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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Double Yolker

Double Yolker
Double Yolk Egg

We had a bit of a fry up yesterday afternoon and made bacon and egg muffins. I had a feeling one of the large eggs we received last week may be a double yolker, and this proves it. All that egg came from within one shell.

I love double yolkers! I once got a dozen eggs from my mum's hens and all but two were double yolkers.

So how does this happen? Usually you will see this in young hens as their egg cycle is not well synchronised, though sometimes heredity plays a part too. Ovulation has occurred too rapidly and one yolk joins the next yolk and is surrounded by the same egg sack and shell. They’re a "mistake" of the chickens reproductive system.

I think they're a pretty cool mistake! Who’s had double yolkers from their hens?

Reference: Poultry Help

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Four Dozen Milestone

Elsie and Gladys
Elsie and Gladys

As of this morning our girls have laid 4 dozen eggs in 3 weeks. I have been eating eggs like crazy now that they are plentiful, making quiches, omelette, boiled (hard and soft) and fried eggs for meals. They are laying beautifully now with an average of 5 a day this week.

Most eggs are laid in the nesting boxes. We have one who is laying on the ground in the coop. We know that it is the purple one, however Mark didn't quite have the time to try and coax her into a nest box before she squished out her egg when he caught her seeking a laying spot in the coop. I don't think it is a problem of not enough nest boxes because she has laid in the afternoon when no-one else was using them and on morning when I have only had one other egg. Hopefully she'll learn as she gets bigger that eggs go in nest boxes. I'll reduce the amount of straw we lay out in their coop to keep it clean and see if that helps.

We also had one incident with Gladys, who decided to hide her egg one afternoon in some bird netting laying on the back side of the vegetable patch. Luckily I noticed she was missing and we caught her exiting her special place and found her egg. It would have been an unpleasant thing to find in a few months time. For a little while we are leaving them locked up until the afternoon, or until we've had 5 eggs.

Little Elsie still isn't laying yet, but she is catching up to everyone now. Her comb is just starting to become larger and more colourful. When they all have their heads down eating it is harder to tell her from the others now as they all have big fluffy hen bums instead of the sleek form of young pullets.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Simple Quiche

Simple Quiche

Uses 3-5 eggs (if you make pastry too)


1 2/3 cups plain flour
125 g butter, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk

Rub butter into flour. Add other ingredients and knead into smooth dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Roll dough out on a lightly floured work surface to line the pie dish. Prick pastry base several times with a fork, cover with baking paper and dried beans and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and remove baking paper and beans; cool slightly.


3-4 eggs (see below)
250ml milk
Pinch of nutmeg
fresh parsley, chopped
3-4 rashers of bacon
2-3 leaves of silverbeet or spinach
Grated cheese (I used tasty cheddar and parmesan)

Note: I added the white left over from the pastry too - no waste! Mine are small pullet eggs, so I used 4, however 3 large eggs are probably enough.

Lay out bacon, silverbeet and cheese on pastry base.

Whisk nutmeg, eggs, milk and parsley until combined. Pour evenly over pies. Add more cheese on top.

Bake in oven at 180°C for 35-45 minutes. Cover the top with foil if it looks as though it is browning too quickly. Allow quiche to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before serving.

Substitute bacon and silverbeet for any other desired filling.
Choose parmesan or mozzarella if a non-oily cheese is preferred.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dust Baths and Eggs

Dust Bath
Dust baths under the Orange tree

A beautiful day today, and we have had 5 eggs! Unfortunately one of those eggs was on the coop floor and one was laid in the afternoon behind the vegetable patch (where chickens aren’t supposed to be in the first place!) I was hoping we would be lucky enough to have very smart girls who would all use the nesting boxes, but Gladys is a little too clever and wants to hide her eggs now. We at least found out that she is the one laying the very, very speckled eggs.

Harriet has it all figured out. She laid an afternoon egg and went back to the nest box to do it. What a clever girl! She gave us a beautiful small brown egg.

So who isn’t pulling her weight? I think that Elsie is still a bit little to be laying as her comb isn’t anywhere near as big as the other girls. I think she may even be substantially younger than the other hens, even though she seems to be highest in the pecking order most of the time.

It is such a nice day that the chickens have spent a substantial amount of time dust bathing. They let me get right up close and take a video of their dirt flying everywhere.

Video - Dust Baths

I have been trying to use up some of our eggs and have made some quiches using our home grown silver beet and parsley. I even made my own pastry since that used up an egg as well. They’re still in the oven, but if they turn out I will share my recipe!

Do you have any favourite recipes to use up your spare eggs?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Peach Blossoms

Peach blossom
Peach Blossoms

The girls all had their feathers re-trimmed on one wing as some of their adult flight feathers were coming back in quickly and Elsie could get herself quite airborne again! It was much easier this time around now that most of the girls have been squatting. They are all getting used to being picked up.

You don’t have to look far to see the signs that Spring is almost here. The new peach tree we planted recently is shooting and flowering.

