Monday, October 29, 2007

an update on our eggs (getting bigger!)

today's eggs and first eggs I've yet to do anything with the first eggs that Sophia and ZsuZsu laid around seven weeks ago (except keep them well refrigerated). So, whenever we put the newly harvested eggs in the egg carton, it's easy to see just how much bigger the eggs are getting from being their cute little selves like the ones that first dropped into the Eglu nest. Here's a picture comparing first eggs (on the right) with today's eggs (on the left). ZsuZsu's are in the top row, Sophia's are in the bottom row. While the first eggs were toy-like in size (maybe a USDA-rated "small" at best?) you can see the most recent eggs are worthy of being rated "large" in size, perfect for cooking with.

Since the egg shell has the same mass whether the egg is small or large, the shells have gotten thinner and therefore easier to crack open when cooking. While I can still easily crack open industry-produced eggs with one hand and not break the yolk while doing so, I can't quite claim the same success with our backyard eggs. Even thought the shell is thinner, the liner inside the shell is still pretty tough and prevents easy access to the insides. It must be the liner that becomes more brittle over time as the eggs sit on the shelf.

Since the egg liner is thick on our home-grown eggs, it makes for difficult openings, and it means I crack the egg multiple times before getting through the fractured shell and liner and at the insides. So, I've been picking more shell out of my mixing bowls when cooking with our backyard eggs than I can ever remember having to pick out of my cooking since I first learned to bake back in eighth grade. And, given how thick the albumen is in our backyard eggs, it takes some extra oomph to mix the yolk and whites sufficiently. But for all the difficulties, the taste and convenience is more than worth it.

Even though it's now a daily habit this harvesting of eggs, I still can't believe they come from our own backyard.

Oh, and I'd better blow out the "first eggs" soon before they go bad, huh?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

we've survived six months of chicken farming!

We did it! We made it through six months of urban chicken farming! The girls turned six months old last week, and Monday marks their sixth month with us in Redwood City.

Now, if I could just remember where the time went... it seems like only yesterday I started this blog by warning we had peeps incoming (Apr 26), then posting the news of our jumping into chicken farming with both feet by bringing two barred rock chicks home to live in a temporary brooder made out of a 10-gallon aquarium in our home. (Apr 30)

Within a week, our chicks were named (May 5) by our oldest daughter, and we've called them Sophia and ZsuZsu ever since. Then, we watched these little fluffballs grow bigger and bigger by the day (and tried to share it in our Flickr set as much as possible) and soon they'd outgrown the aquarium and we had to move them into a wire cage as we waited for our Eglu (May 26) to arrive.

new home for the chooksSix weeks into our chicken farming experience, the Eglu arrived (Jun 5) and the girls started sleeping outdoors and enjoying being the outside birds they've become. The folks over at Omlet, the maker of the Eglu, seemed to enjoy following our story, and we've had a nice link to this blog on their site ever since.

Thanks to the wisdom of the chicken farmer crowd, I've gotten great advice on issues ranging from "how do I tell if I've got a cockerel?" to "what to feed the chooks at time-of-lay" to "when's our first egg coming?"

three eggs in a bowlFinally, a little magic hit the hen house right about the time Nora at Spark interviewed us about chicken farming with our Eglu on the debut of the Spark radio show.We hadn't had eggs at the time of the interview, but the Saturday the episode aired, Sophia laid her first egg! Of course, this meant a follow up on the third episode of Spark, and added enough pressure on ZsuZsu that she finally had her first egg less than two weeks later. Since then, we've had double egg days more often than not, and we haven't gone a day without fresh eggs in the nest for over six weeks now.

So, what's it like at the six month mark? Still delightful to look out in the backyard and see the girls pacing their run first thing in the morning. Tranquil to come home after work, grab a drink and go out back to watch the girls free range in the backyard eating bugs and weeds. And scrumptious to have fresh eggs to eat every day of the week.

what's that in front of your face?What do I look forward to in the next six months? Seeing how the chickens do over the (mild) winter here in the Bay Area and whether they stop laying at all in the cooler months ahead. Using the chicken-dropping rich compost in our garden next Spring. Resisting the urge to add yet another chicken to the flock when I hear the peeps of chicks at the feed store.

