Friday, June 27, 2008

more advice: how to handle fresh eggs

Got a great comment on my post "how to clean urban chicken eggs" from Bad Wolf and it's worth bringing out here to stand on its own because he's helped me see just how wrong my intuition about handling the fresh eggs has been:
You probably already know this but eggs have a natural coating called "bloom" which basically seals them, keeps the various bacteria out and keeps them fresh. That's why people will see eggs sitting out at a market in Mexico (something that bothers the gringos). It's also the reason a hen can lay a clutch of a dozen or so yet have them all hatch about the same time. Until she starts sitting on them, keeping them at a constant temperature, they are in a stasis.

Once washed, the coating is gone and the eggs can't be left out as the shell is porous. Eggs bought in the store have to be washed (and are usually in a corn based detergent, then covered in a corn based coating) according to the rules so would go bad quickly if left out. They also turn quicker in the fridge than unwashed.

Here's a great article Mother Earth News did on various techniques of storing eggs and the results over a year.

We use a fingernail brush like deal to clean off dirty eggs before storing. The eggs I used to buy at the farmers market would often have a little dirt and even a downy feather or two attached but I loved that as it showed the origins. We are so freaked about sanitation in North America often causing more problems with our obsessions.

For instance, just as the cold water draws in the germs to the eggs, that's what is currently believed to be the issue with the tomatoes. Warm toms from the fields are being dunked in ice water to firm them up so they'll be tougher for the rest of the processing before hitting store or restaurant. That temperature shock is sucking the germs in through the stem end which has been compromised in the picking.
Thanks, Bad Wolf, for the great info.

I'm no longer of the mindset "the eggs out of the bird, must get it washed and into the fridge ASAP!"

How do others handle their own backyard-fresh eggs? Leave them out? Refrigerate same day? Straight into the frying pan? I'd like to get a sense of how the group's handling their golden yolks.

Friday, June 20, 2008

how to clean urban chicken eggs

Thanks to my sharing the instructions for our chicken sitter before I left town on vacation, I got some great feedback on my chicken-raising technique.

Most specifically, Granny Annie commented on my egg-cleaning technique, gently tsking me for washing the poop off our eggs instead of simply taking a damp paper towel to them.

Sure enough, Granny Annie's right about not washing the eggs with water (not that I doubted her). Doing a little digging, here's what I found out about so-called "wet cleaning:"
The basic issue is that dirty eggs are covered with bacteria, which have trouble getting through the shell so long as it's dry. As soon as the shell is wet, they pass through the shell more easily. Also, if you cool the egg, the contents shrink a little, causing a partial vacuum inside that tends to suck foreign matter into the egg.

The upshot is that you should always wash eggs in water that's warmer than the egg is, and you should sanitize the eggshells to kill any bacteria on the shell.

So, it seems my prior technique of washing the eggs in tepid water and then popping them into the fridge was likely the worst thing I could have been doing! I'm so very glad I decided to be open about how I do things to invite people smarter than I to correct me openly.

What's the best way to clean eggs? From the same source:
You can clean up lightly soiled eggs with various abrasives. Sanding sponges from 3M and others are good, and can be found in any hardware store. Loofas are also good. Some people use sandpaper or steel wool, but these aren't as good as the first two.

Basically, you rub the egg until it's clean, or you give up, or it breaks in your hand. This happens more often than you'd think, because dirty eggs are often cracked as well.

Dry cleaning doesn't work very well to clean up eggs that have been smeared with the white or yolk of broken eggs in the nest.

Whatever you use to clean the eggs, it's best to wash and sanitize it from time to time. Clean loofas or sanding sponges in soap and water, sanitize them in water with a little bit of bleach, then allow to dry.

Thanks, Granny Annie for the tip on how to clean my eggs!

Oh, and Steven, I'll be getting to your question about "why crumbles?" in another post. I think I'm about to change another habit...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

instructions for the chicken sitter

We're getting ready to go out of town for five days, so I thought I'd post our instructions for the chicken sitter here on the web instead of writing them on a piece of paper that might get lost on the counter.

Taking care of Sophia and ZsuZsu is really easy... should take no more than five minutes each day (and you get to keep the eggs). If it takes more than five minutes, you're making things too hard on yourself. Here are the things to pay attention to:

TIMING: On busy days, we usually tend to the chickens around supper time as it gives the girls plenty of time to lay their eggs during the rest of the day and we can collect them so they don't sit in the nest overnight.

WATER: Make sure the girls have fresh water daily (especially in this heat). I usually fill up the bowls once a day with fresh water. This is the most critical need of all, as lack of water will kill chickens really quick. Use water from the hose at the spigot along the fence separating our yards. Unhook the bowl by lifting it off the run's wire cage to dump it on the plants nearby, then rehang once it's filled.

FOOD: I've filled their food bowl with enough crumble to last two days, simply make sure it's topped off each day while we're gone. The crumble is in the big 50-lb. bag in the big grey plastic trash can outside the run. The scoop's inside the bag. I generally unhook the bowl from the side of the run and take it to the food bag (less spillage), then rehang the bowl so that it's about chest-high on the birds (same as the water bowl).