A Magpie walked into the chicken pen today after we let them out for a run. They are a lot smarter than pigeons! I gently chased it out and it headed straight out the door instead of trying to fly up and getting stuck in the wire of their fully enclosed pen. I don’t want the Magpies to discover that eggs are laid in the chicken coop, even though there were none there when it was in there today.

We have had 3 eggs so far today... I wonder when we’ll start getting a fourth now that we are more consistently getting two or three per day.

Friday, August 21, 2009

No Rooster Necessary

20th Egg Celebration photo
Egg Selection

Today we have celebrated our 20th egg. Most of them are brown, however we have also received three very, very speckled eggs. Their rate of lay is increasing with us receiving three eggs today. Soon I shall have to start baking with egg-heavy recipes or find some people who would like fresh eggs for a small cost which can help pay for the hen food.

Interestingly over the past couple of months I have been asked on three seperate occassions how it is possible to get eggs without a rooster. Much like with human and other animal biology, hens will still produce an egg even if there is no means to fertilise it. They taste exactly the same, the only difference is that they are not viable to be incubated for baby chicks.

And so for anyone who is interested in chickens for the production of eggs rather than breeding, consider leaving a rooster off your shopping list. If you're in an urban jungle like us, your neighbours will thank you for it!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teaching Hens to Come

Garden chickens
Free range hens

One thing that can be scary is allowing your chickens out into the big wide world while you wonder if they’ll ever go back to their secure pen ever again. I spent six weeks in preparation for their first big outing.

After bringing my girls home the first thing I did was start training them to come when called. There are no real shortcuts around the fact that you need to put in substantial time to achieve this. I work 9-5 Monday to Friday, and as it is currently Winter this means that for 5 days out of 7 I would have only 10-15 minutes to spare in the mornings as they would be asleep by the time I would get home. Even so, I would spent that time hand feeding them and seeing who would let me touch tails before spreading their days food out and heading off to work.

On weekends I had more time to spare and could spend an hour with them hanging out in the pen. The way to a hen’s heart really is through her stomach. I would try to always remember to take some food with me and allow them to get used to me being around. One exercise we would do is for me to wait for them to ignore me, and then with a handful of food, call them over. "Chook, chook, chook!" Some repetition will teach them that your voice means "come quick! I have food!"

On days that you plan to let them free range don’t feed them their normal meal so they are nice and hungry. Then when you are ready to put them away, get their attention and call them as you have been training. Mine followed me straight back into the pen!

Also remember that chickens can get quite airborne. Mine could fly as high as our fences as evidenced by them getting onto the roof of their coop, so we decided to clip their wings a week before we allowed them to free range just in case anyone got any escape ideas.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nesting Instincts

Hazel in a nest box

Quite often when a hen lays an egg she sings an egg song, which declares her achievement to the world, or perhaps warns everyone to stay away from it!

As I watched Hazel lay her egg (and caught it on camera) I thought I would be able to share her egg song with everyone, however she was a very quiet hen. Perhaps she knew she had broken it on the bare boards after pushing aside all the straw. She stood over it for a little while, then sat back down and started straightening her nest. That was adorable as well, so I took a video of it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hazel Lays an Egg

Is this a nest?
Hazel explores the Laundry

Chickens are surely one of the most amusing creatures. This afternoon I had a visit at the back door from Hazel (with the red tag). She was clucking and standing on the back step and when I opened the door to say hello she came straight inside! After surveying the kitchen and the laundry she got a fixation with the shoe rack. Her behaviour made me think she wanted to lay an egg, but then she decided to head back outside with the other girls.

Not long after I walked outside, I had 6 hens following me around the garden, so I got them some grain and took them back to their pen. Clucky Hazel didn't want to come inside, and then spent some time walking up and down the fence wanting to come back out. Her behaviour made me think she may have laid an egg somewhere in the yard and wanted to go back to that "nest", but we haven't been able to find one.

Soon she started heading in and out of the coop and I peeked inside to see her hopping in and out of each nest box. She was scraping the straw aside down to the bare wood, so I got her some more and straightened out the boxes thinking she didn't have enough to make a nice nest. That got kicked out and pushed aside as well!

Hazel chooses a nesting box

I watched as she finally settled into a nest box and the other girls filed in to offer support. Harriet actually took a snooze next to her on the floor during her egg laying ordeal. I had been taking a couple of photos and videos and I noticed her stand up, so I pressed record and was surprised when I heard an audible *clunk* and realised I'd captured her egg laying. Listen out for the clunk at about the 6 second mark. She pushed aside too much straw and broke her beautiful egg when she laid it.

Hear the Egg Break

So now we know that Hazel is definitely laying eggs. I don't think she is the only one. We had one egg this morning as well, so that makes two for today!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Readiness to Lay

Chicken Squat
Hazel does the Chicken Squat

How do you know when you're due for your first egg? Watch for a chicken squat!

