It was about 2 weeks ahead of what we thought, but as usual, Team Trautman got the job done and got the hens situated in the hen house. Some times it seems it's just as well for us to have it happen all of a sudden. Things get done.
Eggs for the next two weeks will be $4/dozen. After that, $4.50/dozen. Why cheaper right now? These will be standard issue organic eggs for now until the gals get out on the grass and the egg quality goes from good to awesome.
How we do eggs --
We buy what are called "spent hens" from a local organic laying operation. They supply Organic Valley. The way the commercial operations work, is pullets (young hens, girls that is), start laying at about 6 months old, and by about 16 months old, they are ready for their first molt, a molt being when they lose most of their feathers (they look pretty rough that's for sure), but important to the commercial grower, they stop making eggs. And however that economic works out, it's time for them to go. We call them "rescue hens" because otherwise it's off to the soup pot for them. Our pickup yesterday preceded the semi taking the other thousands off to just that fate.
These hens, prior to here, have never been outside. Let's not really get into the whole organic thing on that, I know. Point is, it's going to take them about 2 weeks to a) figure out what this "outside" thing is b) start eating grass/bugs/being what we think of as chickens....before the eggs rise to our standards of AWESOME.
What's an AWESOME egg as far as we're concerned? One who's yolk is a deep orange, that stands up tall and proud, a nice firm white, but most importantly: Tastes just absolutely great: and doesn't need salt/pepper to give it 'taste'. And great nutrition goes with that great taste, too. High NATURAL omega 3's, beta carotene -- and many more things science hasn't gotten around to finding quite yet (and when they do they'll try and put it in a pill and make a zillion off it). Chickens being chickens, yep, on greatly fertile ground and high quality organic feed, not a 'least cost' ration.
These hens will molt on us at some point this summer, and when they do, they stop laying for 6 weeks or so. But the price on the initial bird is right, but more important, is our whole schedule of things here.
We don't think it's terribly productive, for us, to keep hens over the winter. It's cold, they're inside, no greens, the poop builds up, it smells, they eat way more to heat themselves and they lay less eggs and the feed is typically more expensive, and maybe the most important, we are exhausted from the season and we need a break. So we will take them in and have them made into soup hens sometime in December. Since they were 'rescue hens' to begin with, they had a great spring summer and fall beyond what they would have had, and everyone gets good out of it. If we used pullets: we would surely have to keep them over the winter, and for all the above reasons, in our situation, that just wouldn't work out.
Our hens have a 'hen house' which is part of the lower level of our hay barn. They have perches in there, and nests, and most importantly, we feed them in there, which means after a long day of scratching & pecking for who knows exactly what in the grass (worms, bugs, grass and sometimes I wonder what), they come back to the henhouse, and hopefully find a spot on the perches and settle in for the night. This to keep the predators from having a chicken dinner.
"nests": If we could sit down, have a good meeting with the hens, and all come away agreeing that it would really be to everyone's advantage to lay the eggs in the nests all the time, that would be really really super. Well, that "if" in reality is an ongoing game of hide and seek with Julie as to where the eggs might be. In the haymow somewhere, this corner with straw in it over there. Find their spot before the eggs go south. Man v. Hen. We don't always win. A little too free range for our practical purposes.
We don't care to use any more of our time scooping up poop than we absolutely have to; so this works well that they're in there to eat & sleep, and otherwise are spreading their poop out over the grass where it will fertilize the soil. The chickens are also great at keeping the fly population down. They'll eat the fly larvae and that is really great. Everything around here has multiple purposes and works symbiotically with our other enterprises.
While we're on the subject of poop -- or shall I be couth and say 'manure'. I know the egg quality is going to start getting good when I start seeing green, rather than brown, manure. The green is the clorophyll in the grasses and legumes they eat, and that is a really good thing. Interesting, too, is that you won't get much bad smell from a green poo, where the brown will smell pretty nasty toot quick. You'll find that with all the manures out on the farm -- the animal gets their proper diet and the manure is properly distributed and no bad smells. For us, bad smells = bad things going on. So enough already on poop.
Right now the gals look pretty rough: not many feathers on them, and what we notice, too, is their combs (the floppy thing on top of their head) go from pale and almost white -- to a deep red as they're here longer, also denoting great health and surely great quality eggs.
So come on out and pick up some awesome eggs, see the hens in action all around the yard, and watch a little where you step so you don't take home more of the farm than you intended.
Happy springtime to you!
Scott, Julie, Ian, Quinn, Lilly, 2 dogs, like 10 cats (estimate), 200 hens, and 90 bovines.