The number twelve has had special significance for man since the ancient times, from Jesus’ twelve apostles to twelve full moons per year and twelve months in a year. There are twelve inches in a foot and twelve hourly divisions on a clock. There are twelve zodiac signs, twelve tribes of Israel and twelve Knights of the Round Table. There are twelve days of Christmas. But what does any of that have to do with why eggs are sold by the dozen? Continue reading A Dozen Eggs – Why Are They Sold In A Dozen?
Only about one in every thousand eggs is double-yolked, meaning that there are two yolks encased in the same shell. Since commercially-sold eggs in the United States are candled prior to packaging and cartoned by weight, any double-yolkers are discarded and never end up on a grocery store shelf, so you could go an entire lifetime eating store bought eggs and never encounter one. But once you start raising your own backyard flock, chances are you’ll collect your share. But what causes them?
A double-yolked egg occurs when a hen’s ovary is over stimulated and she releases a second yolk too early. Usually about an hour after an egg is laid, the next yolk is released, but if another yolk is sent down the oviduct too soon, a shell will form around both yolks and result in a single egg. As a result, a double yolk egg is usually much larger than a regular egg.
It’s far more common to find double-yolked eggs from new layers or older hens near the end of their laying life. It can be genetic, and therefore hereditary, and is more common in the hybrids and heavier breeds. Hens who lay large or double-yolked eggs are more prone to becoming egg bound or suffering vent prolapse, both potentially fatal afflictions.
Double-yolked eggs generally won’t hatch if incubated, and if they do, it’s rare for both chicks to survive.
Eggs are nutritious and an inexpensive protein source. You probably eat them several times a week without a second thought. But did you ever wonder what exactly is inside that eggshell?
An egg is comprised of several components including the bloom, the shell, the membrane, the white, and the yolk, but that’s just the basics – blood spots, chalazae and bulls’ eyes may also be present.
THE BLOOM (OR CUTICLE)
As the last step in the laying process, a thin nearly invisible layer is applied to the eggshell called the ‘bloom’ (sometimes also called the ‘cuticle’). This covering seals the shell to help protect the egg from air and bacteria entering through the tiny pores in the eggshell and also reduces the moisture loss from the egg. Eggs should not be washed until just before using to help preserve the bloom and to help keep the egg fresh.
Just under the eggshell is a pair of thin whitish membranes that help to keep air out of the egg. Once an egg is laid, an air pocket begins to form between the two membranes at the blunt end of the egg. This air sac will continue to grow as the egg ages. Older hard-boiled eggs peel more easily because the air between the membranes has begun to separate the egg contents from the shell.
The shell is the hard outer covering of the egg and is the egg’s best line of defense against contamination from bacteria and germs. The shell is mostly made of calcium carbonate, with small amounts of magnesium carbonate, calcium phosphate and protein.
All egg shells start out white and then blue and/or brown pigment is applied during the laying process. The blue is applied earlier (in breeds who carry the blue gene) and does seep through to the inside of the shell, but if you notice, the inside of a brown eggshell is always white. All eggs taste the same and contain virtually the same nutrients regardless of shell color.
THE WHITE (ALBUMEN)
The egg white, or albumen contains 60% of the protein in an egg, which is about 10% of the USRDA. Eggs are considered a complete protein because they contain all eight essential amino acids. The white of a fresh egg will be cloudy and very thick. As the egg ages, the white will become nearly transparent and thin as air flows through the pores in the eggshell.
Each egg yolk is covered with a thin transparent membrane which keeps the yolk from breaking. This membrane becomes thinner and weaker as an egg ages, so fresh egg yolks will stand up taller and be less likely to break.
The egg yolk contains about 80% of the total calories and virtually all of the fat and cholesterol in the egg, along with the majority of the vitamins and minerals. The color of the yolk is determined by the level of xyanthophyll in the foods a hen eats. Xyanthophyll is a carotenoid found in marigold petals, corn, alfalfa, basil and other foods.
The chalazae are ropy, twisted strands in the egg white that anchor the yolk in place in the center of the white. They are more prominent in fresh eggs and perfectly edible.
BLOOD (OR MEAT) SPOTS
Red blood (or meat) spots on an egg yolk is not an indication of fertility, but are ruptured blood vessels that have been damaged or broken during the laying process, during the travel down the oviduct, or by rough handling of the egg. As an egg ages, the yolk absorbs water from the egg white. This dilutes the blood spot, so a spot indicates that the egg is fresh.
The blood spots are edible, but you may want to remove them before cooking the egg. It is estimated that less than 1% of all eggs produced contain blood spots.
