Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Chicken and the Egg

Keeping chickens, I can honestly say, is one of the most fulfilling endeavors I’ve ever undertaken. From being in awe of the first egg my flock laid to being freaked out by Bronny’s first molt. From dealing with a broody Silkie to dealing with ‘Straw-mageddon’. Each and every day is a learning experience.

Here's Miss Lynn
looking at me differently.
In addition to the everyday ‘here’s-what-you-got-yourself-into-by-deciding-to-raise-chickens’ knowledge, I’ve also been a huge advocate of diving in (to google) and trying to wrap my head around actual cold, hard facts about chickens.

Some are small facts. Chickens have more bones in their necks than giraffes, for example. Others are eye-opening. Like the chicken is the closest living relative of the t-rex. With each new piece of information, I look at chickens in a new light. And since I’m looking at chickens differently, I’m obviously looking at eggs differently.
In my latest sojourn into all things chicken (and egg), I decide a history lesson was in order. So here’s what found...

A little chicken history.
Chickens have been around since before humans, obviously. And way before historians. So, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when chickens became domesticated but there’s speculation that it happened 8000 years ago in what’s now Thailand. But recent research suggests the good old chicken may have multiple origins in different areas of South and Southeast Asia. (More on that here)
And then there were the Egyptians. And the Chinese. Both of whom domesticated chickens like crazy not only for meat but for eggs. In about 600 B.C. domestication happened in Europe. And then Columbus went out to find the new world and took along some chickens. These chickens, whose strains originated in Asia, are the ancestors of the chickens that lay eggs in North America now. (More info here)

Now, a little egg history.
We (humans) have been eating eggs since forever. Eggs have always been easy to find (unless you run out of them at 11:00pm on Christmas Eve and still have three dozen cookies to bake), they’re easy to cook, and they were (and still are) part of a lot of socio-religious symbolism and tradition. Just look at Easter.

At some point someone realized that if they take the eggs out from under a chicken, that chicken would lay another one instead of going broody (unless that chicken is my Silkie Arabella). So, eggs became a good and easy source of food. And this all happened around 3200 B.C. in India. And in China and Egypt in 1400 B.C.-ish. Maybe earlier.
Interesting. Possibly even fascinating. Or boring. Depending on where you stand on history lessons from blogs.

Anyway, with all that early chicken and egg history running through my mind, it got me thinking about a question that has been haunting civilization since the beginning of time.

So, here it is. The biggest chicken question of them all:
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Well, the argument usually goes something like this: The chicken came first! Then where did the chicken come from? The egg! But what laid the egg? The chicken! Then where did the chicken come from? The egg!
Up until a couple years ago this was it. There was no real answer. But, in July of 2010 the answer was found. At least that’s what scientists in Great Britain claimed. They say that they discovered a protein in chicken ovaries that is absolutely necessary to form a chicken egg. Without this protein the egg isn’t truly ‘chicken’. Which means, in order for there to have been a chicken egg laid at all, there had to be a chicken to lay it. No chicken. No Protein. Therefore, no egg. So. There’s your answer. The chicken came first.
And here's the link to prove it!

Very exciting. Or boring. Depending on where you stand on awesome answers to impossible questions on blogs.
***   ***
Want to know more? Click HERE for a great page (where I got a lot of my info) about eggs and the history of different variations on their cooking.

--Chicken Dup

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Stinking Rose

So. One day, I’m in Lowe’s Hardware and I see a poultry magazine praising the benefits of garlic in a chicken’s diet.

So, when I got home, I hopped online and did some research about garlic and chickens. And the first thing that came up was a recipe for Garlic Chicken. (For that recipe, click here)

Not what I was hoping for. So I decided to just look into the benefits of garlic in general. And then see how they apply to chickens.

So. Let’s talk garlic.

It dates back over 6000 years and is native to Central Asia. There are about 300 varieties of garlic and it's sometimes refered to as The Stinking Rose, but it's actually part of the lily family. And I, for one, love it.
How can something so small bring so much joy?

I use garlic in everything. Liberally. And apparently, according to folk-lore, old wives’ tales, and Whole Foods, I’m doing the right thing. Garlic is wonderful. And to paraphrase this website here

  • The medicinal properties and benefits of garlic are strongest when it is raw and crushed or very finely chopped
  • Raw, crushed garlic is an anti-fungal, however it can produce skin blistering
  • Raw, crushed garlic is a powerful antibiotic
  • Cooked prepared garlic is less powerful but still reputedly of benefit to the cardiovascular system
  • Garlic cloves cooked whole have very little medicinal value however their milder taste makes them more acceptable to some people
  • There have been claims that garlic can help with cholesterol management however the research is inconclusive
  • Vampires do not like garlic. Everyone knows it, but these days not too many people are promoting it.

Okay.  So, the vampire factoid is mine. But the rest of it sounds pretty good.

