The circle of life for the chickens on the farm. The day after Thanksgiving, Agustin and Miguel were busy finishing up the final steps to prep the chick house. Babies were hatching at 9 am, yes that is the time that was scheduled, and due to arrive between 10:30 and 11:00 that morning. The fresh bedding was spread, heat lamps turned on and watering bowls (officially called poultry drinkers) were filled. This all happens after nearly a week’s worth of cleaning and sanitizing the house. It’s important to make sure the babies have a clean environment in which to start their lives. Once all that work is completed, we’re ready for the cuteness to arrive.
The new flock will start laying pullets in about 6 months. Have you ever tried a pullet? They are an egg you find in stores because in commercial production they go for powdered eggs (can I say, yuck!). When they come around I encourage you to give them a try, they are my favorite, with a truly delicious, silky texture. Of course we never have many of them, so when you see available as an extra, I would jump on them!
Once fully matured our girls are great layers for close to 2 years. As they age the eggs get bigger, and bigger. During the later spring and early summer months our flock is laying close to 120 dozen a day, but then drop to the low point, which is where we are right now, to the mid 50’s. At our current low egg production the cost of feed and labor is solidly at $8.00 per dozen. This swing in production is really challenging to make the numbers, cost/income balance, because when our production is high so is everyone else’s, and the pastured egg market is flooded. It is hard selling all those eggs, but I am grateful for you members who take advantage of our specials and order extra, and I am grateful for Nopa, who during those months, purchases 12 cases a week!
As chickens age, not only does the size of the egg go up, but the amount laid each week, goes way down. At that point it is no longer economical to keep them and off to the soup pot they go. Our friend Tomas, the owner of Rolli Rotti, is now the king of stock; you find his bone broths in stores all over the Bay Area. They take our spent hens and turn them into stock for us. I would have liked to have processed birds a couple of months ago, but Tomas is so busy, especially just before the holidays, that he had no time to slot us in. I spoke with him Saturday and we will get birds to him the weekend of the 15th and will have stock a few days later. I know many people were disappointed to not have stock for Thanksgiving, I know I was. AND with colder, wetter weather, I am seriously missing it. I keep wanting to make a quick soup and realize I have no chicken stock in the freezer and it stops me in my tracks. The crazy thing is, I am 56 years old, how in the world did I make soup all those years before we started making our stock? Simple things, like a great chicken stock, can dramatically change your cooking life, in a very good way.
Chickens are an integral part of all that happens here on the farm. Not only do they produce eggs and broth, but they are the center of our fertility program. As the chickens move from place to place they eat down the pasture, and the bugs, scratch up the soil and leave behind fertility. It becomes challenging in the wet months to move the houses, because the ground needs to be dry enough. For everyone’s sake, we always appreciate a good rain, followed by several days of sun and a little breeze to dry things up.
I’d like to finish up this long article about our chickens with a brief explanation of the different descriptions used on egg cartons, cage-free, free-range and pastured. Cage-free is just that, chickens live in houses, and are not confined to cages. They have no access, at all, to the out doors. Free-Range, is a tricky one, because it sounds good, but honestly it is quite misleading. Here is what Consumer Reports says: The claim implies that the chickens ranged freely outdoors. However, producers can make the claim as long as the birds are given access to an outdoor area, but there are no requirements for the size or condition of the outdoor area, how accessible the outdoor area is to the birds, how often and for how long each day the birds have to be given access to the outdoors. Chicken and eggs labeled “free range” therefore do not necessarily come from birds that ranged freely outdoors.
Our girls are pastured. As far as I know, there is no legal definition. But typically a pastured bird is one that lives outside. Some farmers lock their hens up at night for protection from raccoons, fox etc. We don’t have those problems, only cayotes, but Daisy keeps them at bay. Many of our girls sleep inside the houses and many love to sleep under them, we leave it up to them. The only time we lock them in at night is when we plan on moving the houses the following morning. Whether they are locked in at night or not, there is great benefit to having your birds outside all day, mostly it keeps them much happier. With lower stress levels there is a lot less fighting. Fresh air and fresh ground reduces the chances of disease. Do we feed them less? No! Those girls move a lot and have big appetites. Their poor caged sisters expend very little energy. And just so we are all aware, the vast majority of eggs produced in this country come from caged birds, in 2016 that figure was 90%. Those birds live in cages about 8” wide.
So now you have a full life cycle lesson on your Eatwell Hens. I think it is important for us to understand why things cost what they cost, and how your food is grown. Great care goes into your Eatwell Eggs. But as I hear from customers all the time, they are simply the best!