Brilliant orange yolks.

The first little egg from our small beginner batch of Barred Plymouth Rock hens is finally here!  Only took 22 torturous weeks of waiting.  Weeks spent holding our breathe with each peek into the nest; rocked with disappointment, until – WE GOT AN EGG!  A bigger thrill than any stupid roller-coaster I’ve ever endured.

We learned a bit…

–  Pastured Eggs: Knowing the difference in quality of fully pastured chicken eggs, John and I wanted to figure out a set-up to let our ladies roam free.  Different than free-range, pastured chickens peruse a much larger landscape.  The results from truly pasturing are absolutely magnificent.  The white stands firm and tall, the yolk brilliant orange, the flavor rich.  But, the catch is – how do you keep them safe?  We’ve found a mobile chicken house to do the trick.  A coop built on a trailer bed that’s pulled by a tractor, which we station inside our resting pastures, once the sheep have moved on to greener grass.  The hog-wire fences keep the predators out, and for the most part, the chickens in.  At night, they head back to their movable coop, and we shut it up.  We found that 12 weeks was a good age to start pasturing without the chicken hawks carrying away our hard work.


–  Winter Lull: Hens don’t lay as much in the winter, if at all.  Therefore with our hens heading into winter at the egg producing age of 18 weeks, the wait for the first fried egg seemed never-ending.  To jump start the process, we installed a small solar-powered light into the coop with a timer set to light from 6pm – 10pm.  We got an egg in 2 days.  Possibly coincidence, but we’re getting 4-5 eggs a day now, so I definitely think it helped.  Walking by the coop at night before 10pm is hysterical, those chickens have got things to do – people to see!


–  Soy-Free: Being allergic to and aware of the downsides to soy, a common protein source in feed, I didn’t want to include it in our chicken’s diet. In a natural habitat, chickens eat grass, seeds, bugs, worms, larvae – a pretty high protein diet.  Therefore if soy (high in protein) is taken out of the diet, the chickens need another protein source until they are old enough to safely pasture and find their own.  Protein deficiency can cause chickens to pick at each other and more ugly habits.  Many soy-free feeds replace the protein with other vegetable sources like sesame and peas, but I know from my own body that animal protein would work better.  Plus, I’ve heard farmer’s having a real tough time with it.  Thankfully, a handful of feed companies are making soy-free feeds with fish meal for added protein, like Cascade Feed and Scratch and Peck.  Using this feed, we didn’t have any problems with behavior or weakness.  Plus, we can now confirm that the eggs don’t taste fishy.  These days, we could probably use the vegetarian feed for our pastured hens without any issue, but the fish meal is critical, in my opinion, those first 12 weeks.


–  Aggression: Roosters of the same strength, meaning two about the same size, age and health… will FIGHT.  With John out of town, I carried a bleeding rooster up to the barn after a brawl between the two that lived together in our mobile unit.  Rooster #2 now permanently resides with the goats.  A few days after the separation, the mobile unit was parked close enough to the goat pasture for Rooster #1 and #2 to catch a visual, sparking a heated “cock-a-doodle-doo-off.” In my mind, Rooster #1 was totally taunting Rooster #2, because #1 gets all the ladies.  Poor #2 just gets a mama goat and her slightly horny son – Beavis.  Sad to say, but I’m certain Beavis is eying up the new addition.

That’s all for today.  If you have chickens, I’d love to hear what you’ve learned!

xo

Organic Spark

6 comments


  • Pam

    I have a mixed flock of 30 chickens but no fences. I tether my cattle on the pasture and I can’t fence it as it’s public domain. I have to say that I LOVE having the patties scratched apart instead of laying there and being avoided by the poor cows. This way, I get fantastic eggs, my pasture gets fertilized and it gets grazed much more evenly. I too have two roos who divvy up the hens between them, then they each stake out an acre and hunt up some grub for their girls. I like having two roos on the look-out for predators. We have so many in Alaska that it’s hard to keep everything safe!

    January 29, 2012
  • I know that I have given info before, but I have a couple of comments. Keep an eye on them when the days get longer. They might tend to want to start roosting in nearby trees. Mine did that as they got older and loved to roost in my junipers! Fortunately they were within a fenced yard, but occasionally a couple would fly into my neighbors yard to grub. Speaking of grubs……..I would go to a local feed store occasionally and buy grub worms for my ladies…….they LOVE them! I put a bench in the chicken yard and trained them to jump up on it and eat out of my hand. Doesn’t work in a yard with a rooster though. The first rule of rooster owning is there is only ONE rooster per hen house!! They are VERY territorial and will fight with anything that they perceive as a threat. I had one who absolutely HATED my adult son and would crow every time he heard his voice. They didn’t coin the term “cocky” for nothing. I actually had two different roosters who got so uppity that they tried to attack my dogs!! Duh! It was four years apart and one was a banty rooster too! Neither one survived — if they get an injury to the comb or waddle — they don’t make it.

    Speaking of roosters still…..keep an eye out for them. As they get older and breed regularly……they may get nastier. No matter if you raised them from peeps and fed them by hand, those critters are ornery! I had a big Rhode Island Red who constantly eyed me when I went to gather the eggs. The one time I took my eyes off of him — he spurred me in the knee…..BUGGER! It hurt too! After that I always had a rooster stick that I kept between me and him and if he got to close, I just pushed him away with it.

    I used to mix flax seed in with my feed. It helps lower the cholesterol of the yolk of the eggs. They won’t eat it on its own though. Also…….don’t forget to give your chickens all of your wet garbage from your kitchen. They will eat EVERYTHING you give them, I would just toss it around the yard every morning, and they would grub through it all. I would split it up between them and my pot belly pig, Chickens will eat meat scraps too, but I avoided meat products so that the scent wouldn’t attract carnivores and because if you feed meat to a pig, they tend to get aggressive.
    Anyway….I enjoy your posts…….have fun with your farm and critters!!

    January 29, 2012
  • We’ve kept multiple roosters for years without a problem. If you have more than just a few hens, a spare rooster is a good thing. As mentioned above, they’ll sometimes split the flock and divide the duties. Sometimes, they’ll stay together and act as president & vice president. Most especially if you’re keeping the girls pastured, an assistant rooster is an good asset to have. Of course, if you only have four hens, two roos are overkill. LOL The guys will do their thing to establish who’s boss but it’ll be too tense with only so many girls to go around.

    Congrats on your first egg!

    January 30, 2012
  • Congrats! I love having chickens here in the city and my friends fight over who gets our extra eggs when we get too many.

    Thanks so much for the links on the feed. I was afraid to try the fish meal feed for fear of fishy taste. So glad to hear that is not the case!

    January 30, 2012
  • Mom

    Your dad always used to tease me when I had my female friends over. He said that he’d have to collect the “eggs” after their visit. In this new farm context, I now consider that a rave compliment! Just love all the experienced advice on the care and enjoyment of these precious critters. I can’t wait to get back to the farm.

    January 30, 2012
  • I have just one rooster now, and 36 hens (and as of today, 8 chicks!). I’ve had up to 3 roosters before with fewer hens and it was ok. You generally want a dozen hens per rooster. But mine never fought. Fortunately, there were age differences, so perhaps they weren’t perfectly matched. They did seem to work in tandem to protect the ladies. They seemed to have a joint lookout system going. That was nice.

    February 23, 2012

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