Now. How does this all relate to my flock?

Well according to the Mudbrick Cottage website, with regards to chickens, garlic is the best organic treatment for worms. (Click here for the treatment)  

The site also says that garlic is good not only for worms, but also for lice, mites, and chicken health in general. Other sites do, too. Check out here, here, and here.

And speaking of mites, the red mite keeps coming up in my research. says this about them:

Red Mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) is a blood-feeding ecto-parasite that lives in cracks and crevices in your chicken house, coming out at night to hop onto a bird for a feast. They cannot fly but are a very serious problem for poultry keepers and a large infestation can kill your birds by sucking their blood, making them anaemic.
How can something so small cause so much pain?
Red Mite photo from Wikipedia
Wait. Blood-feeding? Comes out at night? Can kill by making its victims anaemic? Wait. That sounds familiar. Don't tell me. Don't tell me... Vampires! That’s right. So maybe that little factoid up top wasn’t so far off. Oh. And yes, red mites hate garlic. A lot. They don't like how it makes the chicken's skin smell or how it makes the chicken's blood taste.

So. Those are some positives. Now what about the negatives.

Well, a couple resources have had minimally negative things to say. Primarily that if chickens eat a lot of garlic, the garlic will taint the taste of the eggs. (Same goes for onions and fish, by the way.) So, there’s that. Garlicky eggs. I couldn't find much else that was all that bad.

So, the results are in. And I guess I should have just listened to what that magazine at Lowes had to say. Garlic is indeed good for the flock. Its health benefits certainly outweigh the garlicky eggs thing. And if it’s only fed to the chickens every so often, this shouldn’t even be an issue.

Plus. It will keep those pesky vampires away. So, there’s that. Which is nice.

--Chicken Dup

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Lot of Fuss and Feathers

At just over twenty weeks of age, my six Girls are coming along just fine.

Miss Lynn, so far, is the only one laying any eggs (click here for more on this) , and the others are gearing up to start soon (hopefully). The roost I constructed from discarded tree limbs seems to be used quite a lot, based on the pattern of chicken droppings below it. And all day a steady cooing, clucking, and buk-buk-buk-bukawwing emanates from The Run.

But there is one thing that bothers me.

I noticed Bronny (my Dark Brahma) has a patch of feathers missing from her neck. Curious. And I also noticed that when Bronny jumped up onto the roost inside Coopenhagen ready to turn in for the night, Miss Lynn hopped beside her and immediately started pecking at her neck.

Poor Bronny.

The next day when I examined Bronny's neck, I saw this...

Again. Poor Bronny.

It looked like Miss Lynn pecked the feathers all the way down to the quills. How painful must that be? At least Bronny's skin wasn't broken.

Then I did some research. On Google. As usual.

What I thought was chicken-on-chicken abuse was simply part of the molting process. Even Miss Lynn's feather pecking.

Now what exactly is molting? It's when old feathers are lost and new ones grow in to take their place.

According to this website, there's a specific order in which feathers are lost and regrown. First from the head and neck, then from the saddle, breast and abdomen (body), then from the wings and finally from the tail.


And what I thought was pecked-away quills is actually the new feathers growing in. They're called 'pin feathers' and they're what pushed the old feathers out.


Now why the feather pecking?

Well, feathers are about 85% protein. And to regrow lost feathers it takes protein, so eating them makes sense (to chickens). And where's the best place to get nice fresh feathers? From other nearby chickens.


This, by the way, is also why egg production goes down during molting. All the protein that's usually used to make the eggs is now used to make the new feathers. A good idea during the molt is to up protein foods and treats to supplement what the chickens lose while their new feathers grow in. Meal Worms, anyone?

Having taken all of this in, I think it's safe to say: Chicken Mystery solved.

And as I said before, at just over twenty weeks of age, my six Girls are coming along just fine.

--Chicken Dup

Monday, February 20, 2012

Best Laid Plans.

Each morning I drag myself out of bed, slip on some shoes, and trudge through the backyard headed for Coopenhagen. My Start-Of-Day-Chicken-Chores have become a daily regimen that's as necessary as it is mundane. And since the Girls have moved from the Brooder into the Coop, it's been the same thing, day after day. Day in, day out.

Until recently.

Let me explain.

See, here's what I do each morning:

Every morning starts with
a cup of coffee and this.
List of Start-Of-Day-Chicken-Chores
1. Open the little red chicken door and watch as my flock of six comes swooping out, each one squawking and complaining because I wasn't there at the break of dawn to let them into the Run.

2. Make sure the waterer has plenty of clean, fresh water. No poop, please.
3. Make sure the feeder has plenty of food. Again, hold the poop, please.

4. Open Coopenhagen's window to help get a little fresh air in the place.

5. Check the nesting boxes to see if any of the Ladies finally started laying

And it's here that we'll stop. At Number 5.

