PerfEgged Timing

When FD’s mother passed away in March of last year, we inherited a flock of two old roosters and eighteen old hens. At that time, we were only getting three to five eggs a day, so I decided we should order some new stock. This time, I wanted a variety of chicks instead of what we usually found at the farm stores, so we settled on Murray McMurray Hatchery out of Webster City, Iowa. I had never mail-ordered chicks before, and I was a little nervous about the chicks making such a long trip. But it turned out that I had nothing to worry about. On June16th I got word that the chicks had been born and to expect them to arrive postal service in the next two or three days. On June 19th, the local post office was good to call me at 7:00 in the morning to alert me to come get my box of chicks. I was surprised at how small the box was. Only one chick did not survive the trip, dying shortly after I picked them up. I lost two more in the days to come, but McMurray’s had sent three extra.

On July 3rd, two weeks after the arrival of the chicks, I got a call from the local farm center about an order of twelve hens that had never been picked up by the person who had ordered them. (If you remember, this was also the day I got the phone call about taking in orphaned fawn, Tukker.) They wondered if we were interested in taking these hens that were two to three months old and guaranteed by the local breeder to be females. These would start egg production earlier than the McMurray’s chicks would, so I said, “Yes”. At that time, we still had the chicks in a building where I could monitor the temperature and keep them warm until they grew feathers. I kept the new “teenagers” separate from the old flock in the outdoor “chick pen” for a few days before integrating them. There was a bit of disagreement of pecking order at the start but, overall, mingling the two groups went fairly well. Shortly after the teenagers vacated the outdoor chick pen, I moved the youngster “chicks” to that area. It was definitely time for them to have a little space to roam and stretch their wings.

We keep chicks in a cage that doubles as a squirrel complex when we rehabilitate juvenile squirrels.
When the chicks have feathers to regulate their temperature better, they are moved to the outdoor chick pen. They instinctively know how to make dust baths and scratch around for insects.
When I weed the flower beds or the garden, all of the greens are transported to the chickens. Chicks seem to know just what to do with greens without a mother to show them!

By August, it was time for the chicks to leave the outdoor chick pen and merge into the larger barnyard pen with all of the older chickens. Again, I worried for nothing. The “youngsters” hung together but, one by one, over the next few days, they grew independent and made their way into the flock.  Unfortunately, it became apparent in short time that four of the twelve teenagers were roosters, and the young virile fellas were picking on my old boys, Dale and Wesley, and targeting the old girls who were slow and easy to nab. Of course, the Ranch Straw Boss (me) was having none of that! I gave away two of the roosters and managed to get the local breeder to exchange two hens for the two remaining males.

This is when I learned my lesson about using only a reputable breeder. I had relied simply on the word of the farm store about the local breeder. I did not ask questions about practices or how long he had been in the business. And, if getting four roosters in the mix was not enough, within days of accepting the two new hens as replacements for roosters, my entire flock came down with a respiratory virus. Several of the old stock died because of this, including Wesley the rooster, and a couple of the youngsters died within days as well. Some very old hens hung on for a few weeks, but eventually died. In the end, I was left with old Dale the rooster and forty two hens of various ages.

Dale is at least twelve years old, but he still does a good job protecting the girls and keeping them happy. This day I brought them a few loads of weeds from the garden. Nothing goes to waste here.
The chicken barnyard increases beyond the mesh fencing when we are not raising fawns.
Dale likes to crow from a perch. He finds all sorts of places from which to watch over the girls.

In January, when Tukker deer was released and on his own for a few weeks roaming the woodlands and enjoying his wild status, we decided to open the deer pen to the chickens so that they would have a larger yard in which to scratch around. Every so often when I am working near the pen, I open it up for the chickens to forage out further into our yard and pasture. Still, I watch them while I work, because Ms. Foxy is back and she is an opportunist, after all.

Beginning in late November and early December, egg production on the Ten-Acre Ranch increased. At first, we were getting 15 to 20 eggs a day. Now the numbers have reached 28 to 34 a day. FD has been selling excess eggs at work, mostly to people who know the value and goodness of farm-fresh eggs. We also felt good about being able to share some eggs with a couple of neighbors across the street. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and stores being sold out of many staples, including eggs, we find ourselves in a very good position to be able to help people. Each day when I walk in the barn to set up feed and scatter scratch in the barnyard, the girls get a little lecture about doing their best to keep egg production up! Even Dale gets a talking to about doing his part to keep the girls happy and safe! And in the evening, as I gather eggs and get water containers refilled for the next day, I thank them profusely. Yes, I do speak chicken!

