Posts Tagged ‘egg’

NPIP – Exam Time for the Flock


Yesterday, at our request, a representative from the Department of Agriculture came out to visit and test our chickens in conjunction with the National Poultry Improvement Program.  NPIP is a voluntary program that provides testing for common ailments in home and commercial flocks.  NPIP helps us to ensure a safe food supply and avoid the transfer of disease through other means (after all, taking care of chickens is not a hands-off activity here at the Flying T).  In addition, it allows those who raise chickens to avoid unnecessary medicines and antibiotics.  Finally, by working exclusively with NPIP-certified hatcheries and home producers, we can reduce the chances that our healthy flock is infected by birds or chicks we purchase as replacement stock.

Some of the NPIP tests are required for 4H and other shows.

The actual process is quite simple for a relatively small flock like ours (23 birds)… or at least it should be.  First,  you need to make sure they’re contained.  To accomplish this, we simply turned off the coop’s automatic door after the chickens had gone to roost for the night.  Simple, right?

However, about an hour before the NPIP representative arrived, our son went to change the chickens’ water, and six of them slipped out the door.  The three kids and I had a heck of a time chasing them down.  Free range means no fences, and lots of places for them to hide, squeeze under, and run through.  It also means that trying to entice them back into the coop with grain doesn’t work well, because there are lots of other, more tasty things to sample out in the woods.  However, after a bit of running, diving, and even climbing the compost pile, we managed to get our escapees back into the coop.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated the exercise, and so I have no pictures to share.  They would’ve been worth sharing!

OK, it is a simple process, once you’ve got the chickens back in the coop!

We enlisted the kids to help, and they crammed into the grain room along with the NPIP tester, Tara.  One kid would go into the coop and pick up a chicken, then bring it out to Tara, who would start by banding their legs with a numbered tag (for our older chickens, this also required removing their previous NPIP tags).

Then, she turned them onto their backs, and plucked the feathers from a small area under the wing.

A quick scratch with a scalpel to draw blood, a few drops in a plastic vial, and the chickens were released to go .

Within about an hour and a half, the vials were filled and the process was complete.  Tara said that she recently did a flock of 250 birds, and that took all day (with several helpers).


The chickens were none the worse for wear (though they were a bit indignant).

We should get our NPIP renewal certificate in the mail in a few weeks!

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David’s Eggs


Our son is responsible for the egg business, and just started selling them.  It’s wonderful to see him so excited to do the work, keep the records, and care for the chickens and eggs.  The text below is from the flyer that he puts into each carton (you can click here to see his webpage).

Hi, I’m David, and I run the egg business at the Flying T Ranch!

I feed the chickens and water them, and I take care of them.  Every morning, I check the chickens to see how much food and water they have, and I look for eggs.  Every morning, I find some!  Then, I wash the eggs and put them in the cartons.  We eat some, and give some away, and sell some to other people.

With the money I make, some of it goes in the egg jar (to pay for chicken food), and some goes in my spend jar, and some goes in my giving jar.  I give the money in my giving jar to people in Haiti.

My chickens are free range.  I don’t feed them any chemicals or other bad stuff, so their eggs taste great!

The chickens roam all around our farm, and lots of times they follow me around wherever I go, so they get plenty of fresh air, exercise, and natural food.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed getting them for you!

– David

October Snowstorm


The snow hit hard on Oct 29th.  We measured over 18″ of the white stuff.

From the balcony

"Yeah, it's snow. Now get down here and feed me!"

Winterberries

Mocha checking out the snow.

OK, this was staged.

We should get a couple more later on today.

Snow curling off the barn's roof

Jasper running in the pasture.

Kids making snowmen

 

Walking on the trail from the back pasture.

The last of the fall colors?

Red maple and Red oak leaves in the snow

One of the kids' snowmen and the back pasture

Guest Blogger: “Chuck” the Chicken-Duck


Please welcome the Flying T’s first guest-blogger, our 13yo daughter…

I mentally go through the birds as I check on them for the night. 5 ducks. Check. 6 Rhode Island Red hens. Check. 3 Araucana hens. Check. 1 Araucana rooster. Check. 15 Barred Rock chicks. Check.  1 chicken-duck. Check.

You may be wondering about that last bird. No, it is not a new-fangled hybrid of some kind. It’s just a Araucana hen that thinks she’s a duck. It’s true. And it just goes to prove that we didn’t buy chickens just for the farm-fresh free-ranged eggs, we also bought them for the amusement they give.

