Agreed…it’s been far too long since the last post 😉 However, we’re back at that wonderful time of year where we get the itch to hatch some baby chicks again!
We had a two week period of unexpected spring-like temperatures in January so it seemed like the perfect time to have some eggs shipped. Unfortunately, there was an error in the mail sorting and our eggs ended up spending a couple extra days in transit about 2 hours north of us. Luckily, it didn’t appear as though the eggs froze and even though they were about 7+ days old by time we received them, the eggs looked to be in great condition. After about 12 hours of letting the eggs rest I popped them into the incubator and started the task of manually turning them 3 times a day. Our incubator holds 9 chicken eggs in the automatic turner so if I load a dozen in to the incubator I’m forced to manually turn the eggs. Last night was the end of Day 7 so I candled the eggs again and found that 9 of the 12 were developing right on track! 2 of the eggs were completely clear and 1 seemed to have started developing but then quit early on. All in all, I’m quite pleased that, given the shipping issues, 9 of the 12 eggs still seem viable AND I was able to load them into the automatic turner in the incubator; relieving me of the turning task.
As for the other chickens, in the summer we had a total of 24 chickens; 7 of them from a local farm, 4 of them purchased as Ready to Lay Pullets, 11 of them purchased as chicks from a hatchery and the remaining were ones I had hatched through the spring. There were some other chickens not included in this grand total that were lost to predators. 2 of the 24 chickens were roosters and once the dominant rooster became mature he made sure everyone knew it 🙂 Both roosters would mate with the hens but only the dominant one would crow – and boy would he crow! The funny thing is, I don’t think the dominant rooster really crowed more than any other rooster might – in fact, he may have even crowed less. But considering we have neighbours close by and it was our first summer at this property I really didn’t want anyone to get ticked off with the 5 am wake-up calls so the roosters went to live on another local farm where they would be “servicing” 23 hens 🙂 All but the 2 chickens I hatched in the spring and 3 of the Barred Plymouth Rocks that I got as chicks from a hatchery were processed and put in the freezer. That meant we were going into the winter with 5 chickens in the coop.
In my naivety, I thought the 5 would give us more than enough eggs to get through the winter but about a month before the winter solstice the 2 hens that were laying quit laying and the 3 Barred Plymouth Rocks weren’t old enough to come into lay yet. That meant I had to rely on the eggs I had frozen during the summer to get us through until the hens started laying again. Luckily, I had frozen about 4 dozen eggs; some in individual silicone cube molds and some as a dozen in a freezer bag. I found the thawed eggs were fine to use in baking or for scrambled eggs/quiche. I did dehydrate a dozen of the eggs and pulverize them into a powder; thinking I would reconstitute with water and they would make decent scrambled eggs. Well, the one time I tried the dehydrated eggs I found the taste and texture to be foul (pun intended!) Like, really, really bad. I won’t dehydrate eggs ever again. Freezing seems to be the way to go.
So, here we are, just over a month on the other side of the winter solstice and 2 of the Barred Plymouth Rocks have come into lay. With the days getting noticeably longer I’m hopeful the other 3 hens will come back into lay soon. Since we don’t provide supplemental light we are dependent on the natural sunlight to trigger laying in the hens.
Some of the main takeaways chicken-keeping has taught me thus far are:
- Chicken math is real – you can’t have just 1… or 2… or 10 chickens… you will ALWAYS want more
- Chickens are one of the easiest animals to keep – they have pretty basic needs and don’t require much input from humans to thrive
- Chickens are practical – while I find it economically impractical to keep chickens for eggs alone and I have absolutely no desire to have any non-working pets/animals here, chickens are truly an ideal animal to keep given the amount of input required and their ultimate output. If you use chickens for eggs, meat, and to work in your garden/regenerate soil it’s easy to see how they can, at a minimum, be a zero-sum addition to a homestead or urban backyard – but at best, they are an integral piece to a harmonious and productive homestead or urban backyard.
- Chickens are a gateway animal – once you get the hang of keeping chickens other barnyard type animals are not far behind! This year we’ll be adding ducks, quail and (hopefully) a rabbit or two to our homestead. I’m still toying with the idea of getting some goats but we’ll see how things go this spring 😉
- Chickens have memories – on the days chickens were going to be processed I would keep the coop closed and then enter to gather the chickens one by one. Of course, the chickens were all well aware this was not the usual routine and were, understandably, anxious and flighty whenever I would enter the coop. The last time we processed birds was back in the beginning of November and it’s taken almost 3 full months for me to gain the confidence back of the 5 remaining hens we’ve kept over the winter. When I would first enter the coop after processing day it would be a flurry of feathers and squawks. Now, the girls are more calm when I enter and don’t always shy away from me. This has definitely taught me that when I attempt raising meat birds for the first time this year I will be keeping them in a separate chicken tractor so that they don’t become part of the pecking order in the coop and thus missed when they’re gone. I truly believe that it’s part of our duty as the care givers for these animals to do our best to ensure their lives are as free from stress as possible; that means giving the chickens safe housing, proper feed and water, and the freedom to just be chickens.