Usually by 10:00 am, we have a nice assortment of color. Each day, we get several shades of brown, green, blue, rose, and white.

There have been times over the last year that I wondered what the heck I was thinking when creating such a large flock. We go through a lot of feed, not to mention the continual work cleaning the roosts – that’s a lot of poop to scoop! And I’m sure FD gets tired of toting eggs to work for sale every other day. But I realize that timing is perfect for every experience. Given what we are dealing with right now, you won’t hear me complaining about the work involved or the constant flow of eggs, and you will find me a little more thankful that we have eggsactly what we need at just the right time.

I named this chick Ellen, after my mother. She loved flying up to roost above the others. You can’t blame a girl for needing her space sometimes!

© 2020 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


24 thoughts on “PerfEgged Timing

  1. At a large local supermarket the other day I noticed one person with a shopping cart piled above the rim with items, but everyone else I saw had normal amounts in their carts. The store was out of some items, carrots and orange juice among them, but most things were still available. The store had set a limit of 2 of each kind of item. I don’t remember if eggs were available—perhaps not, based on what you’ve said. In any case, you did your good deed.

    A few years ago I read a book about feathers. It seems many scientists believe that feathers originated as a way for animals to regulate their temperature (as you mentioned) and only later ended up getting used for flight.

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    1. Many stores around here are beginning to limit items to one or two. The last trip I made to the grocery, I was appalled at how empty many shelves were.

      That’s interesting about feathers. I learned a lot about the development of chicks some years ago when we bought some for FD’s mother. The temperatures dropped unexpectedly and she was not prepared to house them so we utilized the old squirrel complex. We used a heat lamp to keep them warm, but getting the temperature just right by raising or lowering the lamp was a chore. I would get up a couple of times during the night to go out to the barn to check on the temperature. I did the same routine with this flock of chicks. However, one night at 2:00 in the morning I misjudged where I had set my shoes and managed hit my chin on the dresser, putting a tooth through my lower lip! Life on the ranch isn’t always easy. 🙄

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    1. Chicks are a lot of fun, and there is certainly much to learn about them and raising them! I grew up with chickens so I’ve been around them much of my life. If they become used to being held when they’re young, they make wonderful pets!

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    1. Roosters tend to be a bit flamboyant and they do a fabulous dance for the girls, so funny to watch. I named Dale after my brother, and Wesley was the name of my brother’s best childhood friend. It bothered me a lot when those young punk roosters started beating up Dale and Wesley – I had to take action!! Ha ha! I wish I could share my eggs with all of you. I’d barter for your clams! 😀

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    1. We have a variety of hens and most finish laying before lunch. There are three that lay late in the day around 4 to 5:00. And what a bunch of cacklers! The cacophony of noise is constant until noon. I often get sidetracked observing them or having conversation with them. They are hilarious most of the time.

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  2. Lori, I love this post since I really like chickens and like you, I grew up with chickens, had one for a pet, and then acquired a few ( 10 maybe) when our children were growing up. Chickens are such interesting birds and sometimes I would be amazed a how smart some of them were. I kept every chicken that my kiddos had until the very last part bantam-game rooster died about 10 years ago. Mine lived to be quite old but I can’t say exactly how old because I did not keep track. I had one Araucana that laid bluish green eggs. I see that you have a variety of colored eggs and I have studied the pics trying to identify the breeds. I know there are about 6-7 breeds that lay colored eggs. Some are called Easter Eggers but I can’t tell by the photos if you have any of those. If I were younger, I would have a few select breeds of hens and maybe a rooster. I am allergic to eggs but can eat one or two once in a while and not feel too bad. I think, I saw in the photos, a few Rhode Island reds and they lay pretty reddish brown eggs. Anyhow I used to give away some of out eggs and the rest I cooked with to make cakes, cookies, or scrambled eggs for my family. Finally, Dale the boss man is a proud and handsome fella. I can imagine him crowing at the top of his lungs.