After four months of patiently waiting. Four months of scanning the wood chips... scrutinizing the straw.... It finally happened. I got to number 5 on my list, popped open the Nesting Box lid, and there it was: A beautiful brown Egg!
Omeletting you know, finding this was very eggciting.
Now I've read (on Google) that the first eggs a chicken lays will be small. And this first egg was exactly that. Small. But no worries. Because I also read that as a chicken ages and her body becomes accustomed to laying, her eggs will become larger until they're eventually the proper size.

The first Egg (middle) with coins for size reference.
A penny, a quarter, and for those across the Atlantic, a one pound coin.
So, now that I have the egg, and have an explanation as to why the egg is small, the next question on everyone's mind, I'm sure, is: Which of the Girls laid this little bundle of protein, cholesterol, and amino acids?

Well, according to Google (I find myself saying this more and more these days) these are the approximate ages for my breeds of chickens to start laying eggs:

My two Silkies - 8-9 months
My two Ameraucanas - 5 months
My Dark Brahma - 7-9 months
My Red Star - 4-6 months

Now, the Girls are just a little over four months old, so the late-blooming Silkies and Dark Brahma are out of the equation. And considering the Ameraucanas lay blue eggs, I can cross them off of the list. Which leaves only one. And that one is...

My Red Star. Miss Lynn.

Hello. My name is Miss Lynn. I lay eggs.
Congratulations, Miss Lynn! You're now earning your keep. Good work!!!

Now all I need is about five more of her eggs and I can make a decent omelet. I found a great recipe on Google.

--Chicken Dup

Monday, January 30, 2012

I’d Like to Give a Sprout-Out to all my Peeps

So, a few weeks ago I was perusing all the chicken-related people I’m following on Twitter and there was a tweet that caught my attention. I wish I could find the original tweet to give credit where credit is due, but I can’t. Sorry. Anyway, the tweet was about easy protein sources for the flock during winter months. And it was touting exactly how easy certain protein sources are to come by, or even grow in your own kitchen. There was a link attached that took me to a site about sprouting mung beans. Mung beans? Yes. Mung beans. And you know them. You've probably even eaten them. The bean sprouts used in Chinese restaurants are mung sprouts.

Moving on.

So, me, being ever-curious when it comes to my Girls’ nutrition and treat consumption, decided to do some research. Apparently there are something like 13,000 types of beans and legumes out there. Seriously. 13,000. Somebody counted. That must be where the term ‘bean counter’ comes from.

Anyway, where do mung beans fall on the list of 13,000 with regards to protein content? Right there at #31 with 7% of the bean being protein (14.2 grams per cup). Not bad considering that’s about the same as the amount of protein in a turkey burger patty.

But where do they rank on ease of sprouting?

According to several websites with unchecked credibility, mung beans are one of the easiest – if not the easiest – beans to sprout.

Well, that just knocked it from #31 to the top of the charts for me.
So. I figured I’d try my hand at a little germination. I did more research and soon I knew everything I needed to know:

Rinse. Soak. Drain. Rinse. Drain. Rinse. Drain. Rinse. Drain. Rinse. Drain. Enjoy!

That’s it.

But for those of you who want more, here’s everything in detail.

First, I went to Whole Foods (and when I say ‘I’, I mean my wife) and bought a scoop or two of dried mung beans from their bulk section. Then, I gathered my sprouting supplies.
The beans. A bowl. A peanut butter jar. A small strainer. A 1/4 cup measuring cup. That's it.

Paper towel not necessary.
No holes. No sprouts.
Then I drilled a few holes in the jar lid. Why the holes? Well, as the beans start sprouting, they conduct heat. This heat needs to be released. And a sealed jar just won’t work. Things get too hot. So, the holes in the lid vent the heat and help the sprouting process.

After that, I measured out the dry beans. Any amount could be used, I guess, but I used 1/4 cup, just to keep it manageable. I rinsed the dry beans in the strainer and put them in the empty jar. Then, I added cool (not cold) water. Three times as much as the amount of beans. I used 1/4 cup beans, so I used 3/4 of a cup of water. I like easy math.

Holy Frijoles!
The beans need to soak for 8-12 hours (it kickstarts the germination process) and they need to be put in a place that's not-too-bright-not-too-dark. I took that to mean my counter beside the toaster oven. After all of that hard work, I went to bed. The next morning I woke up to find the beans had doubled in size, more or less.

I drained all the green water out (just poured it through the lid) and filled the jar with cool (not cold) water and drained again. Just to rinse any mung off of the beans. (HA!) Then back to its place beside the toaster oven for another 10-12 hours. Then another rinse. Another drain. Another 10-12 hours. After four days, those little dried beans turned into...

... little wet sprouts.