Daisy... not a Chuck

This particular hen, we think, has had traumatizing brain damage in the past. When she was a chick, just 2 or 3 days old, she got stuck under the gallon water feeder. Really, with 12 chicks jumping around squawking “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”, it’s kind of hard to tell if all of them are on the other side of the cage. This one barely survived. She was held so much during the fact though, for basically an hour or two straight, that she is friendly to this day. She has earned her ticket out of freezercamp, insane as she is.

As I mentioned earlier, she thinks she is a duck. So we call her “Chuck the chicken-duck”. This happened when we first got the ducks a few weeks ago. Layer pellets taste good to a chicken still on grower food! Ever since she learned that this yummy delight came from the grain bin, she follows us around, trying her hardest to “trill” like a Muscovy Duck. They sound like “crrrrrooooooooo”, she sounds like “crrrrooAWWWWWWK!”. But she tries.

Chuck the Chicken Duck

Chuck has not yet started sleeping over at the ducks, but she is close. As it is, she follows them around like they are the Pied Piper of Hamelin. When we fenced off part of the horse’s stall (where the chickens usually come in under the gate) for the goats, Chuck thought it was so unfair that her supposed kin were on the other side of the fence, and she couldn’t get to them. She ran up and down the fence, squawking out her version of trilling. We finally picked her up and let her out with the ducks.

Chuck even joins them for their midday snooze. They won’t let her into their private dog pile in the hay, of course, but she sleeps in the other corner of the duck’s stall, wings folded, head cocked back, imitating the way the ducks sleep.

We are looking forward to more chicken-ducks when Chuck lays her eggs in the duck’s nesting box. Rather like the story of The Ugly Duckling.

Chickens are so amusing.

Chickens, Lions, and Beavers… Oh My!


Our family has a weakness for free-range eggs.  You may be thinking, “what’s the big deal?  Eggs are eggs,” or “Can you really tell the difference?”  If so, you haven’t had a truly fresh, free-range egg.  I’ll have to save that discussion for a later blog post, but if you’re skeptical, just humor me through the rest of this story.

Anyhow, our weakness for free-range eggs, as well as a desire to be a little closer to our food is what led us to think about bringing chickens to the farm.  As the previous owner had run an emu operation, we had four out-buildings, one of which would be easily converted into a coop.  Space was not a problem – you can raise a small flock in most urban backyards if your city allows it, and we have just under 15 acres.

So, like most things to do with the farm, we had a family council to decide if we were ready to start a new venture.

Break, break… it’s about time to digress into a bit more backstory.

You may have had the opportunity in your life to take some sort of personality test… you know, the kind of test that tells you what your general personality type is, how you think, how you make decisions, strengths, weaknesses, etc.  There are myriad types – the one the Air Force uses a lot is the “DiSC,” with the categories being “Dominant,” “Influencing,” Steady,” and “Conscientious.”  Personally, I like Gary Smalley’s version, where the categories are defined pretty similarly, but he uses animals to label them – Lion, Otter, Golden Retriever, and Beaver, respectively.

I’m pretty pegged-out in the Lion category, with a good dose of Otter.  Both tend to be visionary and headstrong, not big fans of details, and better talkers than listeners.

In other words, after our family council I walked away figuring everybody was onboard with my vision for this and just as excited about it.  The vision everybody had signed on to was this: we’d start with a small flock, about a dozen egg-layers.  We’d raise them from chicks, have eggs a few months later, and in a couple years when they stopped laying, we’d send them to freezer camp and eventually the stew pot.

About a month later, we’d add a “straight run” of 24 dual purpose Barred Rocks to the flock, raising the pullets to add to our egg production and all but two of the cockerels for slaughter.

With everybody marching neatly behind, I called our neighborhood grain store and put in our order for six Rhode Island Reds and six Araucanas.

Shortly afterward, my wife said, “The kids told me you ordered the chicks.  I thought we were going to come to a family decision first.”

“Uhhh… we did.  Don’t you remember?”

“No.  We decided that we would all think about it, and have another meeting to talk about our thoughts.”

My wife is a pegged-out Beaver.  She remembers things that were said.  She follows rules.  Things usually work out better when Lions listen to Beavers, but it’s not nearly as “fun.”

“Oops,” I said.  “Well, it’ll be alright.”  That’s lion code for “don’t bother me with details.”