EGGS: Collect the eggs daily! You should expect to get two eggs each day, one per hen, but you may only get one, depending on their cycles (one egg per 25 hours). The eggs are generally clean, but we bring the eggs inside and wash them off under running water anyway. If you manage not to eat them right away, refrigerate them within the first 24 hours of collection.

POOP: Simply slide out the bottom tray from underneath the Eglu (there's a little catch at the centerpoint that you lift up to disengage it), then empty the contents in the compost bin tucked over under the cherry tree. I'll turn the compost once I get home, so just dump the poop on top and return the tray to the Eglu. Yes, it's that easy.

IF THE CHICKENS GET OUT DURING THE ABOVE: It's easy to lure them back in using some chicken scratch (in the small brown paper bag with the crumble food). The girls are addicted to the stuff and when they see you reaching for it, they'll come running. Simply take a handful of it and lure them to the front of the run and when they get right up to you, toss the scratch inside the run and close the door behind them.

QUESTIONS? don't hesitate to give us a call on my cell number (you have it).
Thanks for tending to the girls, Lisa. Enjoy the eggs, and I'll take over chicken-tending duties after I get home late late Tuesday night!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Olivia and her chickens won Storytubes!

I'm very happy to see this morning that Olivia won the StoryTubes contest (previously blogged here with the video) for the week of May 29 - June 4. Stacey and Olivia must be over the moon.

I appreciate all you Urban Chicken fans (here on the blog and in the Facebook group) taking a couple minutes to vote for her to win. By the time I'd cast my final vote, it was a two-person race with Olivia in the lead by just 400 with over 13,500 votes cast for her. Then the long wait while results were tabulated before the win was given to her.

For her efforts, Olivia wins $500 in books and her sponsoring library gets another $1000 in books.

Hooray for Olivia and her chickens!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Creating a map of urban chicken farmers

Great to see KT over at the site beat me to the punch on creating a Google map to display where in the world folks are keeping urban chickens.

(I got to know KT via email as she was doing a research paper for her graduate program, and I really like the pile of resources she's gathering around the domain.)

Got urban chickens of your own and want to add them to the map? Here's how:
  1. You'll need a Google account to start (easy to acquire one from this very blog page, look in the upper right corner of the browser)
  2. Follow this link to display the map in your browser
  3. In the left column, click the "EDIT" button next to the "urban chicken keepers" map name
  4. A cluster of buttons should appear next to the zoom in/out slider in the upper left corner of the map. Click the one that looks like a generously-scooped ice cream cone. This is your marker.
  5. Click where you live on the map and a popup box will appear to enter your details (quantity and type of hens, a link to your blog even)
  6. When done (IMPORTANT!) click the "DONE" button over in the left column (where you originally found the "EDIT" button). This'll exit you to the regular map display.
  7. Sit back, smile and admire how many other urban chicken farmers there are around you!
Thanks, KT, for the initiative, and I look forward to seeing how many other folks are raising chickens here in the Bay Area and beyond with us.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Urban Chickens now legal in Ann Arbor!

Fantastic news!

The Ann Arbor News reports that the city council approved (by a vote of 7-4) an ordinance allowing up to 4 chickens per resident:

The change still requires community members who want to keep chickens to get an OK from neighbors. Evidence of that approval will be required to get a permit.

It also creates setback requirements for coops and addresses noise, pest and other issues.

The council will review the ordinance a year after it goes into effect.

City officials said it will take 60 days to put a permit process in place.

Congrats to City Council Member Steve Kunselman, who promoted the plan and to everyone who worked so hard to make the change, especially the twenty or so folks who showed up at the meeting to make the case for the ordinance, summarized as:
• Permits granted only to residents of single- or two-family homes.

• Birds have to be provided with a covered enclosure and fenced or in that enclosure at all times.

• Chicken coops have to be 10 feet from any property line and no closer than 40 feet from any residential structure on an adjacent property. (Neighbors could agree to a waiver.)

• Coops and feed have to be secured to prevent problems with mice or other pests.

It's great to see such progress taking place to bring more Urban Chickens to backyards across the country.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

vote for Olivia and the chickens to win!

Stacey shared this great little video of Olivia reviewing Your Chickens - A Kid's Guide as her entry into the Story Tube contest put on by Scholastic:

(my fav part is watching Olivia dance around with the chicken on her head).

Now Stacey's plea:

[Olivia] was chosen as a finalist and now the winner is being chosen by a live, on-line vote. The winner receives $500 in books plus $1000 in book for their local library (she wants to give it to her school library which just lost massive funding.)

If you like, check out the video and vote at You can vote once a day until the polls close on Wednesday night. Tell all your friends, too! Go chickens!!

So please watch the video and vote (every day!) for Olivia to win over at Story Tubes (hers is in the bottom row, center).

Let's win one for the chickens!


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