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The Incredible Edible Egg

Posted 11/11/2015 4:43pm by Renae Schlatter.

Oh, the wonderful world of eggs. Here at Canal Junction they are the most difficult product to produce that we offer. A laying hen goes through a natural cycle and it feels like we are working against that to keep them laying eggs. A laying hen is about 21 weeks old when she lays her first egg. So we either have to buy the chicks and raise them up, or we have the option of buying what are called started pullets. These birds are raised by someone else and they usually sell them for between $7-$8 per bird at anywhere from 16 weeks or older. This is the way we usually get our hens. Most of the time we get them from Meyer Hatchery in Polk, Ohio. The drawback is that we have to order them about six months in advance or else we can’t get as many as we need at one time. The birds are usually about 16 weeks old when we get them, so we have them for about a month before they start to lay. Another problem is that we have our hands tied as far as they breed of chickens we can get. Most of the time we are able to get Isa Brown, which is a breed that lays a nice big brown eggs. Occasionally the only option we have is to get Barred Rock, which is a black and white bird which lay brown eggs as well. But, we have found that the Barred Rock eggs never get as big as the Isa Brown eggs. The other option we have is to raise whatever breed of chicken we want from chicks up to laying age. We tried that once and did not have very good livability. I’ve been thinking on this all week trying to figure out how we could try it again, but we just do not have a good place to raise the hens from beyond the brooder up to 21 weeks old. Right now our options are to either rely on someone else to raise the birds for us or we have to put out some money to build a structure to raise the birds ourselves.

Another battle we have to fight is keeping production all year. We have come to the conclusion that we can’t keep the hens any more than one year. In the past we have tried to keep the hens until they are two years old, but after the first year they just don’t produce as many eggs and we are feeding them a lot of feed and not getting many eggs in return. What we have done now is to get a batch of hens in the Spring and a batch of hens in the Fall. We cycle them through and when we get some new birds we take the oldest ones out. We are also fighting against the weather and the amount of sunlight. During the Spring and Summer the hens are able to roam outside and get fresh air and sunshine, and eat bugs and grass. This works well because the temperatures are moderate and the daylight hours are long. During the Fall and Winter we have to keep the hens in our greenhouse. Here they are protected from the wind and the worst weather. It’s not temperature controlled, but keeping the wind out helps a lot. We also have lights on them about 14 hours a day. It’s not the same a natural daylight, but it does help some. If we didn’t do these things they would not lay at all during these cold, dark months. The other option we would have is to build a temperature controlled building and feed our chickens non-GMO feed, and this would give us a higher production during the winter months. This route would take us further away from the farming practices we want to follow than we would like. I was just reading an article this week about a brand called Vital eggs. These eggs that you might find at the store in the colorful carton look like wonderful eggs. But, the chickens are all raised in more temperate parts of the country where they are guaranteed a certain number of days outdoors all year. A little difficult to accomplish in Ohio.

Then there is the matter of the size of our eggs. We do not and have never advertised our eggs as any grade or class size. Generally with the eggs from the Isa Brown hens they are very large eggs. We have an antique egg scale and have gotten it out on occasion to weigh the eggs and they always tip the scale to Jumbo and above. When a hen first starts to lay, their first eggs are called pullet eggs. These eggs are generally smaller so for a short time we keep them separated and sell for less as pullet eggs. If we would start to sell our eggs by different size we would have to increase the price to compensate for the extra time it would take to weigh each egg while packaging them. The eggs from the Barred Rock chickens will never get as big as the eggs from the Isa Brown chickens, but I’m not sure what to do to remedy that. When we got our new hens this Spring all they had available for us were the Barred Rock, so it was either get those hens, or no hens and in turn we would have almost no eggs right now. We were kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. I can’t express to you how tempting it is to only keep a handful of hens over the winter months and not offer any eggs at all. We most certainly are not keeping our farm in business by selling eggs. The hens consume a lot of feed all year, whether or not they are laying eggs.

All this to say, yes, we do have eggs all year long, but be prepared to be limited on how many you can get during the winter.

As always, we welcome and questions or comments.

-Renae