Friday, September 30, 2005

Important Egg Information

This site came from my husband, a rarely-heard voice on this blog. Here you will find out that the USDA wants you to know many things about eggs. They include, in no particular order:

Eggs stored in the form of homemade eggnog can last 2-4 days in the fridge and should not be frozen.

Store-bought eggs are dated according to their pack date--not the day the egg was laid, although our government assures us that they generally reach the stores only a few days after they were laid. To simplify things, the "pack date" is expressed as the "Julian date," which means that a number from 1-365 is stamped on the carton to indicate the day of the year when it was packed. (Quick: Day 123. When is that? See how useful this'll be in the grocery store?)

Eggs in the form of a pumpkin or pecan pie can be stored 3-4 days in the fridge or frozen 1-2 months.

Eight government agencies (assuming you count state and local agencies as one each) are involved in assuring the safety of your eggs. Whew! What a relief.

A hen starts to make a new egg about 30 minutes after she's laid the last one. A woman's work is never done. It's always something.

The "sell by" date on your carton of eggs is pretty useless. Eggs are good for about 3-5 weeks in the fridge after you bring them home. The "sell by" date may or may not pass during that time. Maybe what you should do is take the Julian date, add 21-35 to it, convert that to a regular calendar date (what is that--a Roman date? Gregorian date?) and then...wait, I'm lost. How about this: if the egg floats easily in water, meaning that a lot of air has entered the shell, it's older. But maybe still OK to eat if it doesn't smell bad or look funny. Good luck.

In 1950, people ate 359 eggs per year on average. Now it's 261.

Raw eggs will last 3-5 weeks in the fridge, but a hard-boiled egg is only good for a week. Why? When you boiled it, you washed off the protective coating. Not the protective coating the hen put on it when she laid it--they washed that one off at the factory. No, we're talking about the light coating of mineral oil the factory applied to re-coat it with another, better, safer, protective coating that is a vast improvement over what that silly hen did. What does she know about protecting eggs, anyway?

Read about all this and more at:

Focus On Shell Eggs

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Your Inner Chicken

You know, there's more chicken merchandise out there than I thought there was. You can get in touch with your inner chicken on a mousepad, a mug, or a T-shirt.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Sara Jane wants to know if I would consider turkeys. It is true that there are turkeys in our family. (Bob, I didn't mean it like that.) In fact, my sainted great-grandmother apparently had such affection for her turkey hatchlings that she incubated them in the oven, and when they all ganged up on the littlest one and kicked him out (as baby poultry will do, senseless little things that they are), she just carried him around the house in her apron pocket. Called him Joseph.

So you'd think I might be interested in turkeys. But the thing is, turkeys just aren't cute. All poultry suffer from their too-close-for-comfort relationship to reptiles. I mean, there is something downright dinosaurish about those scaly legs of theirs, and they have a way of calling after me when they want something that sounds like a tiny dinosaur roar. (I know what you're thinking. How do I know what a dinosaur sounds like? Hey, I watch movies.)

They have to work to compensate for all that and still come out on the "cute" side. In fact, until I got chickens myself and raised them from babies, I was a little turned off by all that wattle and comb. What is that? There's something a little menacing about it. On a purely aesthetic level I find the Araucanas a little cuter because they don't have as much wrinkly red stuff on their face. They're more like big, friendly birds (yes! Big Bird!), than some vaguely reptilian creature I can't snuggle up to. (Although, as it turns out, if your raise something from a baby, even a reptile, you can cuddle up to it.)

I just don't know how I'd cuddle up to a turkey. And they seem so burdened by those big bodies, designed for only one thing, something I'd never allow anyway. A hen can have a very good life without ever becoming someone's dinner--she can be a wonderful pet, a garden decoration, a consumer of pests and weeds, a provider of eggs--but a turkey? How would I relate to a turkey?
No, what I want is a goat. I love their big brown eyes and their long floppy ears.

Madonna With Chickens

Thanks to Rooster Hill Farm for pointing out this fabulous photo of Madonna with her hens, which was published in Vogue this summer.

It's been making the rounds of the chickens blogs--us hen farmers are all pretty amused at the sight of her in her chiffon-and-cashmere ensemble. If our little Bess was there, she'd jump right up on Madonna's shoulder and run a strand of hair through her beak to see it's a worm. Think she'd keep smiling?

In case it's been a few too many months since you've had baby chicks around and you're wishing you had a few more (and we're not talking about anybody I know here), do check out Rooster Hill's poultry pages. They've got chicks hatching right now. It's nice to know there are baby chicks out there somewhere.