In the weeks prior to our chicks’ arrival, I started work on the coop, and planning for the timing for ordering our dual-purpose birds.  We had a couple more family meetings in which we set down the rules, the most important one being that we would not name the chickens.  I knew that if the chickens had names, they’d end up as pets, and when they got old and stopped laying eggs, I’d be stuck feeding them for the rest of their natural lives.

This rule caused a little bit of consternation, so using my best negotiating skills, I compromised.  Each of the three children could name one chicken, but only after the chicks were a bit older and their personalities emerged.  Those chicks would have a lifetime pardon from freezer camp.  Everybody agreed happily.  “Remember,” I admonished.  “No names until later.”

The day prior to the expected hatch date, we went over the rules one more time.  We had the warming lamp, the feeder, and the waterer ready to go.  That morning, as I headed off to work, I emphasized “the rules” one last time.  “No naming… got it?”

My wife got the call that morning that the chicks were in, and to come pick them up.  After scrambling to find a box that would fit in the car to pick up the chicks, she and the kids drove down the road, returning shortly afterwards with a dozen balls of fuzz-feathers and 50 lbs of chick starter.

By the time I got home, all twelve were named.

What Does Free Range Mean?


You can do an Internet search of “cage-free” and “free-range” eggs or chickens and see that there really aren’t a whole lot of legal requirements to claim those titles. 

"Free Range" Chickens at a Factory Farm

“Free range” at the Flying T means that as soon as our chicks and ducklings are safely able to live in the outdoors, we let them roam the farm. 

Rhode Island Red Free-Ranging at the Flying T

  Most of the chickens return to the coop at night to roost, and the ducks to the barn (some chickens may choose to hang out with the ducks in the barn, especially Henny Penny, aka “Chuck the Chicken Duck”), but otherwise they are out foraging for insects, bugs, spiders, worms, seeds, and plants during the majority of the day.  We don’t use pens or cages except in special circumstances (in order to quarantine new or young birds for a short time to ensure biosecurity, or to separate an injured bird to keep it from getting pecked, for instance). 

Chickens hanging out on a woodpile at the Flying T

 

Mocha foraging with her flock at the Flying T

 This does pose some risks (like predators) and costs.  We can only select breeds that are suitable for free-ranging.  Many “production” strains have many of their natural free-ranging, brooding, self-preservation, and other habits bred out of them so that they spend as much energy as possible either into growing meat on their bones or eggs to lay.  We believe the benefits, however, are worth it.

 Benefits:

  1. Free-range eggs have up to 4-6 times the Vitamin D, 1⁄3 less cholesterol, 1⁄4 less saturated fat, 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene than factory-raised eggs.  (article)
  2. Free-range ducks and chickens are miracle-workers when it comes to controlling ticks, barnyard flies, grasshoppers, and other pests.  This reduces the need for pesticides, which is not only better for all the animals on the farm… it’s healthier and better for us as well!  (citation and another). 
  3. Free-range birds are healthier than factory birds, and their meat has a firmer and more flavorful nature, and encourages us to return to more traditional harvesting, preparation, and cooking methods (read this article for good information and ideas).
  4. While factory birds are selectively bred to discourage broodiness (a female bird’s instinct to nest, incubate, and raise her own young) because a broody hen doesn’t lay eggs, our breeding plan actually encourages broodiness, allowing us to sustain the flock.
  5. A broody free-range hen will raise her own chicks/ducklings.  If you’ve ever raised either (we have… and actually, we are doing it again), you know it’s a lot of work and attention that could get spent elsewhere.  Our hope is that with our breeding plan, this is the last batch we have to hand-raise!
  6. Though we offer free-choice supplemental feed (especially in winter), free-range birds require a lot less of this, reducing our costs.  And since they don’t spend as much time in their roosts, clean-up is a lot less time-consuming also (instead, they spend a lot of time fertilizing our pastures and lawn).
  7. Free-range birds don’t tend to fight like confined birds, which is why even “cage free” and some “free range” factory birds have the tips of their beaks cut or burnt off. (citation)
  8. Finally, it’s just peaceful and enjoyable to watch birds range over the farm, stopping from time to time to peck at food, or chasing a dragonfly across the pasture.

New arrivals


A pic of the latest new arrivals at the Flying T, 15 Barred Rocks.  I took this just as I ran out the door to work and will update later with better photos.