Why Not Leave the Egg Coloring to Your Hens?

EasterEggers

The secret is out: If you raise your own backyard chickens, you don’t have to dye Easter eggs. Although factory farmed eggs are white (or brown) and all uniform in color and shape, chicken eggs actually come in all sorts of sizes and colors. (And occasionally in interesting shapes, too.) Part of the fun of having a small backyard flock is that there are breeds chickens suitable for backyard living that lay eggs in colors from pink to blue to dark chocolate. With or without speckles, too. So much more fun than the boring white eggs most people are accustomed to.

Beautifully colored eggs abound. You just need to know what breeds of chickens lay them. Here are some of the best:

Araucanas. A distinguishing factor of a true Araucana is that it doesn’t have a tail. (They’re also known as the South American Rumpless for that reason.)These birds originally come from Chili. Although I often hear of people thinking they have Araucanas, these birds are one of the rarer colored egg layers because they have a high mortality rate in hatching. Araucanas are gentle birds that lay beautiful blue eggs.

Ameraucanas. This breed can trace it’s genes to the Araucana, and are sometimes sold as such, but they’re not truly a pure bred Araucana. A telltale sign (on an adult Ameraucana) is that they have tails, unlike Araucanas. It’s unclear where this breed officially originated from although many claim they’re called Ameraucanas because they originated in America and they resemble Araucanas and they lay blue eggs. They’re also gentle birds, so great for the backyard living.

Often Ameraucanas are mistaken for Easter Eggers or Araucanas, in part because consumers don’t know the difference and in part because of marketing tactics labeling Easter Eggers as Americanas (note the I in the word). The misspelling on the word should alert you, as no such breed exists. (In some parts of the world Ameraucanas are considered a tailed Araucana instead of its own breed).

Many tufted birds are thought to lay green or blue eggs, but you never know what you're going to get with an Easter Egger. This one lays pink eggs.

Many tufted birds are thought to lay green or blue eggs, but you never know what you’re going to get with an Easter Egger. This one lays pink eggs.

Easter Egger. These hens are a non-standardized ‘mutt’ chicken that comes from either an Araucana or Ameraucana on one side of the gene pool, and any other chicken on the other side. They’re super popular in the US and lay eggs varying from blue, green, rose, brown, sage, olive or cream.

Don’t let the ‘mutt’ throw you off. As far as hens go, there’s certainly nothing wrong with them unless you want to breed your flock. Easter Eggers aren’t recognized as a standardized breed by the National Poultry Association. They can’t reproduce themselves in a way that gives standardized characteristics in their offspring. However, Easter Eggers are popular because they are gentle, sweet birds that are good layers of colorful eggs. You just won’t know what color of eggs you’re getting until they start laying them. But the surprise is a fun factor and they’re worth owning for sure.

Welsummer. This breed originates from Netherlands and started out as a mix of four or five different chickens before the breed was standardized. Welsummers are known to be friendly and intelligent and lay dark chocolate brown eggs with darker brown spots.

Marans. This breed comes from France and lays deep brown eggs. They’re considered quiet and docile birds. And fairly hardy which make them another great choice for the backyard. If you’d like to see their dark brown eggs, here’s a photo.

Cream Legbar. This breed was established in the 1930’s and came from a cross between Barred Rocks, Brown Leghorns and Araucanas. They’re friendly birds, good foragers, and good layers of blue eggs. One neat thing about Cream Legbars is that they are an auto-sexing breed. This means that at birth you can tell the difference between male and female birds by their markings so you’ll never take home a baby roo by accident.

Of course there are many other breeds of chickens that lay a variety of colorful eggs. This is just a short list to whet your appetite. If you don’t already have chickens, and are looking for a variety of colorful eggs, this is a great place to start. If you’ve already got your backyard flock going strong, it doesn’t hurt to start a wish list for the time when you’ll have to replace the ones that move on to the great nest box in the sky.