And don't miss the Barbeque Chicken photo. It's not what you think.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Call Me Biased, But I Think They Belong In an Art Gallery

Monday, September 26, 2005

This is what happens when I bend down to get a good eye-level picture of the birds doing something cute. They come running over and put their beak in my camera lens!

Our Honeycrisp apple tree is producing loads of apples right now, and a friend is dropping off apples from his orchard for us to sample. With so much apple-eating going on, there are lots of apple cores for the girls. They prefer it if I hold the core, as I am doing here, so they can get a good bite.

More on Free Range Eggs

I know, you're wondering when I'm going to get over this fascination with the free range egg issue and get back to cute stories about the hens. Be patient, I'll get there.

Meanwhile, I'm just fascinated with this story from Poultry and Egg News, an industry publication, in which the United Egg Producers call the struggle over free range vs. cage fed eggs a "war."

In particular, a UEP vice president warns that without constant vigilance, what happened in Europe could happen here.

What happened in Europe? To hear him tell it:

"He pointed out that as late as 1999, Europe still had conventional cages.

Activists there have been successful in changing the rules for European layers with countries mandating enriched cages providing a larger area as well as a nest, perch and litter.

Conventional cages in Europe "are gone today and are not coming back, Gregory said, adding that the egg industry in Europe "has lost the battle."

Lost the battle? Really? Let's look at the UK egg industry as an example. Consumers now have a choice of buying eggs from hens kept in a larger "laying egg system," or in a barn system, or free range. Free range eggs make up a solid 27% of UK production. And those free range hens are required to get just over 40 square feet of space each, which is not a bad deal by any chicken's standards. The EU overall is self-sufficient when to comes to eggs, although there has been talk of stricter import standards, not just to keep EU egg farmers on an even footing economically, but also for health and safety reasons. Regardless, I have not heard of a huge egg shortage or egg crisis in Europe over slightly improved conditions for laying hens.

Poultry Times -

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Fabulous Chicken Gear

Is the T-shirt the new canvas, the new form of artistic expression? It may be. For obvious reasons, I've developed a real appreciation for chicken art over the last few months (And I'd like to know: How do you get your hens all grouped together so charmingly, and convince them to hold still long enough to take a photo?)

I have yet to get enough really good, painterly photographs of my chickens--the sort that I could take to painting class and work on. But other people have, and their work is surprisingly affordable in the form of a T-shirt or coffee mug. Check out some fine chicken art here from artist Sue Medaris.

And if that's not good enough: Savage Chickens gear from cartoonist Doug Savage, who draws a chicken cartoon on a Post-It every day. Every single day. What focus, what commitment. Go, Doug.

Who knows--maybe there will be an Eleanor T-shirt someday. Smile, girls!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Cage Free Eggs

Wegmans Cruelty: An Unofficial Blog

Some interesting stuff here. Now that Scott and I have chickens, it's a lot easier to understand why you'd want to buy free-range eggs. (They are more nutritious, as Mother Earth News points out, but I'm talking more about the treatment of the hens here.) I don't like the idea of keeping a chicken in a tiny cage its entire life--and I won't get into the details of how gruesome this life can be, but read about it if you want--any more than I'd want a dog or a cat or any other creature to live its whole life in a cage.

Our chickens are very much individuals. They have personalities, they form little friendships (Abigail would be lost without Eleanor, and vice versa), and they have very distinct likes and dislikes. When we have idly discussed the idea of expanding our flock so we can sell some eggs, we quickly dismissed the idea because it would be impossible to pay attention to the birds as individuals if you had very many of them--just the same way that crazy cat ladies are entirely unable to manage a herd of 50 or 75 cats. The quote about veterinary care for cage-raised birds in this article just proves the point:

"Lucio explained that while workers are in the buildings on a daily basis, veterinary care for the birds is limited. 'Treatments are limited to the flock. We don't treat one single chicken. It's almost impossible to find one sick chicken in a chicken house of that size. Once something, such as an illness, is starting that will affect several birds, then they are treated. Most of the care the birds get is preventive. Before they arrive they're vaccinated and then kept fed and watered.' Lucio added that in a facility the size of Wegmans' 'there will be dead birds in the cages every day.' "

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Morning Traffic Jam

All four girls got ready to lay at once today. We only have two real boxes, and then kind of an open space next to them. If this keeps up, we may need to convert that space to boxes, too.

And yes, your eyes are not deceiving you--Bess laid her first egg this morning! In fact, the magical event happened just moments before this photo was taken. She seems to have survived the ordeal and may even do it again.

If she looks like she's sitting on two eggs, that's because there is a wooden egg in there too--that's supposed to remind them of what the boxes are for.

