Sometimes when you volunteer to do a good deed you end up with a coop full of roosters…
I have a hen who every once in a while gives me a green egg. Now I don’t mean the shell is green, which would be totally normal of an Easter Egger or something like that, no I mean the whites of the egg are green! At first I thought I was boiling up bad eggs but the more it happened the more I knew I wasn’t picking up and boiling bad eggs! Worse still I am pretty sure one of my regular customers got one because just as I was having one a day he suddenly stopped showing up… and even if he did confront me about it what could I possibly say?? I didn’t have any answers!
Some time has passed, the green eggs disappeared, and then today I got another one! But this time I might know what’s causing it. Another customer of mine, one who came to buy chickens not eggs, told me he had a hen doing the same thing and he was told that it was because she was eating too many acorns. Acorns. Acorns are nasty things… they’re highly toxic to most livestock and I couldn’t imagine my chickens eating them but now that he mentioned it the piles that used to be around the barn are in fact gone. Had my girls eaten them??
I took a photo of my green egg juxtaposed next to a fresh boiled egg and just for comparison a bad boiled egg (which is brownish and gross… and is the top one in the second photo)
Well, we went back to our continued public town meeting to ask for approval to run our farm as a business and after reading a glowing review from the dog officer and setting some very reasonable restrictions they decided to approve our request. Now we have one more step before we have all our bureaucratic homework done and that is have an NPIP inspector in to test our birds for diseases. I am going to try and haul out the barn and make everything picture perfect and then give them a call. I realize they’re already clean by most people’s standards but I like to give a good impression. I have about five hens out there that still need saddles. There’s at least thirty that are already wearing saddles – all made in outrageous colors and patterns. It’s quite a sight. Since I stated using the side pasture (which borders the road) I have seen people looking out there and enjoying them as they walk or drive by. Perhaps they’re wondering about the saddles or maybe they just like seeing the chickens. One guy, a big burly heavily tattooed motorcyclist with a huge white beard, drives by frequently and I always see him turn his head towards the chickens – but if he notices I see him he turns right back and pretends he wasn’t looking! Cracks me right up. Perhaps watching chickens destroys his tough guy image. I don’t know but I enjoy the people watching. But anyway… we’re so excited to be registered as a business! Now we can really promote our name and make a go of it.
It took me over two years to find a wife for Max, the Belgian Hare I sort of ended up with out of freakish happenstance. I had no idea they were so hard to find! Or that they were nearly extinct… or that the show breeders who maintained the last ones were fiercely hard to find and even fiercely harder to convince you needed another Belgian Hare.
Freya, the wife in question, literally traveled from CA to a breeder in DC and then came up here to lovable New England after said breeder decided to lessen her herd. She was in the van that was supposed to deliver for for over a week past the point she was supposed to be. As I pulled out hair and bit my nails hoping that she wasn’t just an imaginary bunny she eventually showed up in a van which billowed with a funny smelling smoke when the doors flung open. She was in a cat carrier, driven mad by confinement, and I was given a pair of leather gloves to get her out – the sort of leather gloves you’d use to wrangle a rabid badger.
We took things slowly… really slowly… but within a couple weeks Freya settled in and became a total diva, just loving her new home, and to a lesser extent myself (she adores my dearest far more than me but that’s OK!) So we started building a nursery cage upstairs, where Max runs free, and we were excited to let them meet. The cage is currently only one tier but we’re planning on adding a second tier soon and perhaps even a third someday. Below are photos of its construction…
So what did Max do when I brought him the wife I’d promised him for two years? Nothing! Not a thing! He seemed more concerned with pretending the new cage wasn’t in the room! Eventually I was able to get him to sit next to the cage where he shook like a chihuahua before skittering away. Currently he’s hiding in the other bedroom, peering across the hallway at the cage. Apparently Freya is terrifying. Sigh. Guess we’ll keep taking it slow… and maybe someday… someday in the future… we can have little Maxlettes running around…
We continue to play with the game camera and it seems every time I get more disturbing results. First it was just feral cats, possums, blue jays, mice, and one very large and very old groundhog. I was perfectly content with these but when the dozens of raccoon photos started to pour in – on our very own porch. Well that wasn’t great but I’d just stop leaving cat food out at night and it’d be OK…
But then we put the game camera on the back of our property and found…. coyotes…
Several hundred more raccoon shots and then a sight that will fill any chicken owner with terror picking in our compost pit far closer to our barn…. a Fisher Cat…. at 8:30 PM!!
Well our incubator spiked at 103 for six hours… Was sure that the whole incubator got fried, and two and a half of the drawers indeed did (we lost half the bantams we were incubating as a favor, the Dorking, and the Brabanter drawer.) Despite this over 30 Marans hatched! I will be keeping them all and accessing who is worthy of breeding more Marans and taking the culls to breed Olive Eggers with.