I’m not sure you can convince kids that these lovely eggs leave no reason to dye eggs for Easter, but I’m completely sold. Why mess up something that nature has already done so beautifully?

PS If your awesome colorful egg laying breed isn’t on this list, tell us what it is and why we should want one. The way I figure it, there’s no such thing as a too-long chicken wish list, right?

 

 

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The First Mow

Last weekend’s sunny, warm weather beckoned me out to work in the chicken yard. The first order of business: mowing the chicken lawn. And while the neighbors can’t see this patch of the backyard, it’s actually not the best thing to let the grass grow tall. Especially where the chickens free range since long pieces of grass and weeds are much more likely to get stuck in a crop and compact it than the shorter, trimmed variety. (Thankfully this has never happened to me. Even on winter-turning-to-spring season when I’m slow to get moving.)

Lawn mowing day is a spectacular event in the chicken yard. The chickens LOVE it. They come running when they hear the lawn mower start up. And follow behind me as I cut the wieldy grass down. Oh the glee of it! One never knows what lurks underneath all that grass!

They scour the rows of cut stubble….

FirstMow

They play queen of the grass mound….

GrassPile

And when they’ve had their fill (I mean, look at this girl’s cleavage! I don’t think one more blade of grass would fit inside her)….

HarrietGrass

…they humor me with chicken selfies…

ChickenSelfies

Oh, how I love spring and the promise of the coming summer. The fat and sassy chickens love it, too. All is good with the world on the first mow of spring.

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Baby Bunnies, Baby Chicks and Baby Ducks

One day old Peep. Who could resist?

One day old Peep. Who could resist?

What’s more irresistible than a baby chick, duckling or bunny? Especially as Easter approaches and parents think about how cute it would be to plop a live animal in the middle of the Easter celebration.

I’m ALL for chick, duckling and bunny ownership… (I am, after all, a chicken addict and want everyone to join me in the vice!)…as long as it’s done right. If you’re considering first time live-baby-animal-cuteness for Easter, please do your research and know what you’re getting into. It can be an awesome experience if you go in educated and prepared.

Should your family hop into the live ‘Easter’ animal ownership? Maybe.

Jordan with some of 'her' chicks that later became MINE.

Jordan with some of ‘her’ chicks that later became MINE.

But first ask yourself these questions:

Are you prepared to take care of the animal(s) for up to 15 years?

Are you prepared for the cost of these animals (which includes housing, food, bedding, food and water containers, first aid, and misc. other (often unexpected) expenses)?

Are you prepared for taking care of the animals yourself if your kids lose interest? (Ultimately YOU are the one responsible anyway so it’s best to think of this as your pet (at least in your own mind) right off the bat.)

Do you have time to adequately care for and (when applicable) train these animals?

Do you have space to adequately house and care for these animals, 365 days a year, rain or shine, sickness or vacation?(Chickens need a MINIMUM of 4 square feet of chicken coop space and the same of chicken run space—and those are just very minimal requirements—they  do better with much more. And they don’t go away when you go on a 2 week family vacation.)

Will you be okay if the animal doesn’t preform like a dog or cat? (Although I ADORE my hens and they’re personable and tame and some even sit in my lap, they are NOT like my cat and I don’t have the same expectations of them—but children might if they don’t understand the difference.)

Do you have the time and ability to train children on the proper care and handling of these baby animals (which are fragile)?

Do you have a warm, indoor space for these babies while they’re too young to live outside?

Are there zoning laws in your town/city that will prevent you from having these animals? Check first before bringing any animals home.

Baby Eve. Awwwwww.

Shelters in places like Chicago have actually talked some pet stores into NOT selling bunnies until AFTER EASTER, just to sidestep the trendy notion that these animals are like any other Easter toy found in the Easter basket. They suggest, also, that if you’re looking for bunnies to wait a few weeks AFTER Easter and adopt through a shelter that has begun taking them in by droves after the reality of bunny ownership has set in.