A BULL’S EYE
If an egg has been fertilized, you will see a multi-ringed bull’s eye on the yolk that indicates that the egg would likely hatch into a chick if incubated for 21 days under a hen or in an incubator. Fertilized eggs are perfectly edible and taste the same as non-fertilized eggs. The only difference is that they contain miniscule amounts of the male rooster’s DNA in addition to the hen’s DNA that all eggs contain.
Considering that a chicken lays an egg every 26 hours or so, it’s no wonder that things sometimes go wrong. Occasionally, an egg will get stuck in a hen’s oviduct and she will become egg bound. Signs of an egg bound hen include sitting on the ground or dragging wings, fluffing up, lethargy and closed eyes. Frequently, an egg bound hen’s tail will be down and most likely she will be straining or pumping her backside. Upon closer examination you may notice liquid dripping from her vent. You may even be able to feel an egg-shaped lump.
Causes of Egg Binding – More common in young pullets, egg binding could be due to a large or double yolked egg that is too large to pass through, genetics, stress, dehydration, internal worms, low-quality feed, poor health or a calcium deficiency. Calcium is needed for proper muscle contraction. Too much protein in a hen’s diet can also cause egg binding.
You want to handle your egg bound hen carefully to avoid breaking the egg inside her. A broken egg can become infected and lead to peritonitis, which is caused by egg material stuck inside the hen and must be treated immediately with an antibiotic and probiotic powder to build up her good bacteria. Even if the egg is not broken, the condition must be treated quickly. An egg bound hen will die if she is not able to pass the egg within 48 hours, so once you have made your diagnosis, treatment should start immediately.
Treatment for Egg Binding – Bring the hen into the house and soak her in a plastic tub in your bathtub.
Submerge her lower body and vent in warm water with some Epsom salts for about 20 minutes, gently rubbing her abdomen. Remove her gently from the bath and towel dry her, blotting her feathers carefully, then blow dry her with a hair dryer set on low heat.
Rub some vegetable oil around her vent and very gently massage her abdomen once more then put her in quiet, dark location – such as a large dog crate or cage. You want to create moist heat, so set the cage over a pan of hot water, put a heating pad and towel on the bottom of the crate or set up a heat lamp, then drape a towel over the cage.
Give your egg bound hen an eyedropper of Nutri-Drench and 1cc of liquid calcium. Then give her some time to herself. Repeat the soak in the tub every hour or so until she lays her egg.
As a last resort, a visit to a vet is recommended or, if you can see the egg, you can try to carefully extract the contents of the egg using a syringe. Then you will need to gently crush the shell, keeping the fragments attached to the membrane and remove it using vegetable oil squirted in and around the vent. This is risky and carries with it the danger of your hen contracting peritonitis, so should ONLY be used after all other remedies have been tried.
Fortunately, being egg bound is not all that common, and there’s a good chance you may never have a hen suffer from it, but it’s still good to know the signs and how to treat it.
As many of you know, I enjoy adapting ideas I see online and elsewhere for the enjoyment of our chickens. I have seen several versions of birdseed wreaths for wild birds on Pinterest HERE, HERE and HERE and decided to make my own chicken version.
My first two attempts didn’t work very well – don’t trust everything you read online! – and fell apart, but this, my third attempt turned out perfectly. Easy, quick, held together well and the chickens loved it!
Here’s how to make one for your girls.
1/2 Cup cool water
3 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin
1-1/2 Cups Boiling water
1 Cup bacon, suet or hamburg grease, heated to liquify
8 Cups of a mixture of scratch, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, raisins, nuts or seeds
20 fresh or frozen cranberries
Spray Bundt pan with cooking spray and set aside. In a measuring cup, dissolve the gelatin in the cool water and let sit for a minute. Pour the boiling water into a medium bowl and whisk in the gelatin to combine.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the seeds and nuts, stir in the grease and then pour in the liquid gelatin. Mix well with a wooden spoon to be sure all the nuts and seeds are well-coated and all the liquid is absorbed.
Place the cranberries in rows in the indentations in the pan (I used three in half the indentations and two in every other indentation) and then carefully spoon the seed mixture into the pan. Press down with the spoon to pack it well.
Put the Bundt pan in the refrigerator overnight to set. The next day, take the wreath out of the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Invert and tap gently on the countertop to unmold.
Tie a pretty ribbon in a bow at the top and then attach the wreath to your run fencing for your chickens or to a tree or fence to treat the wild birds.
I did switch out the fancy ribbon for a plain one when I hung the wreath in the run.
Hopefully you will never have to worry about a chick with spraddle leg ( also called splayed leg), but as is the case with everything else chicken-related, it’s always best to be prepared …just in case.
