Posts Tagged ‘Hens’

The Hen That Laid the Golden Egg


In an earlier post, A Little Hen Science, I linked to a study showing the health difference to the eater between a well-produced egg and a poorly produced one.   Today I am going to throw out some brief notes about what is possible when you feed your own chickens. First, my chickens are not pastured. My area has a lively band of coyotes, and the hens have to be in a fenced run with a roof over it to be safe. So I gather the pasture and bring it to the hens. Every day they get a huge pile of leafy weeds, green garden veggies that I’m not going to use in time, windfall fruit, and veggie scraps from the table. When the goat is in milk, they get whey and any discard milk, all greens-fed of course.  They get grain and flaxseed free-choice.  I have looked into the possibility of growing black soldier fly larvae to provide them with extra protein, but that notion dropped dead when I saw a video of the inside of a “bug pod“ designed to produce them. I have a strong stomach generally, but it does not extend to masses of writhing larvae.  So I throw the ladies any squash bugs, cabbage loopers, snails, etc. that show up, and cook any eggs that get too old for human or canine use into “chicken cake“ to give them some extra protein.  You can also buy freeze dried meal worms for the same purpose, although they are pretty expensive.  I keep a bag of organic turmeric around, and throw a tablespoon or two in every time I cook up a chicken cake, and also throw in a handful of Thorvin kelp meal to make sure that they are getting all their minerals.

The result can be seen above. On the left of the photo is the yolk of the best pastured eggs that I am able to buy in my local co-op. On the right is a yolk from one of my hens.  That’s a pretty good illustration of how many carotenoids  you can fit into one egg yolk. This is even more impressive given that the chicken who produced this egg is the only leghorn in my flock, and the leghorn is a breed often scorned by people with a home flock because the egg shells are white.  As you can see, they are industrious foragers and will practically eat their own weight in greens,  and they are also prolific layers.  There’s nothing not to like about them, and when some of my old ladies succumb to old age, I will get a few more leghorns. But any hen will lay better eggs if her nutrition is top-notch, and if her nutrition is top-notch, yours will be too.

Small Miracles

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Two of my laying hens, both old heritage breeds, are in my flock because they lay lovely deep-brown eggs but give me very few eggs because they are broody most of the time. “Broody” is the condition that occurs when the hen is determined to hatch out some chicks and spends all day in the nesting box, ruining eggs for eating purposes and pecking your hand painfully when you try to get her out of there. It happens to many hens at some point, but these two are broody more or less continually from May to October. Finally I decided to put them in small separate coops with their eggs (which are fertile because I keep a rooster) and see what happened.
Both hatched out small broods of chicks, and it is a real pleasure to watch them care for their families. They have a wide array of vocalizations, and can tell the chicks “run to me,” ” freeze,” or “this is delicious!” They will not hesitate to attack me if I get too near their babies. They are complete helicopter mothers, always close and always watching, and in a chicken this is endearing rather than annoying.
If you decide to hatch out chicks, be aware that about half will be males and you have to have some plan for what to do with them. Most city ordinances prohibit more than one rooster if they allow any at all, and roosters are unbelievably noisy. So think ahead. But a mother hen caring for her chicks is a heartwarming sight. Urban homesteading isn’t just about food production. It’s about quality of life, and these little families have added greatly to my QOL.