Thursday, January 31, 2019

Are Eggs All They are Cracked Up to Be?

Everyone who knows me knows that I am the "crazy chicken lady."  I started on my "chicken journey" 5 years ago and I have never looked back.  There is a known fact in the chicken world called "chicken math."  Chicken math is when the bug to keep chickens takes over and you just HAVE to get that one more chicken or breed.

When we moved to our property in the fall of 2007 I just couldn't wait to start our "farm."  I knew we couldn't do it right away but I was busting at the seams to get started.  I never realized it would take 7 (YES SEVEN) years till I would finally get some chickens.  There are a lot of reasons why but that is for another story on another day.  I was so proud to start out with almost free chickens and a cheap little prefab coop (yet another story!!) I found on sale at our local farm store.  Thus began the journey and learning curves!!  My "free" chickens were straight run and free because of a rebate.  I knew what straight run meant (the chicks are not sexed so you don't know if you are getting boys or girls) but did not realize at the time that they are usually picked over by the time you get yours and you pretty much end up with all boys!  Of our first 10 chicks I think 8 of them were boys if I remember correctly!!

So, I started with the modest 10 chicks.  Once they grew and we knew we had mostly boys, it was time to cull (process to eat) the unwanted extra boys.  I rehomed 1 and kept 2 and the others went to what we call "freezer camp" for future meals for our family.  I wanted chickens for meat and for eggs so this was ok but I didn't want to start out that way!  Our next batch of chicks was intentionally purchased as pullets (young female chicks).  I have to say that in the 5 years that we have purchased chicks from our local farm store there has only been one time (and that was in the beginning) when one of the pullets ended up being a cockerel (young male chick).

So now we had two pullets and two cockerels from our initial purchase.  We purchased I think 6 more pullets and then by that fall we purchased some more pullets.  We had to rehome another rooster because they weren't getting along.  I think we had about 12-15 chickens by the end of that first year.  By the next spring I got chick fever again and purchased more and the story goes on.  Now not only do I purchase chicks but I have some hens that go broody (want to hatch chicks) and we hatch some of our own too.  I am currently at 54 chickens right now.  I have 8 roosters and 46 hens. You should only have about 1 rooster per 10 hens but I also have multiple pens.  Two of my roosters are currently locked up separately due to the excess at the moment.  Again, another story for another day.

We still have 2 chickens from our original crew and many from shortly thereafter.  There are quite a few that should be culled but will not be due to them being my son's pets from the beginning.  We keep that down to a minimum these days but it is hard.  You do get so attached to them.  But I must remember, they are also provision for my family.  We got them for eggs and meat, but the occasional pet is just fine by me too.

Speaking of eggs.  Let's wrap this up.  I meant to talk about the eggs and got off track!!  I cracked the eggs in the picture above the other day and it reminded me about some myths and misconceptions about chicken eggs.  Fact: there are only two colors of eggs, white and blue.  All other egg colors are variations of these.  Different chicken breeds lay different color eggs.  Fact:  Brown eggs and white eggs are the same!  The brown egg color is actually "sprayed or painted" on by the hen before it is laid.  The retail industry has you convinced that brown eggs are farm eggs and thus healthier for you.  ALL eggs are farm eggs!!!  Brown eggs are not necessarily healthier or better for you than white eggs.  Nutritional value of an egg is dependent on what the chickens are fed.  Chickens that are free ranged or able to eat more grass and bugs are going to lay eggs that will be healthier for you.  Fact: chickens are omnivores so they eat both plants AND animal products (yes they will even eat chicken!!).  Fact: lighter yolked eggs are not necessarily less nutritious than darker yolks.

Even backyard chicken keepers are proud of their darker yolked "farm fresh" eggs.  The problem is that again, the nutrition of the egg is dependent on what is fed to the chicken.  As you can see from the picture above, yolk color does not always guarantee that one egg is healthier than another.  My flock is all fed the same diet and forage on the same ground, yet look at the difference in yolk color.  Two of the above eggs were such a beautiful deep orange color compared to the paler looking yolk.  It's possible that their bodies processed the food differently or perhaps they foraged for bugs and treats better than the hen who laid the lighter yolk.  You can feed certain food and supplements to cause your yolks to take on rich dark colors, but it does not necessarily mean it is more nutritious.

I hope this clarifies some interesting facts about chickens and their eggs.  Comment below for any additions you have or questions about this subject.  May your day be blessed, and hopefully warmer, in this crazy polar vortex weather we are having lately.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

To Heat or Not to Heat

To heat or not to heat, THAT is the question.  Winter is surely upon us and we have had some exceptionally frigid temps the past week.  We were having such a mild winter and then BAM, it hit.  Winter vortex.  Freezing cold.  Brrrrr!!  If you had the perfect, right answer then you would be a very rich person.  There is always an ongoing discussion in the chicken world about whether to heat your coop or not and just how cold is too cold for your chickens.

The catch is that there are SO many factors to consider.  What is your climate like in general, is humidity a problem, what breeds of chickens do you have, etc.??  If you have had chickens for any length of time then you know what they say about chickens surviving cold over heat to be true.  They can tolerate very frigid temps but tend to have many more issues with excessive heat.