Spraddle Leg is a condition that a chick is either born with or develops within the first few hours of life whereby one or both legs slip out to the sides making them unable to stand or walk.
Spraddle leg can occur during incubation or the hatching process if the temperature is too high or varies too much during the incubation period or if the hatch is difficult for the chick. A less common cause can be a vitamin deficiency. The more common cause is an incubator or brooder floor that is too slippery for the chick to grip, which causes the legs to slide to one side. As a result the chick’s legs muscles don’t develop properly because of the lack of traction.
To try and prevent this condition, a sheet of paper towel or rubber shelf liner should always be put in the incubator just before the lockdown.
This will give the newly hatched chicks something to grip onto.
In the brooder box, newspaper should NEVER be used as the only floor covering. Especially when it gets wet, it is too slippery and the main cause of spraddled leg. Instead, I cover a few layers of newspaper with a sheet of shelf liner. The rubber surface, just as in the incubator, provides a nice textured surface for little feet.
I change the newspapers and shelf liner out as needed, rinsing the shelf liner off and reusing it, and after a few days, add a layer of pine shavings on top.
Spraddle leg is easily correctable, but if not addressed quickly, the chick will not be able to get to feed and water and can die.
What you need to do is hobble the chick’s legs. The easiest way is to cut a thin piece of vet wrap (approximately 1/4″ wide and 5″ long) and loosely wrap it around each leg, connecting the ends in the middle, about an inch apart, in sort of a figure eight.
The chick’s legs should be about normal width apart when extended. If the chick can’t stand up, you can make them a bit wider apart for better balance, but then bring them a bit closer together each day.
You can wrap some First Aid Tape around the middle to keep it secured.
Then be sure the chick has something it can easily walk on like paper towel, a bath towel or shelf liner. At first the chick will have trouble standing up, but soon will be able to get around. Ensure the chick has easy access to feed and water, but a shallow water dish with marbles or small stones in it is required so the chick doesn’t fall in and drown. Also it’s best to keep the chick separate from other chicks at least until she learns to stand so she won’t be trampled.
At first it is helpful to support the chick and just let her try to stand and get used to having her legs underneath her. Helping her get her balance will be beneficial and hasten her recovery.
Unwrap the legs and check the chick’s progress once or twice a day. Leave the hobble on until the chick can stand and walk on its own. This could take from a few days to up to a week. You should see results fairly quickly and soon your chick will be up and about.
Then make a solemn vow – no more chicks on newspaper!
All backyard chicken-keepers have an interest in keeping their pet chickens healthy and happy and making minor adjustments to various aspects of their care can have a significant impact on their health and longevity. There are a number of small steps that can be taken to promote the health of backyard chickens.
1. Provide the correct feed: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/11/feeding-chickens-at-different-ages.html
As basic as it sounds, chickens must be fed properly to perform optimally and to be healthy. Even though our great grandparents may have fed their flocks cracked corn or scratch, advances in science and the work of poultry nutritionists reveals that backyard chickens require much more nutritionally to live long, healthy lives, while producing maximally nutritious eggs. Chickens at different stages of development require different feed formulations. While the feed manufacturer’s recommendations for their products should always be followed, generally speaking, day old chicks through eight weeks old should be provided with starter feed. Adolescent chickens up to 18 weeks of age should be fed a grower or a flock-raiser type ration and laying hens http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/01/how-hen-makes-egg-egg-oddities.html
should be fed layer ration no earlier than 18 weeks of age or the the appearance of their first egg. Layer feed contains calcium that laying hens need for eggshell production but can be detrimental to younger birds.
Pumpkins are packed with antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, minerals including copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus, dietary fiber and protein in the seeds. Pumpkin seeds contain 30 grams of protein per 100 grams of seeds.1 When pumpkins are in season, I make my flock “Peeps’ Pumpkin Pie,” http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/10/chickens-pumpkin-seeds-and-worm
for a nutritionally power-packed treat. Unsupported claims propose feeding pumpkin seeds to chickens as a “natural dewormer,” however, there is no scientific evidence anywhere to suggest that pumpkin seeds are capable of deworming or reducing worm loads in chickens. As such, I do not rely on pumpkin seeds as a preventative measure or as a treatment option in my flock. I give my chickens pumpkins and pumpkin seeds simply because they’re nutritious and they enjoy them.