Our Daily Egg

Today's egg production. Clockwise from top: Dolley (Araucana mix), Abigail (Golden Laced Wyandotte), Bess (Araucana mix), and Eleanor (Rhode Island Red.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Baby Eleanor and Dolley

I made the big mistake of looking at baby pictures of our chickens tonight. Awwww....

Comptroller's Report

Humboldt Hens Production Report No. 1

Our first unit (“Eleanor”) went online on day 138 of operation. “Dolley” (operational on day 144) and “Abigail” (day 160) soon followed. The smallest unit, “Bess,” has yet to start production but the staff is convinced that she will be in operation tomorrow or Wednesday (day 167 or 168). Updates will be posted regularly. We believe Bess is likely to be a green unit. Dolley’s output is blue and Eleanor and Abigail’s output are both brown.

Total production to date: 5.67 dozen (68)
Production By Color
Brown: 4.0 dozen (48)
Blue: 1.67 dozen (20)

Below follows a unit-by-unit report on production levels:

Model: Rhode Island Red
Fully operational: Day 138
Total production: 2.83 dozen (34)
Production color: Reddish brown
Days off: 2
Longest consecutive period of production: 19 days
Comments: This unit came online quickly and has shown considerable stamina and consistency. Due to an unknown error, a small crack was observed in her second-day output. This has not been repeated and is assumed to be an aberration.

Model: Americauna
Fully operational: Day 144
Total production: 1.67 dozen (20)
Production color: Blue
Days off: 3
Longest consecutive period of production: 10 days and counting
Comments: This unit’s production began relatively early but was inconsistent, especially at the beginning. After fits and starts, Dolley has been producing for ten consecutive days. Overall reliability has yet to be determined.

Model: Golden-laced Wyandotte
Fully operational: Day 160
Total production: 1.17 dozen (14)
Production color: Light brown
Days off: 0
Longest consecutive period of production: 14 days and counting
Comments: While we waited a full three weeks from the day Eleanor went online to the first day of production of this unit, Abigail has produced consistently for the last two weeks without a break. Other than Eleanor’s first period of operation, this is the longest consecutive production streak of any of the units. Overall reliability seems good, however all the units produced so far have a small crimp in one end. This is purely cosmetic but our engineers are looking for a way to correct the problem.

Model: Americauna
Fully operational: N/A
Total production: 0
Production color: N/A
Days off: N/A
Longest consecutive period of production: N/A
Comments: No production as of day 166. First output is expected this week.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

By popular demand...another chicken painting. Max and little Bess.

Friday, September 16, 2005

All Your Eggs in One Basket

I posted a painting on Dirt, so it only seemed fair to post one here, too. These are actually not our eggs (none of our girls lay white eggs), but they did come from the farmers market just before our birds started laying and they were so lovely I thought they were worthy of a still life. I'm sure there will be many more egg paintings to come.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Silkies and Puppies

I can't even think of what to say about this photo. My everlasting gratitude to Brown Egg Blue Egg for posting this image on their site. Check out their Stories section for answers to such burning questions as: Do Chickens Miss You?

yes, they do. And they love you and they have secret nicknames for you, which they will coo into your ear late at night.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Why did the chicken cross the road?

For answers to this age-old question from such great minds as Aristotle, Charles Darwin, and Colonel Sanders, go here:

Soli Deo Gloria : Why did the chicken cross the road?

How to Carry Chickens on a Vespa

This just in from Vespaquest. If you've ever carried chickens on a Vespa or any similar vehicle, I am eager to hear your story and perhaps run a photo or artist's rendering of the event.

Vespaquest: How to Carry Chickens on a Vespa

You came out from California to do what?

Rescue chickens, that's what. A Bay Area woman went to Mississippi to rescue chickens that might have been left behind at farms. She gathered up 1000 chickens, mostly by waiting until nighttime when chickens tend to settle down and allow themselves to be handled a bit more.

Hurricane Katrina has got us all wondering if we are ready for a disaster. Especially in California, especially in a town like Eureka where it would be pretty easy for all roads in and out of town to go down at once. I was just thinking about whether we should get a special cage for the chickens in case we needed to get out quick, then I realized that we have two cat carriers. Our two cats prefer to travel together, and the hens love to nuzzle up together, so we could probably fit all four of them in the other carrier. The feed's already in a plastic tub ready to go anywhere, and of course they can eat grass and bugs and supply us with eggs, which we would only share with the cats if they, too, came up with some way to contribute to the group's general welfare.

There you go--that's our pet disaster plan. For more on the chicken rescue efforts:

1,000 chickens that rode out the storm now escape the frying pan / Vacaville woman leads rescue effort at Mississippi farm

Thanks to Animal Friendly Life for this one.