Stay tuned to read along. It's been great having you here so far!

Monday, October 22, 2007

gathering an egg after dark

Last night, after sunset, as I was settling into my own dinner, I suddenly remembered we'd only gathered one egg from the nest during the day. That meant one egg was still in the nesting box and about to be slept on by both chickens and likely knocked out of the nest or worse.

I don't want to risk the girls' smashing their own egg and developing a taste for the yolk, so I grabbed the flashlight and quietly walked out to the Eglu.

As I approached the coop, I turned off the light and crept up to the nest-box door. I could hear the girls inside making coo-ing sounds which signaled to me they were either already asleep or close to it. Before turning the handle on the door, I reviewed my game plan: open the door, turn on the flashlight, the startled hens stand up, I grab the egg from under them and then shut the door tight.

Things didn't quite go according to plan. Turns out my chickens are a lot harder to startle than I thought they'd be.

I opened the door and turned the flashlight on, pointing it straight at the nesting box, to see two chickens, eyes wide open, frozen in place. Sophia had won the battle of "who gets to sleep in the nesting box tonight" so she was closest to the door, frozen in place. ZsuZsu was like a statue on the roosting bars close by. Not a peep of sound out of either of them, just the blinking of eyes trying to figure out how in the heck that bright light got inside the coop.

Perhaps a little coaching would help? My plea of "C'mon girls, move aside!" only persuaded them to settle into their roosting stances even more than before.

Time to use mechanical intervention. I pushed my hand underneath Sophia to feel around the (freshly changed) nest for the egg. Groping blindly, I just hoped there wouldn't be anything squishy at my fingertips. Let's see, chicken foot, chicken ankle, clump of aspen shavings, EGG!

I slipped the egg out from under Sophia and before she could even register a complaint, the nesting box door was back in place and the light was off again. As I walked back to the house (and dinner!), I could hear the girls rustling around a bit as they got resettled for the night. They clucked at each other as if to discuss whether that recent invasion had really happened or was just a dream.

And as I grabbed the door knob to open the back door of the house, it finally came to me: ZsuZsu's actually sleeping on the roosting bars and not in the nest! Small victories all around.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

raccoon in the neighborhood

I'd so preferred my (misguided) thinking that we were in a raccoon-free neighborhood given our position up on a hill. I now know better.

Left Coast Mom was out and about last night on a ladies night out and I figured she was gone until at least 10 or 11pm. Much to my surprise, she came running into the house and announced, breathlessly, "there's a raccoon up the street. I gotta put the chickens away!"

I understood, implicitly that by "putting away" she meant "close the Eglu door" so we had a brief should-we-shouldn't-we discussion before she dashed out the back door to go shut the girls in for the night.

Once she'd come back inside, I learned that LCM was driving up our street when she saw something lumbering along the sidewalk and first thought "what an enormous cat!" until the "cat" turned to look at her and she caught the black mask in her headlights. Then, maternal instincts kicking in, she dashed home to secure the girls in place.

So we've got a coon in the 'hood. Guess I'd better re-evaluate our open-door policy again, knowing the predator's nearby. I wonder if the Eglu run is strong enough to keep the coons out? I wonder how I test it without jeopardizing our girls' lives?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chicken Farming Then and Now

It's another cloudy morning here in the Bay Area, made a little brighter by thanks to yard-fresh eggs with my pancakes this morning.

The girls produced an even dozen eggs this week, and the eggs themselves are getting bigger with each week's passing. If I had to guess, I'd say they're laying eggs sized somewhere between "small" and "medium." This increase in size coincides with the growth of their wattles and combs. Not full grown, but definitely more pronounced than ever. I have to wait for the sun to come out today before taking pictures of Sophia and ZsuZsu, but I plan to post new pictures before midnight.

In the meantime, I discovered a cool online exhibit by The Food Museum called Chicken Farming Then and Now.

The TFM's online exhibit is the source of this picture of Joel M Foster (seen to the right), the founder of The Million Egg Farm, as Rancocas Poultry Farm was known. From the site, "Foster was a pioneer promoter of humane and environmentally responsible mass production of eggs and birds. Besides writing a how-to book on the subject (1910), he developed and marketed a line of products that included industrial incubators, sanitizers and feeders."

