We all know what a chicken egg looks like—hard shell, gooey clear stuff inside that turns white when you cook it, yellow yolk in the middle. You may have noticed that twisted “umbilical cord” and maybe you fished it out before frying your breakfast. If you break an egg into a bowl, you’ll find that the white (the albumen) has a thicker part around the yolk, and a thinner part further out. And if you’ve ever peeled a hard cooked egg, you might remember two layers of translucent membrane just inside the shell—removing them as you go makes it easier to get the shell off.
But have you ever really looked at an egg? Wondered what all the parts do? An egg is actually an amazingly sophisticated way of protecting and providing for a developing bird embryo.
Backyard chickens are pretty popular, and for good reason. What other pet delivers affection, entertainment, companionship, plus fertilizer and fresh, tasty eggs? If you’ve been smitten by the burb of a motherly hen—or if you’d like to know what it’s like to raise your own flock—have I got a treat for you!
Hasten thee to the library or bookstore and pick up a copy of Once Upon A Flock: Life With My Soulful Chickens, by Lauren Scheuer. (If that name sounds familiar, you might have read her delightful blog, Scratch and Peck.)
Our forced evacuation dragged on and on. Glued to the news, we prayed for the firefighters, for those losing homes, for protection for our own home. So far, the closest the flames had come was about three blocks. Thank you God!
On Thursday we called the Humane Society to ask if there was any way to rescue my chickens. I realized they were lower priority than horses, dogs, and other pets and livestock, but maybe if someone was in the area anyway? I was sure they had used up their food and water by now.
I had planned to write an interesting and informative post about woodpeckers for today, but life was interrupted this past week. I’m sure you’ve heard about the massive fire in Black Forest, Colorado. Well, guess where we live… yup, Black Forest, Colorado. We were evacuated within hours of the fire’s start, and have been unable to get back into our house until now. We are grateful that we still have a house to get back into!
You can read more about our personal experience on my other blog, www.compost-blog.com. Today I’d like to share about what I am calling the miracle garden.
Last week we had nine hens. Six were young, prolific layers less than a year old. Three were old biddies past their prime. I’d been meaning to cull the three unproductive hens for a long time, but just couldn’t bring myself to actually follow through. Then I went to the feed store yet again, and realized that we were supporting three hens that were eating one third of my feed bill. That sealed their fate. So earlier this week I humanely dispatched three hens in their sleep and fed the local wildlife. I guess the local wildlife enjoyed the feast, because…
We got home late last night, and I headed out after dark to collect my half-dozen eggs. But instead of six, I found only five eggs—and five chickens. Alarmed, I searched the coop, but I couldn’t really see much in the moonlight. The five hens were perched on their roost, asleep, so I secured the coop and headed for bed.
I have nine hens in my chicken coop: six pullets that have just started laying small eggs, and three aging biddies who lay huge eggs… once in a while. We love the jumbo eggs—one per person is enough for breakfast—but we are only finding three or four per week, whereas the six pullets are together laying five or six eggs per day. In the meantime, the hens are all munching down on laying pellets at pretty much the same pace.
After a fox attack last spring, we’re down to only three aging hens and six five-month-old pullets. Instead of giving eggs to all our friends, I’ve had to buy them at the market. So this morning, after being out of town for the weekend, I walked out to the coop hoping to find an egg, or maybe two. Instead, there were close to a dozen!
Yup. A month ahead of schedule, our new pullets have become egg laying hens.
It’s time to clean out the chicken coop. All summer my little flock has been happily picking weed and grass seeds out of the straw I spread in their coop last spring. At the same time, they’ve broken down the big pieces of grass stem into finer shreds. And, best of all, they’re balanced all that carbon with some nice, hot chicken manure.
Now that the weather has cooled a bit, I’m willing to venture out to the coop with a rake, scoop, and wheelbarrow. All that compostable material is heading for my veggie garden.
Yesterday morning, I went out to tend my flock, and realized that my new pullets, hatched around June 1, were nearly the same size as my mature hens. When they were mere children, they fit just fine in their twelve square foot cage (above). (For their safety, it’s important to separate young birds from the main flock.) Now, however, it was clear that they needed more room. Although I had planned to wait until next month, I decided this was the time to release them into the main coop.