We’ve since re-loaded the incubator and were expecting around 200 chicks in a little over a week. When I candled them I took out the duds and left 47 dual purpose sex-links, 45 barnyard mixes, 37 Silver Penciled Rocks, 35 Dorkings, 24 Seramas, and 15 Brabanters developing.
Even more exciting the Marraduna Basque Hen (AKA Euskal Aoila) eggs I ordered last fall came in! Two dozen! They’re in my incubator now and I am deliriously happy about it. I hope they hatch well! I intend to breed more Marradunas and cross some with a legbar to get a theoretically auto sexing Easter Egger out of them.
Starting a proper poultry farm is a bit of a bumpy road. Most probably start with someone wanting fresh eggs for breakfast getting a few chickens and over the years deciding they might need a few more chickens… until the town starts asking questions about all those chickens…
Our beginning was a little less subtle. We bought this property, and the a whole bunch of chicks and eggs, and for a little over a year we’ve been building feeders, nest boxes, breeding pens, barn doors, an incubator… and it never stops… and we keep adding on as much as we can. We’re getting so close to this actually being worth our time and effort! But alas…. taxes and laws and such need consideration too.
My dearest wanted to file as a business with the town. We’d already met the dog officer last Autumn, not knowing the property had changed hands he was all the happier to add us to his “Farm Book” during a surprise visit. Not to worry, all was well, and he enjoyed chatting to my dearest as I was oddly absent dealing with family business that day… In any event, although we were registered as a property in the town’s farm log this did not mean we were also a business, just that we had enough animals to need periodic supervision. That’s fine but we waned that glorious business certificate as we make a real go of it. So we asked the town. The town gave all sorts of paperwork to do and told us we needed to attend a public hearing where eight of our neighbors would be invited to express their concerns. If they had any there would need to be a judgement made, if no one shows up we’ll get a certificate and go on our merry way. I am nervous… I hate forced community involvement, in the past it’s never gone well… but I don’t think any of my neighbors are displeased and I will have to keep optimistic!
In any event this whole process ground to a halt when the woman dealing with us quit and no one knew what was going on. After a bit of a clusterfuck they figured it out and now we are set to have a hearing in May.
In the meanwhile I have tried my hardest to make the animal side of this business as legal and ethical as possible. Although I have no obligation to I have started to vaccinate my chicks for Marek’s. It is a surprisingly easy thing to do – yes, it costs me a little money but in the long run it makes me feel a lot safer. If any chicks are kept here they are safe in a vaccinated flock and if they’re sold they’re not going to spread this heinous disease to anyone as a silent carrier. It’s just good practice.
We’re also planning to get an NPIP inspector in here to get tested and certified. This will make it legal for me to sell eggs, chicks, juveniles, and adult birds across state lines and will open up our customer base to also include other NPIP tested farms. This is also good practice — that comes with some pretty nasty risks (including the destruction of the whole flock if they do turn up with a disease) but I think it’s the right thing to do.
In January I wanted to bring on some more Welsummers (as I needed a good rooster) some Rhode Island Whites to make sex links out of, and some Marans for chocolate eggs which I could also cross to the legbars to make olive eggers. People seem to love getting weird colored eggs. It’s a real selling point and I am always happy to share in their enthusiasm!
However I was already having a hard time figuring out where to squeeze new breeding pens and I figured out how to make sex links with the birds I already had. I still wanted those gorgeous chocolate eggs but I was content to wait… until I found myself on Craigslist trying to compare hatching egg and chick prices to figure out how much to sell my own for. That’s when I spotted a photo of the darkest eggs I have ever seen in the area…. a whole table full of chocolate wonders. $20 a dozen and no need for shipping. How could I say no??
I contacted the guy and asked for two dozen, because why not… after having such a terrible hatch with the Mille Fleur Leghorns I wanted to err on the side of caution and get more than I normally would. I told the guy I’d pick them up the following weekend and all was quite good.
We showed up and this guy was fanatical about his eggs. They were deep dark and some had delicious little speckles. I was delighted. He said I could cherry pick the best for $3 an egg and I was more than happy to! That’s where things got a bit awkward…
He’d recently hatched some chicks but the hatch rate wasn’t all he wanted it to be — how bad you ask? 80%! An 80% hatch rate would make me deliriously happy… but he wasn’t impressed so he offered me all the eggs he collected during the week, more than fifty, for $20. Seriously? 50 eggs for just 20 dollars?? You got to be kidding! I tried paying him more to be fair… but he didn’t want my money – he just wanted his eggs to go to a good home. So they’re in my incubator now. I have found they are too dark to candle with any certainty so I have left them all in there… and time will tell what happens! I’m super excited to have chocolate eggs
When we first got into chickens I wanted Barnevelders. They’re a Dutch breed and they laid big dark eggs and had a pretty lacing pattern. I had bought some eggs and they were some of the first birds I hatched — but they died of Marek’s not long after that. This was on the old property with my first flock. Later I learned this breed is particularly susceptible to the disease so I never tried to get them again…. until I moved to a fresh new property and learned how to vaccinate chicks.
