We take care of four breeds of laying hens: Cuckoo Marans, Welsummers, Barred Rocks, and Ameracaunas. We picked the first two breeds last year because of their plumage, heritage breed genetics, and plentiful dark brown eggs. The latter two we’ve happily inherited from an old neighbor who moved into town. Now we get a nice mix of colors that is pleasant to organize into boxes.
We had the good chance to have one of the chicks last year turn out to be a Maran rooster, an effective leader and very handsome, whom the kids called Fighter. We waited for chicks impatiently but alas, he became aggressive toward our youngest chicken wrangler. When she wouldn’t go toward the coop to collect the eggs for fear of being attacked, I had to take drastic measures. So, no more Fighter.
If you’ve gotten this far into this blog, I probably don’t need to convince you about the superiority of farm eggs, but we’ve been spoiled and wouldn’t know what to do without them anymore. Shells as thick as thumbnails. Marigold colored yolks that stand up in a hemisphere. Rich, unctuous flavor. Our favorite way to eat them in the morning is soft boiled for four minutes, especially the pale blue Americaunas, to spend more time looking at the shell. Custards, ice cream, souffles, omelettes, are all just wonderful. All the extra care that goes into making healthy, delicious eggs from happy chickens is surprisingly expensive, and I’ve just started doing the math on how much a dozen eggs costs us to produce. Persephone Farms in Lebanon, OR made a wonderful pie chart of their hard costs, published on the Portland Farmer’s Market website, and it’s worth a look: . Since we don’t sell at market and incur those transport charges and stall fees, I believe we’re breaking even at $5 a dozen.
We had four hens lost at the end of the winter to coyotes, one after the other, in the middle of the morning. The coop (modelled after Baba Yaga’s magic hut) kept them safe throught the night, but as soon as we were all gone, out of the woods came one of them, grabbing breakfast as she loped across the field. I only found feathers, and once a note from the neighbor describing the scene. Imagining my precious flock dissapearing before me, I overreacted and bought a “supermax” mobile coop to keep them safe.
Engineered for armageddon, it kept them safe and miserable for a couple of weeks. Finally, we settled on a plan that’s worked so far: a fenced enclosure near the house, with a cypress tree to provide shade and protection, fresh grass clippings every day, whey from cheesemaking, and our leftovers. We’re going to try a rooster again, this time an inherited glossy black Australorp who started crowing in the city coop last week and had to be moved. He’s been pretty shy so far with the hens, and he’s only four months old, so we’re anxious to see how he turns from awkward teenager to big boy rooster for 19 hens. Stay tuned…