I Got My First Duckling At Easter

And I don’t mean to be a downer. I got my first adorable duckling as a kid for Easter. We already had chickens and horses and a set up (and an understanding) of what duck ownership would entail. My ducks lived a happy life on our mini-farm. It all worked out great.

When I got my first chicks as an adult, part of the flock was Easter gifts for nieces and nephews, who cooed over them and held them endless hours when they were tiny, fluffy and cute. They each named their own chick (all of which were different breeds to tell them apart). Once chicks moved out to the coop, the whole chicken thing was pretty much over for the kids. I suspected as much, and actually, planned for it. I wanted the flock all to myself anyway and in the meantime, the birds were super tamed as chicks and are now happy, friendly adults. And they’re all mine.

Lots of baby Easter animals don’t fare as well, however. Baby animals are living creatures (that grow up and aren’t as cute).  I know this seems an obvious statement, but shelters complain that the flux of animal abandonments and deaths post-Easter is staggering.  According to some of the statistics, as many as 30% of those cute Easter animals die within the first few weeks and another 50-70% are abandoned or turned in to shelters. Many of those turned in are euthanized simply because of the volume of animals they must deal with.

If you’ve carefully considered the realities of ‘Easter Pet’ ownership, GO FOR IT!! Having chickens is one of the best things in my life. I love it and don’t regret a single moment of it. And it can be that way for you, too.

Here are some sources to help you glean more information on the animals you might be considering for Easter (or, considering just because you want them!):

Raising Chicks

20+ Reasons Why You Should Raise Chickens

Raising and Caring for Ducklings

House Rabbit Society (a non-profit rabbit rescue that has lots of info to get started with bunnies)

My two websites offer lots of practical information for getting started:

City Girl Chickens

City Girl Farming

And if you’ve already taken the plunge, or have Easter animal stories to tell, please share them with us!

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What is Diatomaceous Earth? (And Seven Reasons to Use It)

 Photo credit: www.earthyhealth.com

Diatomaceous Earth magnified a TON Photo credit: http://www.earthyhealth.com

Diatomaceous Earth, often referred to simply as D.E., is not much more than a bunch of ground up, fossilized marine phytoplankton (to the tune of about 400,000 shells per cubic inch). Its white-ish, silky powder reminds me of baby talc powder, or fine baking flour.  The neighbor kids like to run their fingers through it, enamored by the soft, powdery texture.

The first pile of these tangled tiny skeletons was discovered around 1836 and was thought to be limestone.  It was eventually incorporated into a variety of  different products, many that you probably use today. (Things such as toothpaste and face scrub, kitty litter, swimming pool filters, filler in plastics, and absorbent materials to clean up messes like oil spills.)

But what’s the big deal about a bunch of crunchy bug parts? And why should you care? Well, for starters, D.E. is a great non-toxic solution for many urban farming woes.

Here are a few reasons why FOOD GRADE Diatomaceous Earth*** might become one of your best friends:

It kills bugs in the garden. Dust the plants with D.E. to help protect them. There are two theories why this works: one is that the sharp shells that make up the powder cut insects up. The other is that D.E. absorbs the waxy coat off insects, dehydrating them and causing them to die. Either way, it’s a win/win for a gardener looking for a non-toxic solution to save their plants.

D.E. mixed in to the dirt where the girls bathe.

D.E. mixed in to the dirt where the girls bathe.

(I stick my D.E. in a shaky cheese container and use it that way. I’ve also heard of people dumping it into a nylon stocking and shaking it out that way. If you have breathing problems, use a mask or cover face–the tiny particles won’t hurt you if you swallow them, but they might irritate you some.)

D.E. only works when DRY, so reapply after it rains (or if it’s still in place after the rain, allow it to dry back out and it will work again).

It kills slugs. Use same as above…but being in the rain belt like I am, I thought slugs needed their own category (another great slug solution is crushed egg shells for much of the same reason).