We first noticed this behaviour in one of our girls about 2 or 3 weeks before we received our first egg, however it is very hard to photograph!

The hen will lift both wings slightly, squat down to the ground and may also lift her tail.

Squatting seems to be an indication of readiness to lay (that is that they are ready for a rooster's attention), as well as a sign of submission. This behaviour is less common if there is a rooster present or if it is a dominant hen.

You can see the photo larger on flickr, or have a look at this video.

Three out of our six hens are now squatting and we have had 4 eggs in 5 days. Usually the squat will happen when I bend down to pat them, however on some occassions just walking up to the coop has initiated a squat from one of them. They quite like a pat on the back and will shake themselved happily afterwards.

Another sign that your hen is nearing laying age is to keep an eye on their wattles and combs. Young chickens have quite small, pale combs which get larger and redder over time.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Installing a Wider Perch

New perch
New Perch

A few days ago I discussed how Elsie was shunning the perch in favour of the nesting box and it was suggested that my perch may be too narrow for them to comfortably sleep. Everyone seems to agree that while a chicken will perch in some peculiar places as high as possible, they prefer a wider perch to a small one as while they will grip, they relax during sleep and sometimes even fall off thin perches!

Yesterday I installed their new perch. It was recommended that I put in something around 4 inches wide, however the widest length I had in the shed was about 4.5cm so in that went. I installed it approximately 10cm higher and a few cm closer to the back wall so they have more room behind the nesting boxes.

To install it I drilled 4 holes, two in either side of the walls, and then I lined up the beam and secured it with wood screws. My beam was about 1mm too short after I cut it to size so I had to wedge it into place with a little scrap piece of wood as I didn’t have anyone to help me hold it. A cordless drill with a screw driver attachment made this job super easy. I also had chicken helpers to inspect that the job was carried out properly.

Last night they got to test it, and while Elsie went straight for the nesting boxes she didn’t make as much of a fuss when I kicked her out and once she jumped onto the perch she stayed there. I think there was less wobbling while they settled themselves for the night.

This morning we received another egg! It was sitting right in the middle of a nest and is about the same size as yesterdays.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

First Egg!

First Egg!
The First Egg!

That's right! I found our first egg this morning. It was tucked right into the corner of a nest box so it may have been laid yesterday and I didn't notice. I shall have to ensure to look right inside every morning now!

It is a beautiful light brown egg with white speckles and quite a reasonable size for a first egg. I am not sure who laid it but my guess is the purple one. I think the red one will be next! Time to find some egg recipes!

We've had our girls for 8 weeks exactly. What a lovely way to celebrate 2 months of chickens!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Perch vs Nest

Night time nesting
Inside the coop

A couple of days ago Elsie decided that she liked sleeping in her nest box better than perching with the other chickens. Aside from broody hens I haven't seen a chicken do this before so I had a look for advice on the internet.

The consensus seems to be that while there isn't anything damaging they probably shouldn't do it. The most common argument is to keep the eggs clean so they do not need to be washed, though some people say that as long as you don't mind cleaning the nesting straw every day or two instead of once a week then it is not a health problem. If the straw isn't kept clean and they are sleeping on top of faeces then it can lead to potential parasite problems, which is also the case if chickens are sleeping on the floor of the coop instead of a perch.

In order to re-train Elsie there are a couple of things I can do. Firstly tonight when it was dusk and they had put themselves to bed I took Elsie out of her nest box and put her on the perch. Hopefully after a couple of days of relocating her after dark she will be in the habit of perching again. This takes me back to our first week when I had to pick up all 6 chickens from the floor to their perch for 2 days as I don't think they'd ever seen a perch before!

One reason why Elsie may have chosen the nest box is if she has decided that the perch I have is a little bit small or uncomfortable. This weekend I shall have a look to see if I have a flat beam in the shed which could replace their round perch as I have seen suggestions that chickens have trouble on something too round and slippery. Another suggestion is to make the perch higher as they like to roost as high as possible and if the nest box is the same height it will look appealing.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Free Birds

Purple one close up
Purple One enjoys the garden

After the previous success I had a whole day Sunday which I intended to spend outside as much as possible, so I used this opportunity to let them out. Of course, my gardening plans went out the window while I enjoyed watching the hens explore and do their chickeny things.

I let them out at about 11am and let them do more or less their own thing for 4 or 5 hours and only closed the pen up when they all went back in of their own choice. Half of the chickens chose to have a dust bath in the garden bed (watch the video) while others used the time to explore as much as possible - bushes, garden, pot plants...

Surprisingly the white one was fine this time, and it was Harriet who was a bit unsure and had to keep herself close to the pen. Elsie discovered how to go under Mark's vegetable garden fence this time and had to be evicted three times.

Our neighbour poked his head over the fence and was delighted to see we'd finally let the hens out of their enclosure. We're lucky to have a neighbour who has turned his backyard into a vegetable patch and is understanding about our chicken love.