I have been raising chickens for 5 years now and while I am FAR from any type of expert, I have experienced a lot in these past years.  I have learned that they certainly can tolerate cold MUCH better than the heat.  I have never lost one to the cold but I have lost 1 or 2 from the heat.  We don't have electricity in the coop but we do run electrical cords year round now.  I use heated waterers in the winter and fans in the summer.  While any type of electricity can be a potential fire hazard, I do agree that heat lamps in the coop are just not safe.  Many, many coops have burnt to the ground from heat lamps and some have even lost their homes and their lives because of it.

After watching my girls struggle so much during the winter last year when we had negative temps, I still wanted to provide some type of heat or warmth (we do have older hens now and it shows in the cold).  I did have one of those hard plastic radiant type heat pads that you buy for outdoor cats/dogs plugged in for the past couple of years.  It doesn't heat anything but I have watched some of my older crew and snuggle up next to it when they got too chilled.

I have learned that even newly hatched chicks can survive the cold with a good momma.  Twice now I've had hens go broody much too late in the year and hatch babies in the winter.  I had heard from another chicken momma that babies do just fine but not until I experienced it myself did I truly believe it.  Amazing, momma keeps them plenty warm and you will notice them mature and feather out faster and be more healthy and vibrant from being raised in that type of environment.  They have always been my healthiest chickens.

All that being said, I did just purchase and had hubby install our new Cozy Coop radiant heater in the main coop.  I still have 3 other coops with chickens that have no heat whatsoever and probably never will.  None of the coops are insulated but we have gone to great lengths to ensure that they are all well ventilated.  Everyone says it over and over again and it is so true, "keep them dry, draft free, and well ventilated and they will do fine."

I am happy to report that the heater does not heat the coop whatsoever.  As a matter of fact, I have noticed that it doesn't even heat up the roost that is about 6 inches away.  While in my opinion even on the lowest setting (there are two--high and low) it is too hot for me to keep my hand on it without feeling like it is burning, it does allow for them to warm themselves if they feel the need by camping out right next to it.  We mounted it on the wall just behind the roosting area and I know they appreciate the extra warmth at night during these frigid nights.  It is in my main coop and there are 38 chickens in there and they roost in different spots so almost half of them do not roost anywhere near the heat source and they do just fine!  I just keep it on low and let them decide how they want to use it.  I generally do not notice anyone fighting to be near it during the day which is good. I installed it mostly for any crazy temp drops like last year and for peace of mind for me.  If we lost power, not a big deal since it is not raising temps at all and they are clearly not depending on it for constant warmth.

Again, heating is so dependent on your personal feelings and those I stated above about weather and types of chickens.  Our weather can range from low negative temps (generally not lower than -10 degrees Fahrenheit) to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (I think our hottest so far with chickens has been about 102 with pretty high humidity and boy were they struggling).  Most, if not all, of my flock is pretty much dual purpose birds and tend to all do just fine in hot or cold temps.  Some breeds can't tolerate cold at all and some can't tolerate heat at all.  I have barred rocks, easter eggers, a rhode island red, a leghorn, buff orpingtons, lavender orpingtons, brahmas, speckled sussexes, black copper marans, silver-laced wyandottes, australorps, various sex links, homegrown mutts, and even 1 purebred silkie boy.

To heat or not to heat?  That will be up to you to decide.  Do you heat your coop(s)?  Why or why not?


Disclaimer:  This is NOT a sponsored post and there are no affiliate links.  I simply shared what is working for me and what I like so far.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

It's Still Winter

I'm finally back.  It has been a challenge.  We have had a lot of sickness over the past two months and I am still trying to get rid of the remnants of a horrible cough I had that would just not leave.  It ended up being quite a bit of sinus issues, but pretty miserable nonetheless.  I have so many dreams and plans for this year and I can only hope that I can do a better job at blogging and sharing what goes on at our little homestead.  I would like to incorporate more informative posts and share more of my experiences with successes and failures as we slowly grow in our knowledge.

It's still winter time and I guess we needed to be reminded of that.  The above pic shows what happened today within a matter of hours.  We went from too much rain and flooding to a flat out blizzard.  I think there might only be about 6 inches or so of snow out there not counting the snow drifts but the cold and wind have been brutal.  It has been close to 20 mph winds most of the day and it is still blowing hard.  The snow has stopped but the wind will continue through the night.

We have had SO MUCH rain lately and the water was starting to be a problem with the chickens and now this.  Needless to say, they were NOT happy about this sudden snow blizzard.  It will be interesting to see what the morning brings.  It will be a challenge.  The not fun part of homesteading and raising your own animals.  They still need food and water and no matter the weather, they depend on you to get it to them.  It's also critical to keep their bedding as clean and dry as possible during the cold.  Dampness and wet cause more frostbite issues with chickens than the cold itself.

Hubby installed the new Cozy Coop radiant heater in the main coop today so hopefully, they are a little more comfortable in this cold.  It does not heat the coop but should rather take the chill off for them to not have to work so hard at keeping their bodies warm, especially overnight.  I'll keep you updated on my experience with it.  They certainly seemed to appreciate it tonight when I closed their coop up for the night.  The coop is still very cold (about 30 degrees last I checked), but again, more tolerable than single digit temps which is what it is with the wind chill right now.

Until next time, may your day be blessed.
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