Spring is almost here! 

I can always tell that spring is just around the corner. The henbit is blooming, narcissus are looking at the sky with their bright bonnets, and the bluebirds and wrens are looking for places to lay their eggs. 

Another exciting consequence of the day length growing longer is that my chickens begin to lay copious amounts of eggs. So far, my best layers are my mixed bantam flock, which are largely Old English Games with a dash of Silkie, and my Ameraucanas from Clayborn Farms in Waco. Everyone else is getting too old to be a reliable layer. 

If your hens are being lazy about egg laying, I have found it helpful to use ceramic eggs in the nest boxes. It seems to flip a switch in their little chicken brains that it’s time to get busy making eggs. I purchased mine at a local feed store. 
Here’s to spring!

What’s up, my peeps?

This was my first official attempt at hatching chicken eggs.  I used a Little Giant incubator, with no fan, but with an auto egg turner.  Temperature was kept at 99.5 degrees as much as possible, and humidity was kept rather low (called a dry hatch) at about 35-40 percent.  After 21 days, here’s what happened:

This tiny break in the shell is called a ‘pip’ (above pic).  The baby chick has broken through the inner membranes to make a tiny hole, and to put a tiny crack in the shell.  Baby chicks will remain in this phase for as long as a day.  You have to remember that the chick has been scratching non-stop for hours with the tiny ‘egg tooth’ on their beak to get to this point.  They need some rest!

 Here’s the next phase.  The chick has now opened up the pip and is enlarging the hole.  He’s getting ready to…..

ZIP!  This is my favorite part of the hatching process.  You can see that his sibling is eagerly awaiting his arrival.  The ‘zip’ stage is where the chick literally zips all the way around the egg.  This part goes fairly quickly.  That baby chick is READY to get outta there now.


 The chick shoves the zipped eggshell as hard as he can, and:

He’s out of there!  Now it’s just time to dry off, which takes several hours.

My hatching percentage wasn’t great at all…likely due to the fact I was inexperienced with hatching bird eggs (I have hatched reptile eggs 100% in the past).  This time around, I am trying a higher humidity level since I went and checked humidity with a hygrometer under a brooding hen and found it to be around 60%.  I’m currently setting more eggs at 99.5 to 100 degrees with the humidity around 50-52% and at the 2 week check, which was yesterday, I only had 2 eggs not develop further after my Week 1 check, so I’m excited!  Right now I have 11 ‘Easter egger’ eggs and 4 Silkie cross eggs. 

Here are more post-hatch images:

Here is the shell after a good hatch.  There are 2 inner membranes in the shell.  The first one closest to the chick contains the blood vessels which have sustained the chick in utero, if you will.  It is a very thin, clear membrane.  The next membrane is a tough, whitish membrane.  If the chick takes too long to hatch, this membrane will dry out too much, causing the chick to suffocate/die in the shell.  This is another reason why correct humidity is so critical.  You’ll see that there is a little pink…this is just where the vessels were.  The chick absorbs the blood which was in them during the hatching process.  This is why you CANNOT just peel a chick who is almost ready to hatch out of the shell.  Doing so will cause massive hemorrhaging and death to the chick.  I have ‘helped’ some chicks hatch, but it is an extremely slow, delicate procedure that must be done in gradual phases, over the course of many hours.

Now here’s some cute and fluffy pics of the chicks at a few days old.  The black chicks, which are Barred Plymouth Rocks, are not the ones I hatched myself.

And, how do YOU do?

A very special thanks to the Swanson family for allowing me to hatch their eggs!

I LOVE EGGS (and chickens, too)!

Get ready for a passionate post.  I LOVE EGGS!!!  One of my favorite farm subjects!  I have been collecting pictures for you for months now to show off farm eggs.  But first, let’s get a little political here.

