On chickens and eggs

IMG_4041This is a good a time as any to talk about the care of chickens and egg production.  The winter months typically come with a decrease in egg production.  Since eggs are so important to having food security, we find ourselves in a position of needing to buy eggs to make up for the lack of consistent egg production over the winter with our flock of hens.  In the picture above you can see a store-bought egg (top) and one of our home-produced “organic” eggs (bottom).  I say “organic” because these chickens are not certified organic but are fed organic feed and do have more than 3 square feet per chicken to roam.

Notice that the yolk is bigger and more orange in the home-produced egg.  It also has much more egg flavor and richness.  The white of the egg is also more thick and holds together much more than the store-bought egg.  There is an opinion out there, however, that the yellower yolks have better flavor and consistency for cooking and baking.  That is not our opinion, but it is interesting and merits mentioning for future investigation.

So egg production steadily decreases with the onset of winter, presumably because of the shortening of the daylength.  I also hear that if the chickens’ feet get cold, they will decrease egg production.  For this reason we have loaded up the chicken house and yard with mulch (sawdust, woodchips, and/or hay) for the winter months and even remove snow from their yard when it snows.  We have heard of people using lights or even a chiminea (small wood stove) in the chicken coop over the winter to fool the chickens’ biology into producing more eggs.  Interestingly, as soon as we passed the Winter Solstice and the days started getting slightly longer day by day, egg production increased.  Where we were lucky to get 3 or 4 eggs a week in December, we are now getting 3 or 4 eggs a day in February.

We have 14 laying hens and 3 roosters.  We like to feed the chickens  a mix of “Layer” and a “Scratch” in equal parts.  If we fed the chickens 100% layer, we could have as much as 14 eggs a day during peak production in the summer.  However, since we don’t really eat 14 eggs a day and especially knowing that it must be somewhat uncomfortable to lay an egg every day, we give our hens a little bit of a break…

Chickens are an integral part of our family scale farming operation.  The provide eggs, meat, and manure.  The manure is really important for our composting operations.  It can be said that the chickens also provide some measure of pest control and tillage.

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About Miguel

Miguel Santistevan is a researcher, educator, and advocate for traditional agriculture crops and systems.
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