Monday, March 10, 2008

New chicks

The phone rang shortly after 7 a.m. this morning. It was the post office with news that our baby chicks had arrived from the hatchery. So, I jumped out of bed, pulled on my clothes, and went to pick up the chicks. I was very disappointed that more than half of the 25 did not survive their trip from Iowa, so the hatchery will be sending us more next week.

These are rose-combed brown leghorns, a rare variety of leghorn. The commercial egg-laying chicken in the United States was developed from the white leghorn. Since we have a freezer full of chicken, we only ordered pullets, which will grow up to be hens. Leghorns would not make very good meat birds anyway, because they tend to be small.

Leghorns lay white eggs. I continue to be amazed at how many people think that a chicken's feather color determines the egg color. It is sad to see that misinformation perpetuated on the Internet, but what's really amazing is when someone will argue with me about it. There was once a woman in my driveway insisting that white chickens lay white eggs. I told her that all of my chickens lay brown eggs, even the white ones, because the breed determines the color of eggs. She continued to insist that only brown chickens lay brown eggs. I rephrased my thoughts and said that I had never found a white egg in my chicken house, even though I have white chickens -- and I pointed to the white chickens in my yard. She told me that they said on the news that white chickens lay white eggs. I don't know if she ever believed that my chickens only laid brown eggs, but this will be fun, because now I will have some white egg layers -- my new brown leghorns!

After six years of having chickens, I suddenly got this brilliant idea. We are not terribly experienced at determining which chickens are still laying and which ones are not, so I decided that if I got white-egg-laying chickens, I would know how well my older chickens are laying. Next winter, once another egg season is done, the older layers will become stew hens and we will only over-winter the leghorns. Then next year, I'll order more brown egg layers, and I'll know how my leghorns are laying next summer, because their eggs will be a different color than the new ones. "People" say that chickens are good layers for about two years, so the plan is to butcher the oldest ones after two years. If I keep the leghorns for a third laying year, I might get either blue-egg-laying chickens or a white egg layer (like a Hamburg) that lays medium-sized eggs, so that I will still be able to tell them apart and know how well the leghorns are laying.

Commercially they push the hens so hard, they do not last more than a year. And I know some homesteaders who also use artificial lighting to push the egg production year round. So, I am wondering if my chickens might be good layers for a third year, since they live in a pretty stress-free environment. Even though I don't like the idea of buying new pullets every year (it's not very sustainable), I am interested in learning more about which breeds do well in our climate. Also, buying only one breed of chicken each year will make it easier to know the age of every hen. I have lots of questions and am certainly excited about my new hens and everything I'll be learning in the next two or three years.


melanie said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of chickens! WE have been raising them for several years, after a suggestion by my (then) 7-year old, and boy am I glad.

Very good strategy you have on the egg color/age of the hens. If you don't add artificial light to lengthen the day, you might just be surprised. We have girls that are approaching 3 years old and still give us at least an egg a week. Since we free-range them as much as possible, I figure they are paying for themselves still...

We have brown leghorns in our flock, and they are very nice birds. My daughter has used them for show (4-H) and even when they molt they don't look ragged. Of course I can recommend the Ameracaunas (green egg layers). Very hardy, come in lots of colors, friendly, and then there's the fun of green eggs...

I've also had lots of "conversations" with know-it-all adults about chickens and eggs, and one brief explanation of things for my 5-year old niece. She repeated the whole description of egg color, plumage, ear color, etc. for her kindergarten show-and-tell two weeks later, and got it perfect. So I guess it just shows who is listening and who is flapping their beaks....

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Athough it's an example of few numbers, you might want check out this blog post:

Tina's OLD hens still lay plenty, it sounds like. Maybe it's similar to all the homesteading milk cows that produce for FAR more years than commercial milk cows do. A commercial animal, like the hens you referred to, has a short, brutally hard life.

Deborah said...

Thanks for sharing that blog post, Michelle. I have never heard anyone say that a chicken THAT old would still lay eggs. Very interesting! I think your analogy with the dairy cows is probably accurate. Their life is about 1/5 as long as a cow that lives a natural, normal life.

Tina T-P said...

Hi Deborah - it was nice to have you stop by and say "hi" - Yes, my husband (aka The Shepherd) says I run a home for ancient chickens - they are happy girls and like I said - with only the three of them last summer, I was getting about a dozen eggs a week. (two Americanunas and a gold laced wyandott (sp) I love chicks - and really have to restrain myself when I go to the feed store this time of the year - but my knees are so bad that I can't get out to the barn on a regular basis anymore - John would kill me if I brought home chicks!

Cute little baby goats - I admire you being able to harvest that liver - I don't think I would be able to do it - I have a name for your piggy - how about "Saucy" - as in "saucy-age" LOL -

Nice to read your blog - I'll be back to see what you've been up to :-) T.

Tina T-P said...

I forgot to mention the "heated" discussions that I used to have with a college friend about the nutritional value of "White eggs" vs "Brown eggs" -he maintained that "brown eggs" were better for you! - I finally told him the only way he was going to get more nutrition out of a brown egg was if he was going to eat the shell too - LOL - I had forgotten all about those conversations - still makes me laugh!

I went to a fund raiser auction one time where the person had donated "green eggs and ham" - a dozen beautiful green Americauna eggs and a big old ham. That item went really fast and for a lot of money too, if I remember right
:-) T.

Deborah said...

I LOVE the green eggs and ham idea! I just might have to get Americaunas someday.

That is WAY too funny about the guy who thought the brown eggs were healthier.


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