Savage Chickens

How fortunate we are to live in a world where anyone with an Internet connection can read a new chicken cartoon, each one lovingly drawn on a yellow Post-it, every single day. I may never leave the house again. Thank you, Doug Savage.

Savage Chickens: Chicken Cartoons on Sticky Notes by Doug Savage

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A Chicken in Each Box

Originally we had four nesting boxes, but for reasons too complicated to go into we changed things around and now we only have two. I'd heard that you only need one box for every few birds, because they will simply take turns. But now that I see both Dolley and Abigail laying at once, I wonder if we should add a third box.

Such are the issues we grapple with as chicken owners.

Chicken Breeds

There's surprisingly little information out there about all the different breeds of chickens, what they look like, their habits, etc. I'll post a few sites when I run across them. Here is one example--a fairly comprehensive list, but for example they have no photos of Golden Laced Wyandottes. (That's what Abigail is.) How hard would it be to round up a few photos?

Breeds of Chicken

Monday, September 12, 2005

Cage-raised eggs

A team of British scientists have figured out a way to tell if an egg was laid in a cage, a nesting box, or outdoors.

When an egg first arrives in the world, it's a little wet and it immediately attracts dust. If that dust arranges itself on the egg in a pattern of straight lines, it's a pretty good bet that the egg was laid in a wire cage.

The pattern disappears if the egg is washed, so it's not clear how useful this would be in an operation where eggs are washed before they go to market. The idea, however, is that this might be a useful way to certify free-range eggs without actually sending inspectors to the farm.

The practice of washing eggs is a bit controversial--many small farmers and backyard hensters believe that eggs naturally have a protective coating (a "bloom") that prevents bacteria from penetrating the shell, and that washing the eggs removes that coating. (commercial eggs are washed and then re-sprayed with a coating of mineral oil to add the protective coating back on. Go figure.)

More on this later--meanwhile, read more about the free range tests here:

How to distinguish between battery and free-range eggs - without visiting the farm

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Birds in a Box

Eleanor and Abigail sharing a nesting box. Note that there is an empty box right next to it.

Fox in the Henhouse

Well, the most extraordinary thing happened this morning. I walked out to the henhouse to let the girls into the run, and inside the henhouse there were four chickens cat.

That's right. Loretta somehow managed to sneak into the henhouse and spend the night with the chickens.

This is not Loretta's first performance of the week. Over the weekend, while we were gone, he somehow managed to get himself locked in the attic and stayed there for two days until our pet sitter realized that he wasn't around and went looking for him.

So you'd think that after two days with no food and water, he would have gotten over his interest in sneaking into places he shouldn't be. But no.

We've tried to piece it together and as far as we can tell, Loretta was not inside the coop when Scott locked it up last night--in fact, he specifically remembers seeing Loretta in the backyard after that. But when I got home around 8:30 last night, we both went back outside so I could say goodnight to the girls. I went into the coop and Scott stood in the doorway. The girls were already perched in the rafters for the night. Loretta must have managed to sneak right past Scott and into the coop with me, then remain unnoticed while I walked around, said goodnight to the girls, and then walked out and locked the door behind me. It was pitch dark and he's a quiet cat, so I suppose it's possible. Chickens can't see at night so they probably didn't see him either.

They say that a scare can put chickens off laying for days. I hope they weren't too scared when they woke up in the morning and found Loretta laying in the pine shavings below them. When I found them this morning, they were all standing on a little shelf a few feet off the ground, looking outraged. Loretta just looked up at me as if it was the most normal thing in the world to sleep with chickens. I shooed him out, apologized profusely to the chickens, and things are (we hope) back to normal.

Lesson: Never go out to the coop in the dark without a flashlight.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The egg on the left is Eleanor's. Center is Abigail's first egg--very long and skinny. Ouch. On the right is Abigail's second egg--looks like she's getting the hang of it now. So at this point the only one not laying is Bess. She can take her time.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Layer Curve

There's lots of good, reliable, concrete information out there about backyard chickens, but most of it is tucked away inside cooperative extension offices and it can be hard to track down. Fortunately, there are lots of these very useful farm bulletins online now; it's just a matter of finding them and sharing them. Here's one I found on factors affecting egg production in backyard flocks. I was particularly surprised to learn that if chickens are without food or water for even a few hours, their egg production will drop off.

I was also relieved to see that on average, even a 10 year-old hen can still lay. Her production might only be 20% of what it once was, but even if that's only one or two eggs a week, it's more than enough to earn her keep as far as I'm concerned.