The TFM exhibit includes lots more chicken-industry photos from the beginning of the last century, and it's a good reminder of where things have come from, especially as I gaze across the yard at our futuristic-looking Eglu with our own urban chickens inside.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

video blog capturing chicks growing up

Found this video blog belonging to today, and it's great to see the video capture of their four chicks at one-week intervals (they're up to week four so far).

No commentary on the blog, just video observation of the chicks in action.

From the looks of it, I think are at least three barred rocks, but the spot pattern doesn't seem familiar to me.

Go ahead and take a gander at the videos and come back here to post what kind of chicken breed you think they are.

to roost or to nest? eggs still coming

Since arriving home from Berlin this weekend, I've been surprised to discover that getting eggs from the girls is no longer novel. There's a new egg (or two) in the nest each day, and we've got to dutifully harvest them each day so as to coax another.

Based on the dropping pattern inside the Eglu, I'd thought the girls had finally started using the roosting bars in the Eglu instead of huddling in the nest to sleep. I was wrong. On Tuesday night I got home from work/errands after sunset and had to harvest the eggs in the dark, and when I opened the nesting box access panel, I found both girls huddled together in the nest in a big pile of feathers.

I picked each of them up to place them on the roost (and gather the single egg that ZsuZsu had laid some time that day) but I don't think they roosted very long. Once the panel was back in place, I heard the tell-tale sounds of the girls scrambling to get the "prime spot" in the nest.

I'm not going to worry to much about their choice of places to sleep. At least until it starts to affect egg production. For now, I'm just loving the fresh eggs at breakfast!

Oh, and there were absolutely no live chicken sightings in Germany (lots of yummy chicken dishes, tho). Unless you want to count the critical role that chickens played in the movie Mr. Bean's Holiday seen on the plane ride back.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Houdini's Chickens

It's a little known fact* that, for relaxation between performances and travel, Harry Houdini kept a flock of chickens at his home in New York. These were not your ordinary chickens. Gifted with an intellect to rival that of a Jack Russell terrier, they carefully observed Mr Houdini's practice sessions which, fortunately, were held in the back yard. Through this careful observation, the chickens were able to learn and, eventually, master his tricks. Of course, in accordance with Mr Houdini's early practice, they kept his secrets, passing them only to succeeding generations.

It was believed that the last of "Houdini's Chickens," as they came to be called, had died out sometime in the 1940s. Today, however, it has been proved that this line of exceptional chickens still clucks it's way across the country. Well, the West Coast, anyway.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce ZsuZsu Houdini.

I glanced out the window today and noticed that one of the chickens appeared to be next to rather than in the run. It was hard to tell from that distance, so I kept peering at the Eglu, sure that the chickens could NOT be roaming the yard, sans supervision. Alas ZsuZsu was.

Running through the house and down the yard, I arrived just in time to see ZsuZsu industriously filling in the hole she had dug to make her escape. It was a small hole, one Sophia never would have fit through. But either ZsuZsu was taking no chances, or she was following instinct, protecting the secret of Houdini's Chickens by hiding the escape route.

Safely back in her nest, ZsuZsu is now punishing me in the only way she can (short of pooping on me again): she's withholding eggs.

* Possibly bc I just made it up ;)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Surprise! same breed, different eggs

Eggs from two different chickens Just before I left for the airport, I heard Sophia squawking in the coop, and when I went to investigate, sure enough she'd just laid an egg!

A going away present? (no, just nice timing)

After placing the egg in the carton, I snapped this picture (to the right) that illustrates just how different-looking the eggs are, even though they're all from the same age (23 weeks) and breed (Barred Plymouth Rock) chicken.

Sophia's eggs are the darker, thinner ones in the top row. ZsuZsu's are the lighter, rounder ones in the bottom row. The egg on the left-most slot in each row is actually the first egg each of them laid for us (I still haven't gotten around to blowing them, yet).

Mind you, these aren't all the eggs they've given us, as we've eaten all but what's in the picture.

We'll keep track of how the eggs change over time, whether it's getting bigger or changing shape and/or color. For now, I'm just amazed that it's so easy to tell which egg came from which chicken!


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