And a lot of them, too. It was work getting them out of the jar. But that was really the only work involved. Everything else was easy. Just like I said: Rinse. Soak. Drain. Rinse. Drain. Rinse. Drain. Rinse. Drain. Rinse. Drain. Enjoy!

It was pretty cool to see just how fast it all happened. And they taste exactly as you'd expect. Healthy. Take that as you will.

Now I know what all my one follower is thinking: Good source of protein or not, did the chickens go crazy for them?

Well. 'Crazy' is a strong word. But they ate everything. Eventually. And in doing so, I avoided having to grill them turkey burgers.

--Chicken Dup

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sod off!

So, I admit it.

I search the web for all things chicken related. Articles on coops. Articles on hens. Articles on roosters. Articles on chickes. Message boards discussing this breed or that breed. What's the best bedding? The best grit? The best way to introduce new members to an established flock. Things like that. I love it all. Unapologetically. And in all my reading, one subject keeps cropping up. And that one thing is 'Grass' (the legal variety, of course).

Welcome to the Coopenhagen Resort
All-You-Can-Eat Grass Buffet.
Please ignore the popcorn.
A lot of the articles were devoted to keeping chickens from destroying the stuff. 'How do I stop my chickens from tearing apart my lawn?', 'What can I do to keep my chickens from ruining my yard?' 'I've just planted fresh grass and flock has completely annihilated it' Things of that nature.

And then there were articles devoted to how good grass is for chickens. One said, not only can chickens eat lawn grass, but they should eat it. Considering greens is a normal part of a healthy diet, and grass is essentially green (except for my neighbor's), it fits the bill. It's chock full of vitamins and a great source of roughage. Plus bugs love to run around in it. And chickens love bugs. (Another article I read).

So, all of this grass-talk got me thinking. If people are having trouble maintaining their lawns because chickens eat so much of their grass and it's actually good for chickens to eat the grass, then why not serve it up buffet-style.

And that's exactly what I did.

I went to Home Depot (as I tend to do this several times a week, I'm finding) and I picked up one piece of fresh sod. Five square feet of grass blanket, all conveniently folded soil-side-out for easy, albeit it dirty, transportation. All for about $2.50. How do they stay in business at these prices?!

Anyway, when I got home, I put the sod in the Run, unfolded it, brushed my fingers through it a couple times to give it that messy-look to make it seem more appetizing, and...


The chickens were distracted by a few pieces of popcorn in the opposite corner. But once the popcorn was gone. And they were sure the popcorn was gone...

Well. Let's just say the flock went to it like... chickens to grass. They loved it. LOVED IT! And they will continue loving it until it's either pecked away or dried out, which ever comes first.

--Chicken Dup

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Coop by any other name...

A Chicken Coop has two doors. If it had four doors it would be a Chicken Sedan.

Yes. I went there.

Anyway, speaking of chicken coops, it's almost time. Time for the girls to leave the Pen, that is. What's the Pen, you ask? The Pen is exactly what it sounds like: a pen. But not some run-of-the-mill pen. Not for my Girls. Their Pen is a nice little comfy number set-up in a corner of my garage. Soft woodshavings, a couple roosts, nice little light, treats thrown in whenever possible. But they can't stay in the Pen forever. No. Relocation is inevitable, I guess. And that relocation is to...


That's the name of my Coop/Run combo. The name is official. The only thing missing is a plaque announcing Name and Est'd date. (It's on it's way!) Yessirree! 5'x4', working windows, ventilated eaves, roosts, three, count 'em... three nesting boxes, and a chicken door that leads to an enclosed 130 square foot Run.

Now, the hens have been enjoying their afternoons perusing what will eventually be their home for some time. Scratching through the dirt, taking dustbaths, pretty much whatever they want to do until dusk hits. That's when they're taken back to the Pen.

And this is all very exciting. But the excitement doesn't come without a few worries and racked nerves.

For example: When I finally say, here you go, Girls. Coopenhagen is your new home. 24/7. No more cozy Pen in the comfort of the garage, I'm going to worry. I mean, how cold, really, does my garage get at night? Not as cold as the Coop, I'm guessing. Not this time of year.



Well, that's my big concern. The night-time temperature. It is January, after all.

Yes, my Chickens are three months old. Yes, they are fully feathered (I think). Yes, the Coop is fully enclosed with roosts and nesting boxes and places for the Girls to snuggle close for maximum body heat.

Granted it's not as cold as some places. Where I live the night time temperatures dip into the low-40s. Yes, I hear the laughing from those of you Back East. Low-40s is nothing compared to the temps where water needs to be thawed three times a day, but still. I'm new at this and it's hard to pull the trigger. I've pampered my Girls. And I worry about them becoming Chicken-sicles. I'll be a nervous wreck the first night. I know. So maybe I won't move them out this week.

Maybe next week. Or the week after. Either way, Coopenhagen is ready even if I'm not.

--Chicken Dup