Jul 202012

With so much of Corey’s family within a five mile radius I have had the privilege of hearing quite a few stories about Corey’s great-grandmother, affectionately known as Mama Childs. She was a true farmer’s wife, canning in the summer, being known for the best applesauce cake in five counties, and raising backyard chickens. What I wouldn’t do for a chicken coop like the one she had.

It was gorgeous even from a distance. It was painted a beautiful dark green color to blend in with her gardens and circular with one door. I never saw it up close, but I would guess that it was at least twelve feet across. Every morning she would let her proud brood out and every evening back in they would go. Corey remembers more than once helping her chase a new chicken out of her garden and back to the coop for the night. I never met Mama Childs, but I know I would have loved her company. Anyone who is famous for talking to her chickens is all right by me.

fresh eggs

farm eggs

Fun Chicken Facts

Chickens are omnivores. They’ll eat seeds and insects but also larger prey, like small mice and lizards.

There is no distinct difference in the taste between brown eggs and white eggs. What makes a difference is diet. Pasture raised chickens have darker, richer yokes due to the diversity in what they eat.

A top producing commercial hen can lay over 300 eggs per year. Most of the heritage breeds of chickens here on our farm lay somewhere between 220-280 eggs each year.

The record for egg laying was set in the 1920’s when a hen laid 364 eggs in 365 days.

One of the downsides to fresh eggs is that they are notorious for being hard to peal. Solution? Try steaming them.

deviled eggsDeviled Egg Recipe

  • 6 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon of vinegar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of sugar

Begin by placing your eggs in a vegetable steamer set over water. Be sure to give them plenty of elbow room. Steam for 10 minutes covered. Remove from heat and run cold water over eggs to cool quickly.

Once eggs are cooled completely, peel. Using a sharp knife cut eggs in half lengthwise. Put cooked egg yolks into a medium bowl, while putting egg whites carefully on a tray or plate.

Using a fork, mash egg yolks until they resemble a fine crumble. Add mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Mix well.

Spoon the egg yolk mixture into egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

 Posted by at 12:56 pm
Jul 112012

eggs in incubator

The chickens here on the farm are definitely a Mom project. Yes, everyone helps with feeding, watering, and collecting eggs, but I am the one who can sit for hours reading Backyard Poultry magazine or surfing the internet for pictures of chicken tractors. So when we decided to look at making our chicken enterprise more sustainable, I was all over it. I spent hours choosing breeds that would fit our production needs and more hours finding breeders with bloodlines that mirrored our own goals.

For the past ten years, every spring I would pour over the hatchery catalogs, placing my order for pullets (young female birds). Two questions I chose to ignore: First, how close where the chicks I was buying to the original heritage breeds? Think about it. Hatcheries are interested in selling chicks which translates into hens that lay the most eggs. Good when it comes to egg production, but what about other traits, where they being lost? And more importantly what happens to all those male chicks? I didn’t really *want* to think too hard on that question.

So was this sustainable? If our economy as we now know it drastically changed, could I continue raising chickens on the farm without help from outside my local community? Hmm… I didn’t own a rooster and many of my chickens where hybrids at best.  Yep, it was time to establish our own breeding flocks.

I set our very first hatching eggs in our brand new incubator (the Hova Bator 1588 Genesis) in early December. Since then I have done twelve batches of eggs, expanded to an incubator and designated hatcher set-up, and purchased the very best eggs I could find from Vermont to Florida, Pennsylvania to British Columbia, Canada. I have hatched out Coronation Sussex, Light Sussex, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, Black & Lavender Ameraucanas, and French Black Copper Marans.

So how’s it going? Let’s see. I have had hatching rates as good as 88% and as dismal as 0% (you read that right, zero%!). Overall my hatch rates run between 55-65%. And it’s a good year for the rooster as roughly 68% of the chicks born have been males.  Not exactly what I was hoping for.

As expected, it was definitely cheaper and easier to order my spring chicks from hatcheries.  Establishing a quality breeding flock has been a bit tougher than I expected, like taking the long and winding road to an anxious-to-get-there destination. But there is something exciting (borderline addicting) about placing fertile eggs in an incubator and 21 days later having a brood of baby chicks.

welsummer chicken

Welsummer Hen

So I am back at it again — 19 eggs due to hatch July 21st and 18 more due July 24th. Both of these batches will be Welsummer chicks, a beautiful breed known for their dark speckled eggs.

There are still a few breeds and breeders out there on my purchasing list. Unfortunately with the heat of summer fast upon us, they are going to need to wait until next year. But with any luck, next year I will be hatching out our very own eggs. The next step, finding a broody hen to take over the chore of incubating!

 Posted by at 5:47 pm
Nov 282010

breeds of chickens

Over the past couple of months the percentages of brown, white, and green eggs that we sell weekly has slowly been changing. For you curious foodies, we thought we’d explain why.

