Category Archives: Eggs

Prelude to Winter and Hens that Refuse to Lay

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Well, we didn’t get seven feet of snow here this week, but there are flakes on the forecast for Wednesday. For a place that’s usually sunny and seventy degrees on Thanksgiving Day, that’s pretty crazy. In fact, on the first of November, there were several inches of snow to the north and south of us, although my personal snow-free zone still seems to be fully functional.

I haven’t confessed to The Boy yet that it’s probably my fault he doesn’t get to go sledding when kids four miles away are building snowmen. For now, I’m just hoping that this snow-repelling power isn’t some sort of voodoo that I’ve passed down to him and his brother!

One thing I love about cold weather is how much more pleasant it makes the daily chores. I absolutely hate being out in the smothering humidity of our South Carolina summers, but on cold days, I can bundle up. My heavy Wall’s 12/8 jacket is big enough to zip over my growing baby belly, my Muck Boots keep my feet warm and dry, and with some work gloves, I get everyone fed and watered so much more comfortably than in the summer heat.

I’ve run into a strange problem this year. The pullets I hatched out on February 9 and the ones I bought the next day (in case I had hatched out nothing but roosters!) have never started to lay. They’re 41 weeks old, and I’ve never caught one of them in a nest or seen any evidence of eggs being laid and eaten. I’m really at a loss, but at this point, I’m seriously considering culling the whole bunch of them and starting fresh next spring. They’re eating laying pellets like there’s no tomorrow and we’re not seeing any return on all that feed. So we’re going to change brands and see if it makes a difference, and in a few weeks, we’ll make a decision. This is a first for me, so it’s hard to know what to do.

The rabbits continue to be wonderful. I just love them. I bred Anne, one of the California does, to the AmChin buck (George) last month in hopes of getting a better growout rate in the kits. She was due two days ago and hasn’t nested yet, but she’s made a little tunnel in the nestbox bedding and tends to put off pulling fur till the last minute. Based on her crankiness these past few weeks, I’m pretty confident she’s pregnant. Should be interesting to compare her litter (provided she has one) with whatever we get from the larger AmChin doe, Martha, who’s due on December 4. I’ll post photos as soon as I can.

Hope everyone has safe travels this week and a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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“So, What’s for Supper?”

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My beloved October flew by too quickly once again. There were trips to the beach and the mountains, pumpkin spice lattes, and one little pirate who was very excited about Halloween.

I dream of these chilly mornings and crisp days all through the heat and humidity that is summer in South Carolina. There are rumors of a long, snowy winter, which would be most welcome in this household. Two weeks ago, I told The Boy that it would be getting cold in a few days, and he promptly announced that he was going to the window to watch for snowflakes. He will be hugely disappointed if we end up having another weak winter!

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the food. Yes, I love a nice, fresh heirloom tomato (especially when it’s chopped up in a big bowl of pico de gallo or sliced with fresh mozzarella and basil in a caprese salad), but the scents and flavors of cold weather foods warm my soul.

Root vegetables and winter squash. Why do we eat anything else? I’m quite sure my family could survive happily for quite some time on turnips, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and a combination of butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash.

I made a new chicken stew recipe the other night, and the only thing we didn’t like about it was the chicken. Seriously. I think we’ll be leaving it out the next time. In which case it will cost approximately $3.00 to make a huge pot of stew.

One thing that’s new for us this season is that after years of talking about it, we’ve finally started making a menu plan. I don’t really know why it took so long. I hated the days when I didn’t know how to answer Ben when he’d call and ask, “So, what’s for supper?” But I thought that planning out a week’s worth of suppers ahead of time would lock us into eating food that didn’t actually appeal to us on the day it was “scheduled” to be cooked.

In reality, it’s working well. Ben knows ahead of time what to expect for supper each night, so he can plan his lunch accordingly. And I’m not scrambling around every afternoon to figure out what to make. I’m using my slow cooker a lot more, so I can prep everything and throw it in during The Baby’s morning nap.

I make notes on the menu reminding me of what I need to get out of the freezer for the next few days. And I plan around foods that can be used in several meals, like the twelve ounces of bacon which has so far been used in the chicken stew and tonight’s chili (which smells really good, by the way!) and will still easily stretch into at least one more meal.

Meal planning doesn’t just save me from the late afternoon panic of wondering what I should make for supper each night. We’re eating healthier and saving money by not resorting to takeout, and we can save even more by stocking up on staple food items when they’re on sale. This is big for me, because while I love saving money, I’ve never been able to get into couponing. There just aren’t usually coupons for the types of food I buy.

