Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Metaphorically I think this is great advice. I believe it is very important to have several ways to meet our needs and accomplish tasks or goals. When you hear this phrase you might immediately think of financial investing, but I don’t think the implications should be limited to saving or making money. This should also include things like heating the house, cooking a meal, and transportation; the list is endless.
On the other hand I am not convinced that this is always a best practice when going to the coop to collect eggs. While it makes sense that if you happen to drop one basket with all the eggs you stand to lose them all, carrying more than one basket with a couple eggs each seems like it could be even more risky. For example if you have the eggs split between two or more baskets when you return to the house and have to open the door you will probably try holding both or all of baskets with one hand. Now how safe are those eggs?
When we collect eggs we actually put them in more than one basket. Our egg basket(s) looks like this.
The reasons for the two baskets like this is the basket with the handle is easy to carry but we often have just a few eggs to collect and they roll around in the bottom of the larger basket. In the smaller basket with less room to roll the eggs are better protected. Crazy as it may seem, it works for us.
Whether you use one basket, several baskets or a basket inside of a basket, the important thing to remember is to use a basket. DON”T PUT EGGS IN YOUR POCKET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Let me start by saying that I am no authority on chickens (or anything else for that matter). When writing these posts I am simply sharing what I have learned through experience.
All joking aside – Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road? I find the answer to this dilemma to be nearly as simple as the lame joke that’s been told over and over throughout the decades. The answer is the chicken crossed the road because it could. Chickens have absolutely no natural boundaries, left on their own they just wander aimlessly and tirelessly scratching and pecking. The world, as much as they can access, is their playground and their dinner table. Chickens are not trainable, they are not obedient, and they have seemingly short attention spans so giving them something to entice them to stay where you want them will only work for a short time.
If there is somewhere you don’t want the chickens to go you must set up a boundary.
In our case crossing the road is not the worst case scenario. Our neighbors haven’t complained about the chickens foraging in their yard, and drivers who encounter the chickens crossing tend to yield the right of way to our girls. There are, however, some things the chickens find especially enticing, such as freshly worked soil, wood mulch, and straw, and these things can become a problem. Chickens are quick to wander into the freshly planted garden and scratch up all of our hard work. They will dine on the grass seed we just planted, and rearranging the flower bed while digging through a fresh layer of mulch is something a chicken can not resist. It doesn’t take long at all for chickens to destroy all of that hard work.
In 2012 when we began planning to raise chickens on our farm we first built the chicken yard. Our chicken yard is what I consider prime real-estate as it is built in a grove of beautiful mature Shagbark Hickory trees. The dimensions are 90 ft. by 45 ft. so the chickens have plenty of room to roam. The four foot high welded wire fence is generally sufficient to keep the chickens in, although we do have an occasional escapee. In addition to the shade provided by the Hickory trees the chicken yard also had a wide swath of shrubs that not only offers shade from the sun and protection from the wind, it helps to protect them from overhead predators. Even with all these amenities our chicken yard is not perfect. It does not have the assortment of grasses, clover, plantain and other plants that are found elsewhere on our farm. Thus as much as possible we allow our chickens to roam the farm and forage for their food. We have fence around all of our garden areas that keeps the chickens out but to be fair the fence serves to keep deer out as well.
We have accepted the fact that the mulch in the prayer garden may not always stay pretty and neat, and that we will inevitably find ourselves herding chickens back to our side of the road, but the lower feed costs, the delicious and nutritious eggs, and the insect control provided by our free range chickens https://www.healthambition.com/caged-versus-free-range-eggs-nutritionally/ are certainly worth it.
Thanks for reading and follow along so you don’t miss future posts is this series – “Don’t Put All Of You Eggs In One Basket” and “Chickens Come Home To Roost”.
After starting with the toughest lesson so far, I am happy to back up to the beginning and on a much lighter note answer the question –
Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
This post is not going to be a debate in creation verses evolution nor is it going to be a lesson in biology. The fact is you really should not spend too much time pondering this question at all as it could potentially cause undue stress in your life. Don’t you have enough of that already??? So just forget this question and move on to much more important things unless………………………………………………………………………………………………..
…….you want to enjoy the goodness of fresh eggs from your very own chicken. If this is your desire then you will first need a (female) chicken. Probably the easiest way to do this is to obtain (beg, barter, buy…) pullets or hens. In this case (and this is the way we do it) The Chicken Came First.
Now if you are a contrary type person who likes to experiment or live life on the wild side, you might choose to hatch your own chicks. To do this you will need some form of an incubator and some fertile eggs. We have never hatched eggs in an incubator so you will have to look elsewhere for instruction. If you do indeed successfully hatch your own chicks you may join the ranks of those who can argue that in their case The Egg Came First.