But this is a simplified version of what happened. In reality I was looking for nearby hatching eggs when I found something wonderful. Just a few hours away was an old Dutch man who had a flock that he had kept since the 1970’s that were descended from eggs he smuggled home on the plane from the Netherlands – you know back in the days when you could still buy Bowie knives at the airport and no one gave a fuck about whose suitcase was stuffed full of chicken eggs… I fell in love with the story and was greatly dismayed to see a paragraph later that he’d died and his flock was being run by his widow. Still… I couldn’t resist. I contacted her and asked if I could buy some eggs. She said she’d sold the flock to a woman in NY. So I contacted the woman in NY who said she’d send some eggs in the Spring. Well Spring came and nearly went when I contacted her again. I had been forgotten. Not only had I been forgotten she refused to sell me eggs collected then…. instead saying she had a handful of chicks she’d just hatched if I’d like to travel four hours to get them…. well, at the time that was just not feasible and I should have taken this as the first red flag. Who can’t give up a dozen eggs in summer?? Were her birds that bad at laying despite being from a flock that were supposed to be machines? If so whhhy?? I was polite about it, didn’t ask why, told her I would be happy to wait until the following year… and I did.
So this year I got a dozen eggs and she asked if I wanted any form her Blue Barnevelder pen. Not really, but at this rate I am paying full price for something I waited two years for… adding extras of ANYTHING seemed fine by me. So she sent six extra eggs from her blue pen. On the box was suddenly noted these were from heavily mixed lines… she had not kept the old man’s line pure. I was pretty annoyed at this point. Had I known that two years ago I probably would have found eggs elsewhere… but I popped them in the incubator hoping for the best. At day ten I candled them and found four of the regular Barnevelders were infertile as well as four of the extras. So I was probably hatching eggs from poor layers and less-than-vigorous roosters. Sigh.
In the end I got eight to hatch, seven regular, one blue who now was sort of lonely and purposeless. One of the regulars died a few days after hatch. It hadn’t acted right since I vaccinated it for Marek’s. We’ll see how they turn out. With any luck they’ll be fucking spectacular and all this will have been worth the frustration and wait! For now I did get the damned cutest photo out of the Blue pen Barnie…
I wanted some pretty egg laying machines to add to my laying flock after eating egg sales started to surpass expectation. To keep up with demand I needed something stellar – I needed some leghorns. The thing is I don’t really like leghorns. They’re usually all white birds who do well in heat but not so much in cold, often losing their fabulously large floppy combs and wattles to frostbite. They’re also know to be skittish and flighty. They are in essence the perfect bird to get if you’re running an industrial farm in Tennessee. But I could not argue with their egg laying capacity, so I looked to see if they came in any other colors. I was awe struck they came in two of my favorites – Mille Fleur and Isabella (called Porcelain in bantams, don’t ask me why.) I searched everywhere and found almost nothing. I found two sellers willing to sell a dozen eggs at auction for $100. Seriously?! You’re talking about a bird that lays almost an egg a day for two years straight… why on earth would I pay $100 for that?! This is where I get frustrated at people. Over and over again I see people selling their eggs at auction for outrageous prices whenever they need a buck or two. Almost never do I see anyone selling hatching eggs regularly for a sane price – which in the long run would be far more profitable! I mean if you can get $100 for a dozen hatching eggs once or twice great…. but you are raising a bird that each hen lays three hundred eggs a year. Just supposing you had one hen and rooster if you sold each dozen for $25 you’d still make $625 by the end of the year so asking $100 is well…. stupid.
After this I decided to go rogue. I Googled “Mille Fleur Leghorn Craigslist” so I could see any and all ads pertaining to the breed on all of Craigslist both close to home and across the country. I found someone in California and begged them for eggs. They thought I was a scammer at first but after some coaxing they said OK… and that’s how I ended up with two and a half dozen eggs shipped to me a few months later.
Six of the eggs were smashed in the box. Twelve of the eggs were infertile. Eight of the eggs hatched but of those three definitely aren’t mill fleurs (perhaps barnyard mixes!) and of the five that are correctly colored three are roosters… Here’s a photo of them – it’s blurry because despite being called “the most docile of the Leghorns” they’re freakin’ insane and won’t sit still for anything. You can see in the photo a few Seramas mixed in as well as those three dark brown wrong-colored ones. SIGH. I will not be pestering the inexperienced into sending me eggs again… (Though I will be crossing these with my Legbars to make for crazy colored “super blue” egg laying hens… Got to get something out of this!)