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    1. Some of the older flock are Rhode Island Reds, Dale is the last of the Barred Plymouth Rocks, a couple Buff Orpingtons, and Danish Leghorns. The newer flock are Americanas, True Green Whitings, White Leghorns, Red Star and Welsummers. I probably will never have the White Leggers again because they are troublemakers! They’ve been eating the paint off of our buildings and they make a constant racket in the barn. They also like to escape through the gates as I come and go. I have to be watchful all of the time. The Americana’s are gentle and will often let me hold them and pet them. I am not fond of Orpingtons because they are very broody. Dale is of course, my favorite. I’m not a fan of roosters but my mother-in-law insisted eggs had to be fertilized so she always had way too many roosters in the flock. Wesley and Dale were good roosters. I was sad to see Wesley go with that respiratory illness, but Dale seems quite capable of keeping the girls happy and protected. He’s a hoot to watch!

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  3. I love that your rooster is called Dale. My grandparents had a dairy farm and once let me name a calf. Aged 5, I named it after myself… Dale! Your tale of many chickens is -for me- bittersweet. Our Isa-Bonds Browns share chickens are just going on 3 years old and have diminished in number down to 7 and we’re getting 2, 3, occasionally 4 eggs daily. Finally, a couple of months ago, well before #covid19 craziness, the G.O. agreed to get 4 more layers. Our friends who were down to one chook assured us it would be no problem to add our 4 to their order. Time and a couple of reminders passed, but no chickens arrived. Last week I called the chicken man myself, and his comment was that a week and a half ago he had chickens, now he has a waiting list. The friends never got around to ordering. I’m not on that wait list. Sigh. However, I’m pleased for you and FD’s colleagues that it worked out eggsactly right for you. Homegrown eggs are great consolation in times like these, especially if you’ve got homemade bread and homegrown veges.

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    1. Thanks for such an informational comment! I thought of you when I mentioned Dale the rooster. Dale is a common name in both FD’s and my family. I love my brother immensely so it was an endearing gesture for me. I think it is a lovely name for a female! Only a couple of our older four to five year-old hens are still laying occasionally. Most of our production is from the new stock now, and I am very thankful that we have plenty to share. I especially did not like the chick stage – having to keep the chicks in a large cage with constant cleanup and fresh water and feed. Regulating temperature was a constant concern. I managed to crack my jaw on a dresser while dressing in the dark one night, since I usually got up twice in the night to check on the chicks, making sure the heat was sufficient. It was often that I had to raise or lower the lamp. So I had a fat, ugly lip for a couple of weeks and my sleep was interrupted. We do these things being good and responsible for our livestock. As the respiratory illness set in I worked around the clock to see that we had clean conditions, fresh air and clean water and feeders. I had a small infirmary in another area of the old barn. Some lived with that help, others did not make it. It’s been a tough year, but I’m on the good side of things and so thankful we live where we do. I’m anxious to get my garden going, but non-stop rain has kept me from that. All things come when they should. I hope that you manage well in your neck of the woods. You haven’t had much relief from the time the fires let up until this COVID-19 began spreading. I still believe living as we do in the more rural areas, and perhaps being raised to be more self-sufficient, that we do not feel the impact of widespread panic. Living off of the fat of the land comes to mind a lot lately. I am a forager… we can manage.

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  4. Hi Lori, so sorry to read about Mr T’s passing. It’s so very hard that they do not live as long as we do (mostly) and that we have to accept this for all our animal companions.
    I’d love to have hens one day, but I’m not sure that Tess would leave them be. She wants to play and be everybody’s friend. Unfortunately, as she’s a German Shepherd her enthusiasm is often misinterpreted :).
    We’re in containment here in France. My husband has been working from home for a week now, but as we’re in the countryside we can still go out for walks without being stopped by police!
    Why are your chickens’ eggs different colours? I love the green/blue ones.
    I hope you and your family stay well and safe in this current crisis. Bises Henrie XXX

