Now I would like to start by saying ‘normal’ isn’t a bad thing, I was one of these so called ‘normal’ people until about 2 years ago. What I really mean by ‘normal’ is the typical person who is unfamiliar with chickens, chicken-raising and usually buys their eggs from the grocery store. This particular blog comes by request from my mom who frequently reminds me that ‘normal’ people don’t know basic things about chickens. Also I have held many on-the-fly discussions at work (I’m a nurse in a hospital) to clear up many chicken misconceptions.
- A ‘hen’ is a girl chicken. A ‘rooster’ is a boy chicken. Sometimes you will also hear a boy chicken referred to as a ‘cockerel’, this means he is less than one year old. Surprisingly, a hen does not need a rooster in order to lay an egg. Essentially, the hen laying an egg is just getting her period, she will just start laying eggs when she is old enough, whether or not there is a guy around doesn’t make a bit of difference. This is why many people are able to keep hens in urban areas that don’t allow roosters and still get fresh eggs from their chickens.
- The catch is that the hens who never get to be around a rooster will never have chicks. You can get eggs from having only hens, but you can’t get more chickens, you need a rooster for that part. Hens do what us ‘farmers’ refer to as ‘going broody.’ A broody hen is one that wants to sit on her eggs (in order to incubate them) and hatch them into chicks. Typically a hen will lay a clutch, which means she lays an egg every day for a week or two and then starts sitting on them all at once. This is important because in order for them to hatch at about them same time, they need to start the incubation process at the same time. Hens that aren’t around a rooster will still try to go broody, but their eggs are never going to hatch. So usually, their caretaker has removed the eggs (knowing nothing is going to happen so I might as well eat them) and then the hen will sit and sit and sit, sometimes for weeks, until she snaps out of it. During the broody time, a hen goes into a sort of trance, she only comes off the nest about once a day to eat, drink, and poop, the rest of the day she just sits there, waiting for her eggs (or imaginary eggs) to hatch. Certain breeds of chicken tend to be more broody than others and broodiness can also be triggered by time of year, such as the spring.
- “I don’t want to eat farm eggs or fertilized eggs because I’m worried I’ll crack it open and there will be a chick inside.” I have heard this argument a couple of times and I reassure the person on several points. Yes, a fertilized egg has more of a chance of turning into a chick compared to an egg that was not fertilized; however, a fertilized egg will never turn into a chick or chick embryo unless it is given the opportunity to be incubated. In a well managed operation that uses common sense, this should never happen unless you want it too. How do I prevent cracking open half developed eggs? Easy, I collect them every single day and put them in the refrigerator. This way the hens never get the opportunity to start the incubation process. Even if one of my hens laid on an egg all day, it will still be fine and I will still eat it no worries. It takes approximately 21 days to hatch a chick. Sometimes I do come across eggs that the chickens try to hide from me, somewhere other than their laying boxes (or buckets in my case) and I will truly have no idea how long they have been there or if one of my hens has been laying on them or thinking about laying on them. In those cases, I would never sell those eggs, I don’t eat them, Charlie (our dog) gets to eat all of them, so they don’t go to waste. If you really want to take the time there are ways to test if an egg is fresh or not, but I just give them to Charlie and it solves the problem.
- White eggs vs. brown eggs, what’s the difference? Some people get really picky about this, for really no reason in my personal opinion. I think this comes from the grocery store sorting things out and giving you the choice between white vs. brown. This gives you the idea that one might be better than the other. The only thing that effects the color of the egg is the breed of chicken that is laying it. Some breeds lay white eggs and some lay brown, some breeds even lay blue and green eggs. Some ducks even lay black eggs, that is all it is, breed aka type of chicken. It is still a chicken egg, it is still going to taste exactly the same. In my personal opinion, it is more important to judge an egg based on it’s nutritional content. So I would prefer an egg with a hard shell, bright colorful yoke, and one in which that yoke remains a beautiful separate little island from the egg white when cracked, this tells me it is a good healthy egg. Notice how I didn’t say yellow or orange yoke is better, the color of the yoke will very greatly depending on the diet of the chicken. Many commercial chicken feeds also have additives to make the yoke more yellow, so I find this very subjective.
- Chicks come in the mail. Yes, this sounds terrible but it really isn’t. As discussed above, hens can go broody and hatch their own fertilized eggs. However, this creates a lot of variables. Many of the chicks might not make it, the hen might be a bad mother, you might get all roosters or all hens, you might not want any more of that breed of chickens, so on and so forth. Mail order chicks solves this problem. You can order what breed, boys, girls, or both, and specify how many you want, simple. Yes it is a bit stressful for them to go through the mail, but mother nature is wonderful and actually makes it possible for this to even work. Remember how I said before it is important for all the chicks to hatch around the same time? Well, the ‘same time’ might be over a couple of days and the chicks that hatched first are kinda out of luck because mama needs to keep sitting on the rest of your bothers and sisters so you will just have to wait. Therefore, mother nature designed chicks to survive without food and water for the first couple days, kinda how a baby survives on only a few drops of colostrum while waiting for mom’s milk to come in. So the mail really isn’t that bad, chicks were born to be mailed 🙂 in a sense, just make sure you give them some water as soon as they come out of the box. When we got our chicks in the mail, they shipped overnight and the post office called us very early before they opened to come and pick them up because ‘they won’t stop chirping.’ Ordering many chicks at once also helps the chicks to keep each other warm, which is why they make you do a minimum order. Many people also choose to incubate and hatch eggs in an incubator, another option, but one I haven’t tried yet, I just let the chickens do the work.
Well, there is five reasons chickens are awesome, if you are a chicken newbie and reading this I hope you learned something. I will probably add to this blog in the future or make a part two.