We’ve kept chickens on our little farm since our 2nd or 3rd year here. Some years we have more than others, but once we tasted truly fresh eggs, it became impossible to go back to store-bought. So even when I didn’t want to farm anymore we still kept about 10 layers to provide us with eggs. When our hens stop laying for part of the winter, we try to find another local source for fresh eggs, because the ones at the store just aren’t right.
Like most of our animals, our chickens have a varied diet. During the spring, summer and fall, about half of their food is a commercial feed for laying hens. But they also have free run of our entire yard, plus the fields surrounding our yard. They eat weeds, grass, flowers, and bugs. Since we have a gravel driveway and road, we don’t have to supply them with grit for their gizzards. They just eat the driveway! They also clean up the bad apples and pears that fall off our trees and we’ll toss them food from our garden that is over-ripe or too buggy for us. It’s a bonus for them – veggies AND bugs – all at once! When we get tomato hornworms, the chickens get a special treat. Unfortunately, though, that means I have to pick the worms off the plants. I really don’t like tomato hornworms! Also, we’ve hardly had any grasshoppers since we’ve had chickens running free. When the winter is very cold, the chickens don’t venture out much, so we just close the gate to their pen, mostly to protect them from any predators that may venture near. They have both an inside shelter with roosting poles and nest boxes off the ground, and an outdoor pen. The outdoor pen is smallish, and they’ve destroyed every green thing that used to be in it, so when they are penned up we make sure to give them some type of living food now and then so they’ll be healthier. Sometimes I even sprout some seeds for them as a treat. But the majority of their winter diet is a layer ration.
I’d like to tell you what breed we have, but most of them are a mix now. In 2009 we bought 25 Black Stars and in early 2010 we bought a “colored egg” mixture. In the past we’ve had Aracaunas, which lay blue and green eggs. We think that’s pretty cool, so we try to keep them around. With the colored egg mixture of breeds we now have white, blue, green, pink, and several shades of brown eggs. It’s fun to open a carton and see the multi-colored eggs! In 2011, 2 batches of chicks were hatched from our eggs to replace our old hens. The old hens have all laid eggs now for at least 2 full summers and will be laying fewer and fewer eggs as time goes on. So in a few weeks, when production plummets, all the old hens will be butchered and used for soup, stew and casseroles over the winter. By next spring, all the new hens will be laying in full swing, and we’ll have plenty of eggs again.
When we have more eggs than we can eat we feed some to our pigs, some to the cats and sometimes I freeze them to keep for winter. No – you can’t just put an egg in the freezer to save it! It will crack and be no good. But if you crack them, and stir them gently so you don’t incorporate much air, you can put them in freezer bags, get all the air out and freeze them for about 6 months. I currently have about 15 dozen eggs in my freezer. One dozen per one-quart bag. Once thawed they have to be used within a day or two, so I should probably freeze them in smaller amounts, but for a little while we can avoid buying eggs someplace else. We also sell some of our extra eggs to friends and neighbors who have the same love for fresh eggs.