That being said, if you are indeed going to raise chickens in order to produce eggs you will probably want to know a little about how that all works. In our experience hens will not start laying eggs until they are at least 18 weeks old. Even then there are many factors that contribute to egg production including the breed of chicken you have. We have found our Buff Orpingtons to be the earliest layer of the breeds that we have raised, usually beginning to lay between 18 and 20 weeks of age.
Our coop originally had four built in nest boxes available and for the most part the hens lay their eggs in the nest boxes. We didn’t have to provide any training for our hens to do this. It seemed to come naturally. The eggs are collected several times a day and clean straw is added daily and as needed. One year we did have a group of hens who decided to lay their eggs in a hidden outdoor location. Fortunately we discovered them and were able to collect them daily. That is when we added two more nest spaces to the coop. While having enough nest boxes seems to be important it does not mean that they will all get used. We often have several hens lined up waiting for one box while two or three other boxes are empty. Go Figure!
If you take nothing else away from this post, remember this: the only time it is appropriate to ask the question “Which came first….?” is if you are talking someone who raises chickens. Stop the needless stress! LOL
Next in the series: Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?
I have been planning to write a series of posts about what I have learned from our experience with raising chickens over the last 5 years. A heartbreaking incident this week has prompted me to start with the toughest lesson of them all.
We use a natural approach to farming and with raising chickens that means allowing our flock to free range. When I say “free range” I mean that the chickens roam the farm, and at times the neighboring properties, and even cross the road (that’s a topic for a future post) scratching, pecking and foraging for their food. We are aware of the inherent danger of predators when raising free range chickens, but we feel the benefits of healthier chickens, healthier eggs and stress free birds far outweigh the risks. Over the years we have lost a chicken now and then to a hawk, or found a chicken body with no head that left us wondering what kind of predator does that, and occasionally we have one or two come up missing, apparently carried off to become dinner for one of God’s creatures.
This week was different. It was bright and sunny Monday afternoon and my husband had been to the farm around 4:00 P.M. to check on the chickens, give them fresh water and take Scout and Trooper for their afternoon walk. He left the gate to the chicken yard open as some of the chickens were happily scratching and pecking in a pile of straw near the chicken yard.
He came home for dinner and then waited until 6:00 P.M. to return to close up the coop for the night. He called from the farm, “Something Bad has happened” he said, his voice quivering. “A fox got to the chickens, I’m going to be here awhile,” he explained. Quite awhile later he returned to the house telling me that as he pulled in the driveway he witnessed the attacker (our neighbors claims it was a coyote) running off. There were dead chickens scattered around the area. He found 9 dead chickens. He only counted 17 chickens who had returned to the coop for the night so there were still 5 missing. He needed to put new batteries in his flashlight before returning to search for the missing birds. I offered to go along but he refused my help, as he wanted to protect me from the horrific scene. Upon searching the area he discover two more dead and the other three were completely gone, apparently carried off by their assassin(s).
Last Spring we became aware that there were fox living in the area when we got a call from a neighbor telling us that a fox had tried to get some of our chickens as they were foraging in her yard. She witnessed the attack and scared off the predator by banging on the window. We ended up with one injured chicken who we nursed back to health. We took further measures to protect our flock. We began leaving them penned inside the chicken yard when we were not at the farm. Several times a day we, along with Scout and Trooper, would walk the farm, especially areas that do not have open sightlines, and make our presence know. My husband mowed the overgrown ditch that runs along side the chicken yard including about a 20 foot strip into the neighboring field to open up the sightlines. He also mowed a series of paths through the field so that we were able to walk/patrol that field as well. As we continued these practices through the summer and fall we heard stories of several neighbors who had lost large portions of their unprotected flocks to violent fox or coyote attacks.
With the snow and cold of winter the chickens have spent much of their time either in the coop or at least in the chicken yard. We were recently discussing how happy we were that our flock was thriving in spite of the bitter cold temperatures that we have had this winter and that egg production was increasing due to the longer hours of daylight. There were many days that my husband spent at the farm this winter mostly cutting wood or riding the snowmobile and during these times he maintained our routine opening the gate so the chickens had access to the farm and making his (human) presence known. With no recent predator incidents he grew comfortable that he could leave the farm for short periods of time to retrieve things he needed at home or bring the boys (dogs) back to the house. Our lack of vigilance proved to be a fatal error.
I am not looking for your sympathy as I tell this story but hope that you might learn a lesson from our mistake. I think we have gained a better understanding of the predator’s MO. He is sly, sneaky, and cunning. He is an opportunist and will cause much damage (death) quickly. He may run from confrontation but will likely return to the scene of the crime when no one is around. With this in mind we realize that we will have to maintain constant vigilance in order to protect our flock.
We are also reminded that (as my husband likes to say), “Nobody ever told us that farming would be easy” and (my reply), “If it was easy everyone would be doing it.”
