Monday, February 20, 2012

Egg Laying

In recognition of our first egg here at the garden, I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on some of the amazing facts that result in our morning omelette.

One of the most common questions we get at the garden is if we need a rooster. Fortunately for our neighbors (who don't get the unrequested wake-up call), hens will lay eggs without roosters. The rooster is necessary only if you are planning on raising chicks.

In chicken terminology, a female chicken that has not entered the egg laying stage is a "pullet." Once she lays her first egg, she officially becomes a "hen." Some people say that when a bird enters the hen stage, she becomes more active and picks up a few odd behaviors. We agree with this, over the last few days, our ladies have added a few quirky traits to their usual routine. Their dust baths have definitely increased in quantity and enthusiasm.
They have really been throwing around dirt over the last few days.
We have also seen them flying around a little more, which is unusual for them.

Once laying, a chicken can produce and lay an egg in 25 hours. Which is an impressive feat seeing as an egg is 2% of a chickens body weight. That is the equivalent of an average size adult regrowing both their hands in 25 hours. After this impressive feat, a hen will take a break...for 30 minutes. Then she starts developing another egg to be laid in 25 hours.
Interestingly, chickens will leave the nest shortly after laying their egg. This allows the egg to cool (when laid, the egg is over 100 degrees!). When the egg cools, development of the egg stops temporarily. If we don't come and collect the eggs at this point, the chicken will keep laying one per day until she decides she has enough. Then she will stock up on food, and sit on her eggs for 3 weeks. Since all the eggs heat up evenly over the 3 weeks, they all hatch at the same time rather than once per day. It is very good biological trait for the chicken....

And it's an even better habit for us, the egg collectors. If we remove the eggs from the nest while the chicken is gone, the chicken will never reach the point where she decides that she will try and hatch them. Although it seems cruel to trick our chickens like that, most of society has decided it is a fair trade. Our chickens are free from predators, have a constant source of food, and lots of sunny space to run.

Bonus fact:
A misunderstanding persists about egg shell color. Since many small scale farmers raise hens that lay brown eggs instead of the grocery store's typical white egg, many people have begun to assume brown eggs are somehow healthier, safer, or in some way better.
Although it would be a nice indicator, egg shell color has no effect on the quality of egg. Egg shell color is determined by breed. Therefore our Wyandottes will lay only brown eggs. However, there are a wide range of colors, here is a nice picture showing the full range of egg colors:

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