The best part is that while a menu makes it possible to plan ahead, since I pull several days worth of food out of the freezer at once, it’s still flexible. And of course, there will always be eggs on hand if I get desperate.

I know I’m behind the times in discovering the benefits of meal planning, but just in case anyone else has been thinking about trying it, do! I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.

Summertime Blues

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An unusual year we’re having. First, we had spring, a season we typically only see mentioned on the calendar. Now, here we are in late summer, when the grass is usually brown and crunchy underfoot, and we’re setting rainfall records. Fifteen inches in July alone, and we’ve had more rain in the past seven and a half months than we were projected to have for the entire year!

Now don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful for the rain after years of drought. And like everyone keeps saying, “It’s nice to see the lakes full.” But really. Everything in moderation.

The tomatoes are spindly and growing ever taller, searching for nearly nonexistent sunlight. The mosquitoes have organized and are demanding better wages and flying conditions. And the ground is so saturated that the rain in recent weeks has just been running off in torrents, filling the ditches and damaging the roads.

Oh, and weakening the trees. Which is how we ended up with three down in our yard a few weeks ago. A weird storm came out of the northeast, and I’m guessing we were hit by a microburst. Whatever it was, it did some major localized damage. Besides our big pine tree and two tall oaks from the woods behind us, the wind took down the last of our neighbor’s three huge oak trees (all three gone within a year!), then crossed a field and felled four large trees in one yard on the other side.

Our splintered pine tree. We'll be putting in a line of Leylands or Thujas soon for privacy on that side of the property.

Our splintered pine tree. We’ll be putting in a line of Leylands or Thujas soon for privacy on that side of the property.

Both of the oaks behind the house landed on the power lines, and one came down smack dab in the middle of the chicken tractor, killing two hens and trapping two more, while four managed to escape from the wreckage. Because the downed power lines were draped over the whole pile, I couldn’t even rescue the Marans hen I could see, let alone search for any other survivors. Fortunately, when the power company guys (who must have been very nice) arrived the next day, they got her out unharmed and put her in with the escapees I’d already captured.

Tree on tractor

Looking at this, I’m still amazed anything survived. The Marans hen was trapped in the corner on the left in this picture.

We stayed at my parents’ house until the power was restored, so it was two days after the storm when I found my little red partridge Silkie under the splintered tractor, alive, but with one foot crushed under a 2×4 that had a lot of weight pressing down on it. We got her out, but I really didn’t know how much damage was done and what her chances of recovery were. After a few days of rest, though, she was running around with hardly a limp. Now you’d never know she had been injured.

Crushed tractor

Here it is after the tree was semi-cleared by the power company. The Silkie was sitting quietly in the corner on the right, apparently waiting for rescue.

The destruction of the chicken tractor has really exacerbated our overcrowding problem, since all of the girls from the tractor have had to move into what had been the portable extended run for the main coop. I sold my five Buff Orps last month and hope to sell the ten Silver Laced Wyandottes this weekend. At that point, we should be back down to a manageable flock size. Oddly, most of the ones I’m keeping are the older hens. They’re just still laying too well for me to get rid of them, and obviously people buying adult hens would rather have the younger ones.

In the midst of all the mayhem and losses, one of the two surviving Gold Stars from this spring has started laying. It’s amazing to see how the cycle of life carries on in spite of what must seem to those chickens like nearly apocalyptic events.

Not bad for a first egg!

Not bad for a first egg!

Life goes on inside the house, too. Ben is working an insane number of hours because of “back to school,” so we probably won’t get to see much of him until late September. The 47-mile drive tacked on to each end of his 10+ hour workday certainly doesn’t help. He’s only had three days off in the past month, so his homecoming is a big deal every evening. The Boy is always waiting to open the door for him and tell him the latest news, and The Baby lights up and starts trying to push off of me to reach him. Daddy is pretty popular in these parts.

I’m staying busy with kids, critters, and the everyday. What life might lack in excitement, it more than makes up for in cuddles, giggles, and kisses.

Lash Eggs — Thank Goodness They’re Rare!

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This is a basket full of perfection fresh from the coop at my parents’ house last month. In the background, you can see my nephew apparently being crept up on by a giant bee while he waits for his turn at the Slip’n’Slide. Kind of bizarre. Also, in the upper left, you can see the big flat rock where Ben and I got married eight years ago next month. Anyway, what’s in this basket is what’s supposed to come out of chickens.

Basket of Happy

What’s next is what came out of one of my chickens recently. Warning: it could be considered graphic. If you get grossed out easily, stop scrolling now! You’ve been warned!