It kills bugs in the coop and chicken run. When I clean out the coop, I sprinkle a layer of D.E. in the coop before I add wood chips. I also sprinkle it into the dirt in the run, and in areas around the yard where the hens will dust bathe. And don’t forget the nesting boxes!

It kills worms inside your hens (and other farm animals such as goats and cows). I sprinkle a bit of D.E. into the feed when I feed the chickens. When the hens eat the D.E., it will help kill any internal bugs.

(Just side note here, MEDICAL GRADE D.E. has been used on humans to de-worm them as well….plus, many companies mix D.E. in with their grain because it acts as an anti-caking agent while killing bugs, so you’ve probably eaten it in your bread. The guy at my local feed store says he drinks it in his coffee…I personally haven’t been brave enough to try that!)

It kills ants and other bugs inside the house. Again, it’s a toxic free alternative to ant, flea, bed bugs, dust mites and other household insects.

It’s inexpensive and doesn’t go bad (as long as you keep it dry). The best deal is to buy it by the 50 lb bag (a bag this size lasts me several years). The first time I bought it, I shared it with a friend, but now I just keep the bag and use it until it’s gone.

It’s safe to use and non-toxic. Although, one caution is to cover mouth/nose when using it to prevent irritation to the throat. You can apply to your plants and even pick them immediately. You can also use around other animals and people.

As with all things, pay attention to your gardens and flocks and other animals. Some people swear by D.E. as the only thing they’ve ever needed. Some say it’s great, but it’s only a deterrent and doesn’t always 100% work.

I really like the stuff, but my philosophy is: don’t stop checking for bugs, assuming they’re gone. Err on the side of caution, and never assume you won’t have a problem again. Nothing is ever certain. Worst case scenario, you’ll cut your issues down to a minimum, best case, D.E. will be the only thing you will ever need. Expect the first, hope for the last.

And if there are things you use D.E. on, let us know. It’s always great to share the wealth of information with everyone.

****IMPORTANT NOTE: Use FOOD GRADE ONLY. This is a D.E. solution that contains LESS THAN 1% silica. There are many grades of D.E., used for a variety of things. Paying attention to this important factor will save you and your animals from harm.****

PS In full disclosure: the link above to Amazon is an affiliate link (however the link below IS NOT). If you click on the above link and buy something, it helps pay for chicken food.

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Getting Started: Chick Check List and Resources

If you haven’t taken the backyard chicken plunge yet, let me warn you: Chickens are addictive! You’ll never be the same.

Before I dove in, I was a bit nervous. It’s one thing to grow up in the country and have chickens where my parents kept things running smoothly and I just had to scoop poo from time to time, but it’s totally different to be in charge of them without any adult experience (or so I thought). Back in the day, chickens were considered a food source. They weren’t named (well, except Phyllis Diller, a Polish with wild feathers sticking up on top her head). They weren’t pets. And I wasn’t solely responsible for them.

Yet, as an adult living in the city, I wanted more control over my food, even if just a little. I didn’t see my city chickens (i.e.: pets with names and personalities) as a complete food source themselves, but I did see them as a way to have fresh eggs delivered daily from the back yard.

Some of my first girls the day I brought them home.

Harriet with her first batch of hatched darlings

And, I have to say bringing those first cute chicks home was one of the best decisions I’ve made as an adult. I love ‘my girls’ and what they’ve brought to my life—which is much more than free-range eggs I expected (which would have been enough).