I am going to first state that I am not an animal rights activist.  I AM, however, all for animal welfare.  There is a big difference, but I’ll let you do the research on that.  If you buy your eggs from a grocery store, I want you to know something very, very important.  Please first read this little article:  Factory Farming: Eggs, and then come back.  (Note that animalsanctuary.org is an animal rights group, therefore, they do not support the slaughter of any animal, and are vegan.  While this is not my own position, we do agree that the current condition of so-called ‘factory farms’ are appalling)

Finished?  Now I want you to see the visuals:  Egg Farming Photos

How do those cheap grocery store eggs look now?  This is the reality of buying from a supermarket.  Don’t be fooled by the phrase ‘cage free’ eggs either. This just means that they aren’t in the battery cages, but crammed in a building.  You do not have to allow access to the outdoors to be labeled ‘cage free’.  The terms ‘farm fresh’ and ‘natural’ don’t mean anything at all.  The chickens in those photos can be labeled as such.  Most people have a vision in their minds of happy, plump chickens running around the farm (with a red barn, of course), eating bugs and grass and soaking up the sunshine.  The reality is that there are tens of thousands of birds literally crammed into 16″ or so cages (several to a cage) so tightly that they never have the chance to even spread their wings. 

And THIS is called progress?

I am passionate that I educate you about this.  As more people moved from the country to the city beginning in the 1950s, they stopped raising their own food.  So, companies came up with an answer: industrial farming.  “Farming” (I use that term VERY loosely here) animals and crops to meet the demands of the consumers.  But somewhere along the way, we got lost, ethically speaking.  I always think of these lyrics by Pink Floyd when I think about this :

“And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?  Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze? Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”

I’m pretty sure Pink Floyd wasn’t singing about egg farming, but I hope you get the parallel here.  What are we willing to trade off for convenience?

Now, I will step down from the soap box, but I want to open your eyes to the truth.  Factory farming doesn’t stop at eggs either.  I hope you will research more about where our food REALLY comes from.  I hope this will inspire you to source out local food, or better yet, produce your own!  I’ll help you out.


Some of the first eggs I collected on the farm.  A mix of Cochin, Plymouth Rock, and Ameraucana eggs.  Ameraucanas lay tinted eggs in shades of blue or green.

Fun Egg Facts:

A hen does NOT need a rooster to lay an egg.

It takes a chicken approximately 24-26 hours to produce an egg, start to finish.

Yolk color depends on what the chicken is eating.  Chickens who are allowed free range and who are allowed to eat insects and plants will produce an egg with a much darker yolk (and better tasting, too!)

Fresh eggs can be stored in the refrigerator at least 3 weeks before you will notice a decline in quality.  The air cell in the egg will enlarge and eventually the egg will dry up on the inside.

When you hardboil an egg, don’t use a fresh (meaning real farm fresh, not supermarket fresh) egg.  Fresh eggs are extremely hard to peel!

An eggshell contains thousands of pores, mostly on the larger end.  This is to allow the exchange of carbon dioxide and moisture to occur for a baby chick.  (So the shell ‘breathes’….weird, huh?”)

There are approximately 280 million laying hens in the US, and we produce about 75 billion eggs a year.  The majority of these eggs are produced in ‘factory farms’.

A chicken egg takes 21 days to hatch. 

Fertile vs. Unfertile

How do you tell if an egg is fertile?  Well, do you have a ‘dot’ or a ‘donut’?  Huh?  In the above picture, look closely at the yolk.  In the center, you will see a very light ‘bullseye’ or ‘donut’.  This indicates that this egg is fertile.  An unfertile egg will only have a small white dot, not a ‘donut’.  A fertile egg tastes no different that an unfertile egg.  Development of the baby chick ONLY happens when the egg is kept very warm (about 99 degrees or so) and under the right conditions.  This is what a fresh, fertile egg looks like!  You aren’t going to open up an egg and find a chicken (unless you pulled an egg from a setting hen!).  It takes several days of incubation for blood vessels/tissues to develop.

Ew!!!  What’s that spot in my egg!!!  I thought these were fresh….

Let me address something here.  Fresh farm eggs vs. Industrial Farmed eggs.  When you get eggs fresh from the farm, there is a slight chance you will come across an egg with a ‘blood spot’, which is typically a small speck of blood/tissue inside the egg.  This typically happens in hens who have just begun to lay or older hens.  They are caused by the rupture of a blood vessel on the yolk surface during the formation of the egg or sometimes by a similar occurence in the wall of the oviduct.  They are NOT the beginnings of a chicken (again, UNLESS the egg has been incubated for several days! But, if you collect eggs daily you will not have that problem.)

