Thursday, May 27, 2010

What to look for when buying hens and What to Do with an Abundance of Eggs

This post is to accommodate my talk on BTO for Thursday, June 26th, 2010.

****EDITED TO ADD 5/29/2010 the link for battery hens in the UK, down where the links are.
And at the end of this article, more things to do with an abundance of eggs!****

I wanted to talk about buying full grown hens, since I figure that many people must be like me, in that when they are ready for chickens, they are ready for eggs too! Meaning they don't want to wait 6 months for fresh eggs by raising chicks. The minute my hen house was ready I was out purchasing laying hens from anyone I could find. I made a few mistakes, so now that I'm a little wiser, (just a little) I wanted to share what I've learned.

I also want to mention that raising chicks, or buying fertile eggs and hatching them yourself is the safest way (less likely to have disease) by far. Also people have mentioned to me that it is rewarding raising them from chicks to hens.

1. Determine what breed suits your needs

Do you want hens only for the eggs?

Do you want them to be raised for meat and for their eggs?

Do you care what they look like, do you want them to be pretty? And what's your definition of pretty?

Do you want a rooster to eventually raise chicks yourself? I don't recommend getting a rooster at first, unless you are sure you are going to want to raise chicks soon. And if you do get one, I'd suggest reading up on the pleasures of dealing with a rooster.

If you do want to raise chicks you will want at least a few hens that will go broody. (Which means they will want to sit on eggs to hatch as chicks. If you don't want to raise chicks you will want birds that have the broodiness bred out of them. (A common example is a Rhode Island Red.)

Do you want them to be "nice" and let you handle them? Cochin's are good in that sense.

Do you care about the color of their eggs? Brown eggs and white of course are typical, but there are chickens (a popular type is an araucana) that lay "Easter egg" colors. Like pink and blue. That's a fun thing to have.

Here are a few guides to different breeds of chickens to look at.

Backyard Chickens-Breed Chart

Department of Animal Science, Oklahoma State University

The Omlet Guide to Buying Chickens A UK site

UK site for battery hens

another UK site for chicken adoption for battery hens

2. Find a local source that sells the breed you are looking for

call them and ask some questions.

How many chickens do they have?

How long have they been raising chickens?

What is their method of preventing bugs/worms?
If their answer is they spray the birds and the coop with Sevin, be aware that is a poison, and you need to wait 10 days or so after spraying to eat the hens eggs. That's how toxic it is.

A good way of preventing or doing away with worms is food grade Diatomaceous Earth. Read more about DE here Wolf Creek Ranch. Including dosage amounts for animals and humans.

Some will say they don't really do anything, and they've never had a problem. Be aware if they are free range chickens wild birds can come and bring in bugs with them.

Have they been vaccinated?

Note that if you want a more natural approach to the raising of your chickens, you might want to find a source that raises organic chickens.

You might not find a source that has everything on your list of criteria, but you can concentrate on what's most important to you.

3. Go and look at the birds in person

Now that you've found someone that has birds you are interested in, it's time to look at the birds for yourself.

Note that some farms have tight bio security, meaning they don't like visitors coming on their land and tracking in diseases that may spread to their flock. If this is the case, find out if there is a way to use plastic bags to cover your shoes, and if wearing gloves would be o.k.

Also if they are free range birds you are going to want to go when the sun is going down for the day and they are going in to roost for the night, it's not fun chasing after chickens.

Pick up the chickens. Look for bright eyes, make sure their eyes aren't watery.

You want them to be heavy, not skinny feeling at all.

You want them to be feisty, trying to get out of your hands, and flapping their wings. If they don't have alot of energy, I'd be concerned. Note that chickens are prey animals so they are good at hiding their sickness. Once they are showing sickness they have probably already been sick for awhile.

Look at their vent. This is where the eggs come out of. Make sure it looks moist. Make sure there are no signs of worms, this is where you see them usually. Also make sure their vent feathers are relatively clean.

Look at their feet. Make sure they are smooth. Not scaley. If they are scaley they might have scaley leg mites. also make sure they don't have swollen pads at the bottom of their feet, which is something called Bumble foot.

If you live in the city, here is a good site to refer to

City Chicken

I hope you find some great hens and that you enjoy raising them as much as I do!

What to do with an Abundance of Eggs

1. Make powdered eggs

It's pretty straightforward, you can do it in an oven, or a dehydrator. The video below is directions on how to do it in a regular oven. They will last 5-10 years at room temperature.
A video on how to dehydrate eggs

2. Freeze Them
There are a few ways to freeze eggs. All of them are without the shell.

*Freeze the yolks and whites seperately

*Scramble them and freeze them in ice cube trays. It will take roughly 2 "egg cubes" to equal one egg. After they are frozen remove them from trays and store in a container, or in a ziplock bag. Thaw at room temperature, or in the refrigerator. Don't thaw them in the microwave. This can cook parts of it and leave other parts still raw. If you are in a hurry, place the frozen egg cubes in a baggie, in some warm water.

*Cook them first. This can be done in a few ways. First you can scramble them and pour in a jumbo muffin pan to create the size used for a breakfast sandwich. You can do this with the eggs alone, or you can add chopped bacon or sausage or even veggies. Think of it like an omlet sandwich. You can store them in baggies to remove when needed. Or you can make up whole breakfast sandwiches and freeze those. You can also scramble them and cook them up and use them for breakfast burritos, then freeze the burritos.

Here are some dishes that use eggs

*Hard boiled eggs
*egg salad
*deviled eggs
*homemade mayonaise
*bread pudding
*french toast
*fried rice with scrambled eggs
*egg drop soup
*custard or creme brulee
*spaghetti carbonara
*egg nog
*pound cake

here are a few that use yolks only

*lemon curd
*custard based ice cream
*creme brulee

and whites only

*angel food cake

What is your favorite thing to do with eggs? Let me know in the comments. Also let me know if I've forgotten any! I'm always looking for more ideas!