Now that I’ve got the tough stuff out of the way be sure to follow along as I will soon be answering the age old question of “Which Came First?”
It doesn’t seem like a whole year has gone by since we last tapped maple trees and made our maple syrup. Maybe that’s because it hasn’t really been a whole year. While I didn’t remember the exact date that we tapped trees last year I was able to review the post I wrote about it, and I discovered that last year we tapped the trees on February 13th. Last year’s sap flow was considered early and we read that some syrup producers actually missed the season because the were not expecting the season to come so soon.
It was only January 20th according to the calendar but nature doesn’t necessarily go by the calendar. Despite the brutal cold we have had this winter we had been watching the forecast and preparing for the sap season to start. This is only our third year making syrup, so we don’t have much experience to go by, but since temperatures were forecast to be in the high 30’s and low 40’s Fahrenheit (between 3 and 7 degrees Celsius) 7 out of the next 10 days we thought this might be the right time. My husband thought that it would be a good idea to do a few test taps to see if the sap was flowing. So we took supplies for four taps to the farm.
The day was very reminiscent of the day we tapped last year. The sun was shining, there was still a thin layer of snow on the ground, and the pond was mostly still frozen.
The chickens were happy to be out scratching , pecking and even dusting themselves.
My husband and I worked together, taking turns drilling the holes and setting the taps.
When the sap began running within seconds of being tapped we knew we were on the right track. After setting the first four, we went home, gathered the supplies and returned to set the remaining 13.
A couple days after tapping the trees the high temperatures again stayed below freezing so no sap was flowing. Then we had a couple more day where temperatures reached into the 40’s F so the sap began to flow again. By Friday my husband determined that he had collected enough sap to make syrup. We would cook it Saturday.
My husband had the cooking station set up in the driveway. Because cooking sap produces so much steam cooking it the house would be a horrible mistake, and we are not equipped with a sugar shack so we do it much the way we imagine our ancestors would have – outdoors over a wood fire.
The fire pit is simple – made of two layers of concrete blocks on three side
He spaces the concrete blocks so that the shallow stainless steel pan sits on the edges of the blocks. We build the fire within the blocks and continually feed wood into it from the open side.
We used a mixture of hardwood limbs and logs that we had cut on the farm and some scrap lumber my husband had picked up from the local sawmill. We began cooking the sap around 11:30 A.M. and by 4:30 P.M. we had reduced the estimated 23 gallons of sap to the point that we could finish it on our kitchen stove.
Before cooking it on the stove we poured it through a sieve to remove some of the ash that was floating in it. I then brought it back to a boil and continued cooking it until it reached 7 degrees above the boiling point on the candy thermometer 219 degrees F.
Filtering the sugar sand out of the syrup is something that we have struggled with the past two years, so I decided to pay close attention to the temperatures while doing this. I let the syrup cool to between 180 and 190 F. For a filter I used one layer cheese cloth with one layer of felt placed on top of it. I placed the two layers together in my canning funnel then poured the syrup through the fabric lined funnel directly into the jar.
After pouring each jar I needed to change the filter, so I put the pan of syrup back on the stove over a low flame so I could maintain the proper temperature. The syrup flowed easily through the filters. I sealed each jar as soon as it was poured. We ended up with just a very small amount of sugar sand in the bottom of the jars. There is no harm in eating sugar sand as it is said to be made up of calcium salts and malic acid, so filtering out this sand is purely for aesthetic reasons (it does look like muck in the bottom of the jar).
Even though once sealed the syrup should not spoil, I like to bottle the syrup in wide mouth mason jars, because as long as I leave the proper amount of head space the syrup can be stored in the freezer. We ended up with nearly four pints of beautiful, sweet maple syrup.
What the rest of the maple syrup season will bring is anyone’s guess. Our weather forecast for the next 10 days shows daytime temperatures below freezing for all but one day, so we are not expecting the sap to run again for a while. When the temperatures do warm again, if the trees bud out quickly the sap will turn milky and is not good for making syrup, so we are grateful that we tapped the trees early and at least have some syrup this year.
I also made an interesting observation as I looked back at my post from last year, “The Sap is Flowing and the Hens are Laying”. Again this year, as we tapped the maple trees we noticed that the hens have began laying more eggs. For five or six weeks we were getting an average of four eggs a day, this was enough to keep us in fresh eggs through the winter. On January 20, the day we tapped trees, we collected six eggs, then over the next week the amount increased so that we have collected 12 eggs each of the last two days. I honestly expected that the increase in egg production was more related to the number of hours of daylight and similarly to last year would occur in the middle of February. Perhaps it is more about the warmer temperatures we have been enjoying, I’m really not sure, but I do think I will attempt to track these two events in future years to see if they continue to coincide.