But why don’t I see these in grocery store eggs?

Simple.  Because industrial egg farmers use electronic ‘eyes’ to ‘see’ the spots in the eggs before they make it to a carton.  Small producers don’t have that kind of luxury, so you will sometimes find these spots.  There is no need to throw away the whole egg.  It is very easy to remove a spot with a bit of shell.  It does not affect the egg in any way. In fact, many years ago it was commonly recommended to first break an egg into a separate bowl before adding it to a recipe for this very reason.  So, in conclusion: Blood spots are a little gross looking, but do not affect the egg.

Difference between real farm fresh and industrially produced eggs

In the picture, I have set grocery store eggs on top, and my eggs on the bottom.  In the grocery store eggs you will clearly notice a paler yolk and fairly uniform appearance.  You will also see that my farm eggs are definitely different and there’s even a ‘double yolker’ in the group. (yes, chickens can produce twins!)

Factory farm eggs are produced almost exclusively by one breed: The White Leghorn chicken.  It is a small chicken that makes a big white egg.  They are very productive and very efficient as far as feed to production ratio.  My eggs come from several different breeds, which are becoming more endangered with time, due to the fact that factory farms only use one breed for white eggs and most people only eat factory farm eggs.  Another picture:

My egg on top, factory egg on bottom.  Yolk color is determined by yellow-orange plant pigments known as xanthophylls.  My hens are allowed to eat fresh weeds, thus the darker color. 

Is there a difference in taste in fresh farm eggs and factory eggs?

I can personally vouch for this.  YES, YES, a million times YES.  Now that I am spoiled to eating extremely fresh eggs, I can honestly tell the difference in the two.  Fresh farm eggs where chickens are allowed natural foods have a richness to them, almost like they are creamy when compared to factory eggs.  Quite honestly, factory eggs taste ‘eggy’ (if that makes sense) and almost have a plastic quality to them. 


 Difference in egg sizes: From L to R: African Goose egg, Turkey egg (double yolker, twice the normal size), Cayuga duck egg, White Leghorn egg, Bantam egg

What do other eggs taste like?

My favorite eggs actually aren’t even chicken eggs!  Actually, my favorite would have to go to the duck egg.  Before you cringe, let’s discuss.  An egg is an egg is an egg.  Chicken eggs are no cleaner than duck eggs and the other way ’round.  In fact, it surprises me that we mostly eat chicken eggs since ducks are extremely economical as far as feeding goes (they eats lots of juicy bugs and weeds, and little grain), and the eggs are so much richer.  You will hear people say that duck eggs are great for baking, but the truth is that they are great for anything you do with chicken eggs.  And talk about rich!  Duck eggs have a thinner white, but a much richer yolk.  One night Jason scrambled some eggs and I really thought he had added cheese to them, but no, they were just duck eggs.  That is how rich they taste.  The flavor is absolutely the same, no difference.  It is always possible for eggs to get ‘off’ flavors depending on what they eat, so ducks who eat out of a pond may produce stronger flavored eggs, but my ducks stay here at the house and eat what the chickens eat.  Goose and turkey eggs are also delicious.  I think that they are also richer than chicken eggs, in my own opinion.  An egg is an egg is an egg.  Repeat this 5 times.

 Julia Child’s recipe for baked eggs.  Set ramekins in a pan of boiling water.  Add a small amount of oil to the ramekin.  Crack a fresh egg into the ramekin, and season with your choice of spices (I use salt and fresh cracked black pepper and fresh chopped herbs).  Add a small amount of cheese to the top, such as provolone, Havarti, or Swiss.  When egg white begins to turn white, place pan, ramekins and all, in a 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes.  Do not overcook!  (I still manage to over/under cook them, but they’re great anyway).