Spring is the kick off of chick season. So if you’re ready to jump into the movement of keeping chickens in your backyard, there are a few things you need to know first:

  1. Check to make sure you can have chickens were you live. If your city allows chickens, that doesn’t mean your H.O.A. will, so make sure you cover all the bases.  Even if your city allow hens, they probably won’t allow roosters (which you don’t need for eggs and your hens will be fine without one), and most will also have a limit on the number of chickens you can have…three, five, eight, etc. as well as guidelines about where your coop can be placed. Doing a little research up front can save you potential problems later on.
  2. Do some reading. Learn about chicken care and breeds. There are over 250 kinds of chickens with unique characteristics. Decide which of those characteristics are most important. Do you want docile birds because you have children? Do you want good egg layers because you’re most concerned about quantity? Do you want a specific egg color (white, light brown, speckled, dark brown, green, blue, etc.)? You can see my favorites lists here, and the reasons why, and how to pick the best ones for your situation.
  3. After you’ve chosen your breeds of choice, find out where you can get them. With the rise in chicken popularity, you have a good chance to get at least some of what you want locally, but if not, there are several mail-order chick companies that can send them to you (fresh hatched chicks don’t need to eat or drink for a couple of days because they’re still living off the yolk they just hatched from so new hatched chicks are shipped off quickly before the food and drink issue becomes a problem).
  4. If you want to start with chicks, you’ll need a brooder. Set one up before you bring your chicks home. Here’s information on how to set up a brooder. It’s not hard and doesn’t need to cost a ton.
  5. If you don’t have a coop, build or buy one BEFORE you bring chicks home—even BEFORE you go look at those cute fluffy things that you won’t be able to resist. Trust me on this one. The 6-8 weeks the babies need to stay indoors flies by at crazy speed and before you know it you’ll have a flock of chickens, ahem, with no place to live. Like I said, trust me on this one. Here’s my coop-building story (learn from my mistakes!!). And here are a few coops to fuel your inspiration.

    My chicken coop

Many cities have inexpensive chicken 101 classes you can attend before becoming new chick parents. I highly suggest taking one of those if you’ve never had chickens before, however, don’t worry if you can’t make one. They’ve got lots of great books out there, too, that cover all the bases. Here are some of my favorites:

Raising Chickens For Dummies
by Kimberly Willis and Rob Ludlow
This is a great guide for anyone wanting to get into chickens. It’s pretty comprehensive and easy to read. This book does a good job at covering all the bases in chicken raising. Because of that, it’s my favorite go-to chicken resource.

Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flockbook  
There are a few things I love about this chicken book. One, it’s beautiful. The layout, the pictures, all of it. It’s just pleasing to look at. But this book is more than a picture book. It’s filled with everything you  need to know to get started with chickens, including supply lists and plans to build your own coops and chicken nest boxes. There’s also a great section on chicken breeds, along with full-color photos to help you decide which breeds will be the best fit for you. And there’s even egg recipes included!

Just A Couple Of Chickens: Raising Poultry and a Family in Hard Times
by Corinne Tippett
This isn’t a handbook for raising chickens, but it’s a great true-life chicken raising experinence. It’s worth the read because: 1. It’s very funny. 2. If you’re wanting to raise poultry of any kind, you can learn from someone else’s experience 3. There’s a section in the back filled with practical information and resources for you to get started with a flock of your own–whether that’s chickens, quail, pheasants or more.

Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock
by Judy Pangman
This book is a WONDERFUL resource for gleaning ideas in making your own backyard coop. There’s many great coops in the book with pictures and plans to get your juices flowing.

And don’t forget online chicken information. There’s our website, City Girl Chickens, filled with good information. And Backyard Chicken has a great forum to ask questions and interact with other chicken owners.

Oh, and don’t forget the resource of talking to other chicken owners! From my experience, they’re all about as enthusiastic as I am about raising chickens and will be able to help you with your first-time-parent jitters as well as share some enduringly great stories with you.

Since becoming a chicken owner, I haven’t ever had a single regret. Aside maybe waiting so long to do it. And because of that, I’ve become a chicken ‘pusher’…I think everyone should enjoy the benefits of owning chickens! It would make the world a happier place. jordan-feeds-chickens-small

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Baby it’s COLD Outside!

bigtree

Winter has been a doozy this year so far, hasn’t it? Here in the Pacific NW, we’ve had less rain and more blue skies than normal along with a few stretches of colder than normal temps followed by warmer than normal temps. It’s been crazy. And all the while much of the rest of the nation has suffered under abnormal amounts of snow.

