Monday, March 10, 2008
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.