Just around the corner…

Wow, and to think last time I wrote to y’all, days were in the 100 degree mark and HUMID.  Today, it’s misty and 72 degrees!  So, now we know fall is just around the corner.  This is my other favorite time of year, other than spring.  I always love the transitional times of the year the most.  The leaves are now beginning to turn; the sassafras is putting on its flame red foliage.  We should have a beautiful autumn this year for two reasons; we have received over a week of rain, and the fall’s first cool front is due next week, which is atypically early for us.  I’m excited!  Well, I may not be so excited when we are experiencing an extremely cold winter, but for now…

We have had a LOT going on in the past month, mainly illnesses in my little farm family.  Our youngest developed mesenteric lymphadenitis after a bout with gastroenteritis, and I have been on and off ill with a cold (flu? allergies?) for over a week now.  I do have much more energy now,  but I think that with all of this rain, I am reacting to the mold levels.  In other news, we adopted 2 kittens, a brother and a sister, about 3 weeks ago.  They are brother and sister, named Mr. Bobo and Ashley.  Aren’t kittens just about the cutest thing to watch?  Fran loves to chase them down and chew on their heads, but it’s all in good jest.

We also bought 2 white Plymouth Rock hens and we were graciously given 4 18 month old Leghorn hens, who are still laying big, white eggs.  I am planning on buying some MORE chickens very soon.  I also want to get some more Cayuga ducks.  The duck eggs are WONDERFUL.  I know most people balk at the mention of eating duck eggs, but I am telling you that the flavor and richness are unsurpassed by chicken eggs.  They do not taste “eggy”; it is a very complex and delicious taste.  Of course, our chicken eggs are also delicious.  There is NO comparison between ‘grocery store’ eggs and eggs from hens that are allowed a more natural diet.  I have the pictures to prove it!  Unfortunately, my camera is angry with my computer and refuses to share pictures with it, but I will get them on here ASAP. 

The newest additions are 4 guineas that I picked up at the feed store (and one that was hand-delivered…thanks, Rachel!). They are so funny to watch when they see a bug.  I told Jason it was like watching a pit bull in a chick suit.  They are extremely focused on movement and I have the feeling when I let them in my garden in a few weeks that they will do a great job of snapping up my pests. 

Well, Jason finally finished a log splitter that he built out of spare parts at his shop.  We already have about a 3/4 of a cord of wood from a fallen hickory in our woods.  It sure makes short work of chopping wood!  I can’t wait for more of our fireplace cookin’! 

I can’t believe we have already been here almost a year.  I can’t imagine being anywhere else!  Still a LOT to do here…but we’re whipping things into shape slowly.  The kitchen garden is ever-expanding and Jason finished several of the raised beds.  Now I just need to fill them with compost.  It’s also time for me to plant my winter garden.  I did plant some winter squash, beans, and cucumbers. I am still harvesting lots of okra, tomatoes (Brandywines from spring), and tons of cherry tomatoes.  Oh, and I do finally have peppers, lol.  I didn’t do so great with my peppers this year.  I’m not sure what happened there, but with the cooler temps and tons of rain, they are finally ‘makin'”.

I have also been putting up LOTS of muscadine and scuppernong grape jelly.  We picked 32 pounds of muscadines at a farm, and I am slowly working on turning them into delicious jelly!  I hope that soon myself and my MIL will get together (with our new food processors….NO MORE CHOPPING) and put up some more tomatoes/tomato products.  You just can’t beat homegrown flavor…no doubt about it! I also got a lot of figs last month, and I’m planning on doing a strawberry-fig jam.  I do have to wonder how many people in my age group can things?  Hmmmm….I’m willing to  bet not many.  What a shame.  Here’s a great LINK for making muscadine jelly, juice, or jam.

Today’s favorite thing:

Well, I am still on a budgeting kick!  I had to update my ‘cash flow’ form last night and wanted to share this form with you.  The idea is that NO dollar is unaccounted for.  It is fairly self-explanatory, but it is also great to have the book, Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, which is currently on sale for under 10 dollars.  Download this FORM.  It is in PDF format.  I use this form every month, and I also use 2 envelopes.  One holds my receipts for anything that comes out of my checking account, and one holds receipts for anything that I pay cash for (that is NOT deducted out of my checking account).  So, at the end of the month, I have a paper trail, and also keep up with where my cash goes.  I NEVER have to ask myself, “Where did my money go?” because I KNOW.  It is so liberating, trust me. This is a system that works wonders for me.  I have been doing this since May 18th of this year.  If you are in debt, I URGE (and beg and plead for) you to try this system and find freedom for yourself!!!!

Well, that is all that I have for today, plus my entire right arm is aching for some reason!   :0)