by Laura Parker Roerden
Each spring we increase our flock with new heritage breed chicks. This year we added all-heritage breed Buff Orpingtons and Araucanas. Buff Orpingtons, as their name implies, are buff-colored hens that lay tan eggs. Araucanas come in a array of colors, my favorite is almost cerulean; they lay different shades of blue and green eggs that suggest paint chips with earthy names like iron washed, sea salt, blue dusk. It takes the birds about five months to sexually mature and lay eggs.
We order our chicks for arrival in April and May. This past year we welcomed about 70 new chicks to our farm, keeping them in brooders that are off the ground, protected by chicken wire, and warmed by heat lamps 24/7. The brooders are separated from the grown hens by a half wall and chicken wire, so that the hens and chicks can see one another.
At about 8 weeks old, we move the chicks from their brooders into the larger coop with the mature hens. Because the hens are familiar with the chicks, and vice versa, combining the chicks with the mature hens is without the drama that other farms sometimes report.
At first the smaller birds elect to stay in the flocks they’ve been with since hatching, nesting in bedding on the ground. But gradually as the weeks wear on, they start to act like the older hens, blending in when they eat, roosting at night, and eventually by mid-summer venturing outside for small periods of time along with the bigger girls.
You can watch as the roosters introduce the younger hens to the various places around our pasture, barn yard, and farmhouse gardens where the best bits of insects and worms can be found. By the early fall, the new hens are outside all day free-ranging on our thirty acres, returning to roost with the rest of the flock at dusk.
Waiting for first eggs can feel like waiting for a pot to boil. The days shorten, the shadows lengthen. Just as darkness descends, the eggs arrive in a blast of nature’s promise of spring.
Second year hens lay larger eggs; the first year hens medium sized. And this year’s hens first eggs arrive as tiny pebble-sized eggs called pullet eggs.
Our eggs are EGG-cellent. All natural; all heritage breed hens; all free-range and pasture-raised. Free-ranged hens who are pasture raised in the fresh air and sunshine have all of the benefits of roaming healthy grassland eating as nature intended birds to eat. Their large dark orange yolks even LOOK healthier, because they are healthier. Their color, flavor and texture are made distinctive by high amounts of Vitamin A, D, E, K2, B-12, folate, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, beta carotene, choline, and tons of omega 3 fatty acids, including DHA, EPA, ALA, and AA. A pasture-raised egg is a true superfood.
Last winter, my doctor told me that I had to take Vitamin D because folks who live at our longitude do not receive adequate amounts of sunlight to maintain optimal amounts for healthy immune functioning. I insisted she do a vitamin D blood profile to find out if I did, indeed, need nutritional supplements. I think she was the only one surprised when my labs came back on the upper range of normal for Vitamin D. Even the lab report said, “Stop taking your nutritional supplements.”
When did we begin accepting that our food can not give us what our bodies’ need?
We are now able to accommodate more local egg customers. So if you’re interested, ask for details to be emailed to you in the comments below.
Any local eggs are better than the grocery store, but I think yours are better than our other local options—both in terms of humane practices and also the health benefits of them eating free range. —Monica Waugh, Jo-Erl Farm egg customer