Monday, December 04, 2006

Free range eggs

Our experiment this year with free range chickens has been a challenge but is now proving to be totally worth the effort! We purchased 50 heritage breed chicks early this season. We trained them to roost in a wheeled roosting box with a 1/2 inch wire mesh floor that acts as a portable fertilizer-mobile on the pasture and lawn. After culling more than a dozen roosters and suffering some losses to predation and other miscellaneous causes we are left with about 10-12 laying hens and another 7 or 8 roosters (still too many) who have all been doing really well over the last few months. The chickens all have free range over the entire farm during the day. They spend a lot of time in the tree land eating bugs. There is still some green grass out there despite the freezing weather so they are getting some greens too. And we supplement with kitchen scraps and grain daily.

One problem we are having lately is with some roosters getting too aggressive. The three Buff Laced Polish roosters we have are absolutely beautiful but they have become little attack chickens. The kids are now too scared to go out in the yard with the chickens any more, and while it's been a nice break from having to supervise them catching and holding chickens we really don't want to have a situation where the kids can't go out into their own yard! Scotty has been learning how to handle the rooster attacks but Eliza is just too young to get it. Besides that, the roosters have been ganging up on the hens too much and I worry about them getting hurt. So unfortunately our "yard art" (the beautiful, funny looking Polish roosters) will have to go.

Here's the flock getting their grain and scraps in the yard.

Every evening they all come up to the front of the house (maybe because it's warm there) and pick through my no-till kitchen garden. Sometimes they even come "knock" on the doors and windows. With all of our huge South facing windows it makes for great Chicken TV.

This was taken from the front window.

The best thing about the free range chickens though is the EGGS! Wow, I've never had such delicious, rich, dark-orange eggs. And since nothing good comes without some effort, of course the hens have decided to lay their eggs all over the place. It's like a treasure hunt trying to find their nests, which they seem to move regularly. But what great fun for the kids! We have started observing their behaviors and watching where they go to try to figure out where the nests are. Scotty has expressed some interest in quantifying the numbers of eggs we get (inspired from the movie Chicken Run I think) and drawing graphs of egg production so I think we'll put together some kind of data sheet that we can fill out daily that records hen behavior, location of nests, and egg production. Hey, the boy is a third generation wildlife biologist after all.

Even more fun than finding the eggs is eating them. Scotty has learned how to cook eggs from his Nonna and really enjoys doing it (and telling me how to do it right). I hope the pictures do them justice--those yolks really are incredible.

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