Homemade Flock Block Substitute- http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/10/flock-block-substitute-recipe-healthy.html
Flock Block is a commercially available treat for chickens that is intended to entertain them and fulfill their natural pecking instincts.They can be purchased at feed stores for approximately $13. I have purchased the product once or twice, but have always thought I could make a similar treat myself. I made my own treat block recently and am much happier knowing that my homemade Flock Block Substitute http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/10/flock-block-substitute-recipe-healthy.html
is a healthy, fresh, nutritious treat for my flock. The recipe includes Omega Ultra Egg, which increases Omega-3 levels in eggs, improves laying rates and chickens’ health and lends naturally occurring amino acids to the recipe, which serve as important building blocks of the protein in feathers and eggs.
A note about scratch. Scratch is affectionately referred to as ‘chicken crack’ for a reason; chickens love it, can’t get enough of it and it’s not the best choice for them. Scratch typically consists of cracked corn and a mixture of grains, which tends to lack an appreciable amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. Scratch should be thought of as chicken candy and only given in small amounts occasionally. *Scratch should not be mixed into the flock’s feed.*
3. Clean Water: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/07/the-advantages-of-poultry-nipples.html
Provide clean, fresh water to chickens at all times. Again, this sounds like common sense, but most backyard chickens drink from waterers harboring fecal matter, bacteria and other organisms that can make them sick. The solution to dirty water is employing poultry nipple waterers. “Nobody who is raising chickens professionally has used cups, bell drinkers or troughs in the past 25 years. … Nipples have been used successfully on literally billions of chickens. The professional farmers across North America have made nipple drinkers the standard for all chickens. … The disease reduction is so striking that there is no doubt which [system] is better.” http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/07/the-advantages-of-poultry-nipples.html
8. Break up Broody Hens: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/05/broody-breaker-when-hens-mood-to-hatch.html
A broody hen is one that is inspired to sit on a collection of eggs until she hatches chicks. Whether she is sitting on a clutch of fertile eggs or an empty nest, she will sit and wait for chicks to hatch indefinitely. In the 21 days normally required to hatch eggs, a broody leaves her nest briefly once or twice daily to eat, drink and relieve herself, neglecting her own health for the good of her anticipated chicks. Her comb will lose color, feathers lose sheen and she will lose a noticeable amount of weight. She can tolerate this drastic change in 21 day stints, but protracted periods of broodiness are unhealthy for her. She becomes vulnerable to external parasites, malnourished and emaciated. Broody hens that will not be permitted to hatch chicks, either due to the unavailability of fertile eggs or the preference of the chicken-keeper, she should be broken/broken-up http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/05/broody-breaker-when-hens-mood-to-hatch.html
as soon as possible to return them to their regular routines.
and should be avoided unless they are “seriously infested” with parasites. Even in that case, she writes, “the benefit may outweigh the danger of TEMPORARILY adding such materials” (p. 93, emphasis added).
In the 12 years since the original edition of Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys was published, the backyard poultry movement has undergone a revolution. There’s been a surge in small-scale poultry farming in response to consumer demand for the best flavors, new organic standards, the lifting of local ordinances, locavore activism, and a deep enthusiasm for heritage breeds.
Turkeys are at the center of this revolution. Don Schrider’s all-new edition of Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys includes detailed information on everything today’s turkey farmer needs to know: the characteristics of various heritage breeds, humane raising practices, buildings and equipment, pastured feeding methods, protection from predators, incubation and breeding, organic certification standards, on-farm processing guidelines, backyard raising techniques, and the most up-to-date medical and care procedures. Marketing information, profiles of turkey farmers, and detailed illustrations complete this comprehensive reference book.
This important new edition is a highly valuable addition to Storey’s best-selling series. With over 1.9 million copies in print, the Storey’s Guide to Raising series is the most trusted source of essential animal husbandry information. With this new edition of Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys, the next generation of turkey farmers has all the information required to raise birds — naturally and profitably.
Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys helps bring the American Poultry Association Standard Bred turkeys back from the brink of extinction and restore their presence on the family farm. Without everyone’s efforts, these birds will become simply a memory. With the wonderful help of a book like this, these magnificent varieties of turkeys, which are of great value to agriculture, have the best possible chance of survival.
— Frank R. Reese, Jr., Good Shepherd Poultry
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Don Schrider is a poultry aficionado and has written on the topic for many publications, including Mother Earth News, Backyard Poultry, Chickens, Countryside and Small Stock Journal, and Poultry Press. He is a master breeder of Brown Leghorn and Buckeye chickens and has worked with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy on various projects.
Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys, 3rd Edition
Storey Publishing, February 2013
Illustrations throughout, 320 pages, 6" x 9"
$19.95 paper, ISBN 978-1-61212-149-9
$29.95 hardcover, ISBN 978-1-61212-150-5
We have been keeping chickens for several years, but have always bought sexed chicks so we have never had any roosters. Then this past spring, we hatched our own brood and out of 17 chicks, ten ended up being roosters. We obviously couldn’t keep them all – the neighbors would have organized a lynch mob to protest all the crowing and our hens would have had something to say about it too – but I fortunately was able to find good homes for all but an Olive Egger named John Quincy Adams.