Lash egg

The hens would probably have eaten it if I hadn’t been in the run when it was, um… laid? Exorcised? From its mother’s womb untimely ripped? Whatever. A couple of chickens were scratching in one spot, and when they moved on, one of them had left this behind. At first, I thought it was a large but normal egg. Then I got closer and actually saw it. And then I picked it up. Not because I really wanted to, mind. I just knew if I didn’t, it would get torn apart pretty quickly, and I wanted a chance to study the thing.

After some Googling (“weird egg,” “hen laid ovary,” “hen laid alien life form,” etc.), I figured out that it’s called a lash egg, or just a lash. There are several posts on Backyard Chickens about similar occurrences, but I found this one most informative. The original poster did some research after finding out a name for the thing and then shared this:

“Experience of hard-core chicken keepers  (official experts enough, imho) seem to suggest it is a sloughing off of the reproductive system, usually thought to be lining.  It is discussed on forums in hens of all ages but evidently going though either a hormonal change at the beginning or end of their laying production period overall.  Sometimes lash is connected to a stressful incident that caused them to stop laying for awhile or a change from broodiness to laying again. Hormonal changes seem key in producing lash.  What “lash” material actually is, is debated.  Photos show various textures and sizes which make it extra hard to pin down.  I suspect “lash” is a broad term used to describe anything that comes out of the hen’s reproductive tract (usually coated with a rubbery layer of material in pink to yellow hues) that is not easily identified.  It is obviously flesh material, though, and not egg.”

Seems to sum it up pretty well. I don’t know which hen produced the lash, so I can’t say if she’s laying or not. I do have one Buff Orp that’s acting a little “off” right now, but she’s only been like that for a few days, and the lash was laid several weeks ago.

Has anyone else had a lash experience?

From The Farm Blog Hop

Nesting

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This third-trimester “nesting” thing? I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to have something to do with cleaning my house, doing laundry, putting meals in the freezer, and generally preparing for the arrival of Baby #2.

Instead, my nesting seems to be centered on… well, nests. And chickens. And by the time I’m done with that, all my energy is used up, and I collapse on the sofa and hope that I’ve solved all the problems and tomorrow can be about nesting for the benefit of the humans in my life.

While the front partitions have cut down drastically on the egg-eating, we’ve still found remnants of a broken egg here and there. Yesterday, I caught a Golden Comet who seemed a little too interested in what was going on in the nest boxes. She was craning her neck to peek over the front of the box while other hens were going about their business, and I was pretty sure she was the same one I’d found standing over a broken egg last week.

I grabbed her and put a zip tie on one leg so I’d be able to keep an eye on her, and sure enough, this morning I went up and found her sitting on a roost all by herself, watching a hen in the nest. While I stood there, another hen jumped out of a nest at the far end of the coop, and by the time I got there, the Comet was off the roost, across the coop, and peeking over the partition at the fresh egg. I grabbed the egg and put a golf ball in the nest, and she hopped right in and started pecking at it. Right in front of me. The brazen hussy.

So right now, she’s hanging out in solitary (also known as the compost bin) with food and water while I figure out what to do with her. I’m hoping that a few days on her own will be enough to break the habit. If not, I guess things will have to get ugly.

And of course, now that I’m getting close to having one problem solved, another one is cropping up. We have a hanging metal feeder with a 30-pound capacity under the front of the coop, and for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been finding a lot of feed on the ground. I haven’t seen how it’s happening, but yesterday, Ben put 20-25 pounds of laying pellets in the feeder, and today, there’s about an inch left in the bottom. The rest is spread over about half of the run.

Obviously, when the feeder is full, it’s too heavy for them to spill by jumping onto it or bumping it. It swings freely, so I can’t see how they could scratch the feed out in such large quantities. I can’t raise the feeder, because it’s already hanging directly from an eye hook by a carabiner clip. And there’s nowhere else in the coop or run to hang it. I’m really at a loss as to a) how they’re making the mess and b) what to do about it.

For the time being, I’ve removed the feeder so that they have to eat what they’ve spilled. And I’m trying to decide if I can cut a piece of hardware cloth that will fit in between the tube and the outer rim. But if anyone else has any suggestions, please tell me!

The baby bunnies are as cute as baby bunnies always are. I suppose it’s because of having another baby of our own on the way, but we seem particularly susceptible to the cuteness this time around. So we’re hoping to find homes for these litters instead of putting them in the freezer. Lucky little critters — their arrival was well-timed.

Anyway, the animals are keeping me busy, but I keep hoping that tomorrow will be the day that I white-glove the house, fold all the clothes, and make a bunch of meal plans. And maybe this time, it’ll be true.