Just last week, as I was out walking in a hoodie, I took a video with my phone to send to one of my sisters who is buried in snow in Minnesota, bragging about our spring-like temps. A few days later, I’m eating my words….

Three days of snow (a rarity here) followed by a day of freezing rain and we’re encrusted in an icy winter wonderland around these parts. Lovely to look at. Not too lovely to live in. And the animals? Well, they’re just not having it!

atWindow CharletteSilhouette Truman

During the three day flurry, the winter winds blew from a the wrong direction (I only cover one side of the run, leaving the other open since the wind usually only blows from the east) so mounds of  snow drifted into chicken run. The hens refused to come out of the coop the first day. Not even cracked corn would convince them otherwise.

I worked on making the chicken run a bit less windy and snowy by covering the bottom half of the exposed wall with feed sacks strung together (I couldn’t get out of the driveway to go buy a tarp, so I had to get creative. It’s working perfectly.)feedbags

The girls eventually gave in and came down to the run, and are slowly adjusting to the climate. They still refuse to venture out into the snow, however. But I don’t blame them.chickens

Since most of the words coming out of my mouth these days sound like Brrrrr….I thought I’d just leave you with a few photos from the less than balmy Pacific NW.  Enjoy. And stay warm.

window

The view through my window…not so good with the freezing rain!

Thyme

Thyme Popsicle anyone?

Trees helicopterTree coop chickenWire Blueberries

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Egg Shells (for Calcium)

Chicken with SignDon’t throw those egg shells away. Recycle them back into your chickens. Yep, feed them to your hens. In one end, out the other…or I guess it would be out one end and into the other…uhm…well, yes.

Why?

Egg shells are a great source of calcium for chickens. If you’re raising layers, you’ve probably got them on a layer food (if you don’t, it would be a good idea to switch to one) and that layer food is specially formulated to give hens what they need during their laying years. But extra calcium still needs to be offered to the flock. This can be in the form of oyster shells (which you can buy already ground up at the feed store). Or you can use egg shells. I actually use both oyster shell and egg shells. But hands down (or would that be beaks?), my hens way, way, WAY prefer the egg shells (personally I would too…they’re prettier and smell better).

It’s easy to prepare egg shells for the chickens. Here’s how:

1. Save a bunch of egg shells Shells-on-sheet

2. After you have enough to spread out on a cookie sheet, stick them in a 225 degree oven for about 30 minutes. (This kills all the germs, etc. that might be lurking and also keeps girls from realizing they’re eating eggs–you don’t want to encourage that kind of behavior).

3. After the shells have baked, dump them in a bag and roll over them with a rolling pin a bunch. You want them crushed up pretty fine. RollingPin

4. Always give extra calcium to your flock as a free choice (put it in a container separate from the feed). They know when they need it and they will get it themselves. EatingShells

I’ve heard some say that feeding egg shells to chickens is a bad idea because it will start your hens pecking on their fresh laid eggs. I’ve been doing this for years, however, and I’ve never had an egg pecking out break because of it. I don’t think they realize that those baked bits of shell are the leftovers from an egg they laid before.

I often mix the egg shells in with oyster shells because the girls love the egg shells so much they see it as another food group and consume it in large quantities, which probably isn’t the best thing. Mixing it with oyster shells extends the ‘coop life’ of those shells significantly.

If you have egg shells coming out your ears, besides being a good source of calcium for your flock, here’s several more ideas of what you can do with them. Egg shells are amazing! I can’t imagine why people might think they are trash! My girls wouldn’t understand that either. They come running when they see a bag of freshly baked and crushed shells in my hand. Mmmm. Mmmm. Eat up!

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