In the ten months we have had him, I have learned a lot about roosters and how they interact with the rest of the flock. Here are some of the lessons I have learned:
1. You don’t need a rooster to get eggs. I actually already knew that, but it bears emphasizing because it’s an oft-asked question on our Facebook page. Hens happily lay eggs without a rooster in residence. The only difference is that the eggs won’t be fertile. But fertile or not, they look and taste the same, contain the same nutritional content and both are fine for eating. The only difference is the ‘bulls-eye’ on the yolk of a fertilized egg which is the rooster’s DNA material. An unfertilized egg will have only a tiny white pinhead dot which is the hen’s DNA material. A blood spot on the yolk does NOT indicate fertility, it’s merely a broken blood vessel. I had never seen the bull’s eye in an egg in person before and it’s pretty neat – and unmistakable.
2. The rooster is not always at the top of the pecking order. Our alpha hen, Orange Chicken, and a few others have made it clear that they aren’t going to give up their place in the pecking order. So John Quincy is somewhere in the upper middle – and even sleeps a few rungs down on the roost each night.
3. Roosters don’t only crow in the morning….they crow all afternoon and into the evening too. I have heard that some roosters even crow in the dark! Fortunately John Quincy only crows during daylight hours. But the notion of hearing a roosters crow at sunup and then not again for the rest of the day is hogwash. He crows pretty much all day long.
4. Roosters really do work to protect the flock. When I let the hens out into the pasture, John Quincy roams the perimeter very vigilantly and sounds an alarm if he senses danger. A hawk swooping by recently caused him to round up the hens and herd them under a bush where they stayed while he ran into the middle of the pasture, as if offering himself up to the hawk. Fortunately the hawk decided it was no match for me, our dog plus John Quincy and moved on. Then JQ gave the girls the ‘all clear’ signal once he had determined it was safe to emerge. I still won’t free range our flock unsupervised, despite his presence, because many a rooster has lost his life protecting hens and that’s not a sacrifice I am willing to let the little guy take. He is no match for a determined hawk, fox or dog.
5. Roosters are gorgeously regal. I think a hen with glossy feathers, bright legs and feet and shiny eyes is beautiful. But roosters take the cake. With their long tail feathers, proud erect poses and air of authority, a well-cared for rooster is a sight to behold.
6. Roosters can be mean. But so can hens. And the rooster isn’t being mean for the sake of being mean. He takes his job seriously, and at times, even you are a threat to his flock. Having hand-raised my roosters, I think they trusted and accepted me a lot more than they would had I acquired them as pullets, but there have been a few times when John Quincy has pecked me or gone at me, spurs first. The latest was when I was trying to squirt saline into one of our hen’s eyes. She was blinking and I wanted to rinse out any dust. She was squawking and putting up a fuss and John Quincy came right over and basically attacked me. But in his mind, I was hurting one of ‘his’ girls.
7. Roosters will protect the smaller and weaker members of the flock. John Quincy will routinely break up squabbles between the hens. He steps right in whether two hens are fighting over a treat or space under a bush. He also pecks any hens who pick on our smaller, younger pullets, who have taken to hanging around him for ‘protection’. Like a typical man, he can’t stand female ‘drama’ and makes sure there isn’t any in our his run.
8. Roosters delight in finding ‘treasures’ and calling the hens over. I had heard about this but never seen it first hand. When they are out free ranging or I toss treats in their yard, John Quincy will make a high pitched, excited sound and then pick up a treat and drop it at the feet of the hen who he wants to have it. It’s very sweet.
9. Roosters don’t need as much food as hens and won’t touch free-choice crushed oyster- or egg-shell. Because they lay eggs, hens expend a lot of energy and nutrients and therefore have a higher calorie requirement than roosters or non-laying hens. Layers also need supplemental calcium to ensure strong egg shells. The calcium should always be served free-choice in a separate bowl and not mixed into the feed so each hen can eat what she needs, and the roosters and non-layers won’t eat any of it. If they ingest too much calcium, it can lead to kidney damage, and somehow they know that.
10. Roosters often flap their wings before crowing to push oxygen into their lungs. Because they have very small lungs and a complicated respiratory system, and because crowing takes a lot of lung power, often a rooster will flap his wings just prior to crowing to push as much oxygen into his lungs as possible so his crowing will be as long – and as loud – as possible Now aren’t you glad they have learned to do that!
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