Choosing Our Flock

When developing our laying flock, we looked for several things in the hens we chose. First, we wanted to concentrate on heritage breeds and those that were known to be good foragers. Next, we focused on egg production, egg color and size. Even though they are on pasture most of the year, the girls still need to earn their stay. Hardiness was our next consideration. We looked for a balance of winter and summer hardy birds as well as winter and summer layers; the more categories they fell into the higher they were on the list.

Although the above characteristics where our top priority, bonus traits included friendly, easy going dispositions, below average flying ability (Boy, do we hate chasing those few that insist on getting out!), and overall appearance.

So, are you still wondering why the color of our eggs varies from summer to winter? Basically, as the weather turns cold certain breeds will begin to lay fewer eggs while others continue strong. Right now our white egg layers seem to have hit their prime. If you purchased a dozen eggs from us this week you may have noticed a few additional white eggs in the mix. Be sure to savior these as special treats as these twelve girls (yep! there are only twelve!) are working extra hard to make the rest of the flock look good.

Below is our description of the laying hens that make their home at Virginia Lamb.

Breed: Delaware

This breed is an American Heritage (1940) breed. Their characteristics include early maturing (start laying younger), dual purpose (males make great broilers too), calm disposition, and they are excellent foragers.

They are good layers (4-5 eggs/wk) and produce large to x-large light brown eggs. They are cold and heat tolerant; and they continue laying all winter.

Breed: Rhode Island Reds

Most of the eggs being sold at farmers markets come from sex-linked offspring of the RIR. We have a few of both. The full pedigree Rhode Island Reds are a heritage breed and fairly easy going in nature.

They are excellent egg layers (5-6/wk) and produce x-large brown eggs. They are extremely cold hardy and will continue laying all winter long. The term sex-linked (think crossbred) comes from being able to tell the females from the males at birth based on color. This is not the case with most purebreds. Our sex-links are smaller in size, eat less, are somewhat flighty and aren’t as winter hardy. We purchased a handful as a comparison to our full RIR. Based on their differences, they were most likely bred to meet the needs of confinement operations. Although off to a slow start; ours are adjusting well.

Breed: Black Australorps

This is an Australian heritage breed and has a shy but sweet disposition. They are excellent egg layers (5-6/wk) and produce large brown eggs. They are winter and summer hardy.

They were added to our flock specifically because they stand up well and continue laying through even the hottest summer when many breeds taper off.

Breed: Welsummer

This breed originates from Holland and has proven to be a very good forager.

They are good egg layers (~4/wk), producing large eggs. They are cold hardy. However, they are best known and prized for their egg color. In Europe, chefs seek out and pay dearly for these eggs. The deepest colored eggs are dark terracotta and can be speckled. We will continue to add more of these hens to our flock. Watch for their beautiful eggs next summer!

Breed: Ameraucana

An American breed that traces its history back to Chile. These goofy looking (said with love, mind you!) birds are responsible for all those green and blue eggs in your cartons.

They are good layers (~4/wk) and cold tolerant. The hens themselves range in color from silver, blue, buff, red, white, and a mix of all of the above. Most of ours have ear tuffs (small feathers on the side of their heads) and longer necks.

Breed: Speckled Sussex

This is an English heritage, dual purpose breed. They are exceptionally friendly, forage well (especially around one’s shoes) and can’t fly worth a darn (makes up for the shoe comment)!

They are very good layers (4-5/wk) of large tinted or beige eggs. They are extremely cold hardy and lay throughout the summer and winter.

Although my list actually included, not the Speckled, but the Light Sussex, we become the proud owner of these after meeting a very adorable, big eyed 4-Her at our county fair.

Breed: White Leghorn

This Italian breed came to America in 1840 and now makes up the parentage of most commercial white laying operations. They are small birds, surprisingly good foragers, and alert and active (read noisy and flighty!). Bad news is they are also gifted flyers!

They are excellent layers (5-6/wk) of x-large white eggs. They are cold hard and are proving to be exceptionally good winter layers.

Ok, now my soap box… Recently we had a potential customer tell us that farm fresh eggs could not be white. Okay!?!? I know we have become accustomed to thinking of brown eggs as farm fresh. I love brown eggs too! But I promise you our white eggs are just as tasty and fresh! As I said above, be sure to savior these special treats as these twelve girls are working extra hard right now to fill out our egg cartons just for you! :)

Breed: Cuckoo Marans

This is a French heritage, dual purpose breed. They are large birds that will brood (i.e. like to stay in the laying boxes and not give up their eggs).

They are above average layers (3-4/wk) and are here only because I am a sucker for their beautiful large dark chocolate colored eggs. Oh, did I mention, they don’t like the winter weather.

As these fade out, I am hoping to replace them with Black Copper Marans. Very similar in egg color with a better production rate.

Well I hope you have enjoyed today’s chicken lesson and getting to know those truly responsible for your delicious eggs each week. Be sure to stop by and pick-up your dozen eggs next Sunday!

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 Posted by at 10:10 pm