts, clean straw, a double-walled water fount and a hanging feeder. They like this arrangement and have room to roam around inside. Each coop has a people door and a small chicken door. We use the people door to collect eggs, feed and water them and to clean the coop. They use the smaller chicken door to go in and out to the main pasture. We have a hook on the chicken door, so that we can close them inside. It is usually closed in the winter and they stay inside and out of the Minnesota winds and snow. This arrangement keeps them healthy and happy. There is also a light on a timer hanging from the ceiling. Chickens need 14 hours of light per day, in order to maintain egg production. In the winter, we set it to provide the needed light. In the summer, they have enough sunshine.
Bob built a great brooder for the new baby chicks. It has two heat lights, a porch and vents. It has a water and feed container. The chicks usually spend several weeks in the brooder. Bob made a window on the top so I can see what is going on inside without opening the door. The cats like to sit on top of the brooder and watch the chicks through the window. It seems that they think it is their own special kind of television.
After experimenting with several breeds of chicken, we are settled on the wonderful and talented Aracana Chicken. It is talented because it lays blue and green eggs, forages for a lot of its food, is a prolific layer, makes a good Mom, and generally does not cause trouble. The Aracana is a dual-purpose bird which means we raise them for eggs and for meat. It also has compact waddles, so they don't get frost-bit in our harsh winters.
It works best for us to start with baby chicks and keep them for three years. At the end of the second year, we will raise more babies to replace the original batch. The original batch will be recycled into our freezers to become chicken and biscuits, chicken soup, chicken strew, chicken curry, and chicken broth. This way the replacement batch will be laying by the time the original chickens are harvested into the freezer. Occasionally, we keep a pet rooster beyond the three years. Our first rooster, we had for about five years. His name was Duke. His died of old age and never made it to the freezer.
We have a neighbor who grows, makes, and sells organic chicken feed. We buy directly from him. It is an excellent product. My chickens free range in the summer and scratch around for bugs and plants. They get green things from my garden and love tomato vines. They also enjoy pumpkin, squash, rotten potatoes, and table scraps. They come when I call them to get their treats. I have spoiled chickens. They repay me with eggs, a whole lot of eggs.
The eggs are useful as a protein source for my Great Pyrenees guard dogs. The expectant Mothers, especially, get a lot of eggs. This makes for beautiful coats and healthy puppies.
Bob and I like eggs and I have discovered useful and different ways to use them.
1. My latest is a “Breakfast Burrito”. This contains eggs, cheese, salsa, tomato, peppers, onions, and spices. It is served in a wheat wrap and can be used for a quick lunch or dinner too. Sometimes, I put left over burger or chicken in the egg mix.
2. I have a good recipe for Flan. This is a Mexican egg custard with a caramel sauce. We like it served with fresh strawberries or rassberries on top.
3. Bob makes the BEST omelets in the whole world. You will have to get that recipe from him.
4. I usually keep hard boiled eggs in the refrigerator. They are good for a fast snack or crumbled on top of a green salad.
5. We sell the extra eggs to the neighbors. This helps to pay for the cost of the feed. The chickens are a good investment in time and money. I have friends that save their egg cartons for me to use. This helps a lot.
Never underestimate the value of a chicken on the homestead. We have done it and it works for us. We are happy with our chickens. They are a welcome addition to Milk and Honey Farm. (And the babies are soooo cute.)