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    1. Thank you, Henrie! I have been wondering about how you are faring in France. FD is in the electrical generation industry, and it’s been interesting to hear how they are coping with the virus threat, keeping the grid up and running! Like you, we are thankful to be in the country to take hikes and keep connected with nature. It’s very therapeutic.
      The Americana hens, also called “Easter eggers” are the breed that lay various colors of blues and greens. I have been told they also lay the rose colored eggs, but I’m not sure about that. It’s possible some of the brown egg layers could be responsible. It’s been fun to have the colored eggs, but I find they often run a smaller size, when the brown and white eggs are x-large to jumbo in size according to egg charts. We’re happy with all of them – and none of our customers are complaining about size or misshapen eggs these days!
      Thank you about Mr. T. I still miss him a lot. This is week 3 (today) without that big lug of love. I move on helping Oscar and Lollipop get back to ranch life. Oscar is still lethargic and not playful at all. Time is what we all need sometimes, to heal our hurts and wounds and be able to move forth. Spring has arrived, and I think getting the kids out for buggy rides will help a lot!! 😉

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  5. Ah… what beautiful eggs you have my dear! Oh I am sorry to hear about your sick chickens. It is never fun to deal with chicken maladies and loss. Walker got one of my Amerucanas today. She was one of my best layers too. 😦

    He’s just glad I love him so much… We work the fence line tomorrow to keep the girls on their own side of the world.

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    1. I knew you would enjoy this post, Lynda! The Ameraucana’s are are such a sweet bird. Most of mine allow me to pick them up… well except for Ellen. I am enjoying this large flock, but I can tell you it’s the last time I’ll have this many. Scooping the coop poop is a LOT of work!

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      1. He’s just such a love-bug… unless you are a chicken or a cat. We let him out with supervision with the kitties and ZzzzAAAP!!! him with the shock collar if he gets too rough. We let him out last night after the kitties went into the barn and just didn’t see Miz Henny (til it was too late) because the grass needs mowed! It has been so rainy here and the grass just exploded, but was too wet to mow.

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  6. Hi Lori, I enjoyed reading your recent posts. It is hard saying goodbye to a loved pet but clearly Mr. T had a charmed life when he became part of your household. I was surprised to learn chickens could be sent through the post. I am wondering if the deaths of some of the chickens were due to the stress of that experience.
    I do my best to buy free range eggs especially from people who know the hens personally. My local weekly market is my main source of eggs usually.
    The corona virus is a disruptor in many and unexpected ways.

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    1. Mr. T did have a charmed life. I love the word “charmed” here… he was spoiled more than any other dog I’ve had. All because he had a few disabilities… and I heard reports from house sitters that Mr. T did indeed walk up and down the steps of the front door when on their watch. Apparently he didn’t like strangers picking him up so he could sure make it out on his own when the mama was gone. What a trickster!! ha ha!

      The loss of that one chick on arrival certainly was due to the trip in the mail. The next two that passed, there is no way to know but I’m sure stress was a big part of it. If the others pick on them or run them over and they’re weak, they often don’t survive. And that respiratory illness that the whole flock got caused a lot of stress – for me included! But I learned my lesson about using only reputable breeders and being sure to ask for credentials.

      We have been well here, despite FD being on the last days of quarantine. A co-worker in his company came down with COVID-19 so everyone is working from home. We haven’t been off the ranch at all, and are doing our part to mind the requests of federal, state and local community officials.

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  7. Dale is a ‘handsome rooster’, that’s what Australians say about a young, handsome man, too! He also seems like a big personality, how good for you and ‘the girls’ that he takes his responsibilities seriously. I love those multicolored eggs. We live in a place that doesn’t allow chickens, I guess because we are on the golf course estate. At the moment eggs are in short supply here, but that is partly because it is Easter this weekend too. Because of age and because we are self-isolating I’m able to get a small amount of things, but some things are still unavailable. Everyone has to share the hills and valleys of the current circumstances. I’m glad you two are well and that you have beautiful eggs to eat and share. xx

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    1. I always say I won’t have a rooster after Dale’s gone. He and Wesley were both good roosters. I’ve had my fill of aggressive roosters over the years and I don’t feel the need to have another after Dale. The many colored eggs are fun for a change. I have a neighbor lady that insists the white ones do not hard cook like the brown and colored ones. I can’t say I ever paid attention to that before but I will now. I thought we chose a good variety of layer hens this time, but already my favorite Ameraucana hen has gone broody on me, and it’s a fight every day to get the egg she insists on sitting on. She growls and tries to peck me. Today she aggressively attacked my arm and hands, so I had to wear long-sleeve gloves to get her off the nest. I have another Ameracauna that attacks my boots nearly every day. That breed is supposed to be gentle 🤨. I consider myself a pretty good chicken keeper, but this is no job for wimps

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