Grocery Store Eggs

Bad news. The farmers market near my mother's place in Florida does not sell eggs. They have lovely produce, and fresh tomatoes in February, but no eggs. Not sure if it's their health department's regulation or it's just too hot to have them outside without expensive refrigeration, but there are no eggs to be found. I cannot live without eggs. What does one eat for breakfast without eggs? 

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Since I was unwilling to give up my protein packed breakfast I ended up with grocery store eggs. There is nothing inherently bad about grocery store eggs. I'm just unused to having my eggs try to advertise to me. We have a basket for our eggs that sits in the pantry and, while we have stacks of egg cartons, we only use them if we're selling or transporting eggs. Most of the time our eggs never see the inside of an egg carton. So seeing a clear plastic container with a dozen eggs is already a walk on the wild side for me. 

While the plastic was clear there was a loud yellow label across the top of the container. It told me that the eggs were from chickens fed on a grain only diet and completely vegetarian. Um, what? How is that even possible? Chickens are omnivores. They like to eat protein from insects, larvae, or small animals. I've witnessed our chickens eat mice, frogs, and small fish. Chickens also eat veggies in the form of grasses, flowers, and fruits if they can find berries. Our birds eat kitchen scraps which includes all kind of vegetable matter and maybe a stray pizza crust (which they love). The birds love carbs, so an all grain diet would probably be very satisfactory for them. But I think it's probably impossible to keep every stray insect out of the coop and make sure they never touched a single insect larvae their entire lives. Calling these chickens "vegetarians" is a stretch. I'm sure the marketers meant well. It was certainly a step up from the egg container I saw recently which touted the eggs inside as "nest fresh" which sounds vaguely gross. 

Aside from the advertising on this particular dozen eggs the package was a bit of an intelligence test. I poked at it for a while before I figured out that there were two overlapping flaps on top. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to open it. After cracking them into the pan I was struck with the thought, "These are not my eggs." The yolks were lighter, which I was expecting, but after getting a little egg goo on my finger I caught myself racing for the sink to scrub my hands. "I don't know these chickens," I thought. "Who knows where they've been?!" While I'm always concerned with food safety and follow safe handling practices this was a new revelation for me. I trust my chickens. I know what they eat, where they hang out, and can control their food safety. I believe it's called biosecurity but that's really too intense of a word for it. It's making sure their food stays dry and free from contaminants. I've thrown entire bags of shavings and feed away if I had even an inkling that mice had gotten into it or it had gotten wet. Because I control what my birds are exposed to I'm, inadvertently, protecting myself. Moral of the story is this: If it's good for my birds, it's good for me, too. 

I made sure to cook those eggs all the way through. No chances on a runny yolk from a bird that I didn't raise. You can call it overkill, or OCD, but I've had my own eggs for so long that I forget how to properly interact with eggs from outside sources. At the end of the day I didn't get sick, and I appreciated coming home to my own eggs that much more.

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Do Chickens Take Baths?

Yes and no. Chickens do take baths, just not with water. But how could they possibly get clean without using the universal solvent, water? They use dust. You read that right. Chickens take dust baths. 

The sole purpose of a bath is to protect the surface of the skin. Humans have it easy, our skin is the final outside layer of our bodies. Rinse with water, scrub a bit with a sponge, and your skin is clean!  Cats use their very rough tongues to lick away insects or burs. Pigs wallow in mud to cover up their skin and protect it from the sun. Birds need to get in between all those feathers to clear away mites and dirt that get stuck  within those many layers. All birds do this, not just chickens. You'll even see tiny sparrows taking dust baths if you watch for it. 

The technique for a dust bath is very specific. 

Step 1: Find a patch of lose dirt or shavings.

Step 2: Plop right down in the middle of it.

Step 3: Start scratching at the dirt with your feet until you begin to form a hole.

Step 4: Scoop some of the lose dirt into the hole with your beak.

Step 5: Use your feet to fling the loosened dirt up under your wings.

Step 6: Repeat steps 1-5 for as long as it takes to get completely saturated with dust.

Step 7: Stand up and shake off the dirt. It will come off in a huge cloud like Pigpen from Peanuts. 

5 Ways to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter

Even though we've had the mildest winter on record there have still been cold days with snow, wind, and general winteriness. I don't mind the cold, and neither do my chickens. But there are some things we do to make sure our birds are comfortable when it's cold outside.

1. Wind Protection

The number one way to protect birds from frostbite and cold is giving them a shelter from the wind. Think about how cold you get when it's windy. The girls can go in the coop, obviously, but we also made sure to face their coop so that one wall is buffering the wind. They can stand outside their coop without getting their feathers gusted all around.

2. Water

Humans and poultry alike can get dehydrated in winter. The birds can usually find a hidden puddle or two from which to grab a drink, and in a pinch they'll eat snow. But really, eating cold snow when you're cold isn't terribly appetizing. We provide a heated waterer for them. Inside the coop we use a hanging waterer, outside we use a heated dog dish. For the outside waterer we put it under an overhang so it doesn't just fill up with snow. 

3. Deep Litter Method

I'm no fan of cleaning out the chicken coop so we follow the deep bedding method. Instead of shoveling out all the bedding and replacing with new, we just keep adding on top. Aside from justifying my laziness it also insulates the floor of the coop and as the layers compost they release heat. It's a win-win. 

4. Buy the right birds

A preventative measure for a cold winter is to raise birds appropriate to your climate. Just like you follow hardiness zones for selecting garden plants, select birds that can tolerate the coldest temperatures in your average winter.

5. Shovel a path

Chickens can get snowed in, just like humans. Enough snow means the door to the coop gets covered over and the birds can't get in or out. And even if there's access to the door the birds won't come out if they can't see at least some grass peeking through. Call it lack of appropriate footwear. If the snow gets too high we'll shovel a bit of space around the coop so they can get out and poke around if they choose. Otherwise they get cabin fever and start to fight. 


1 Trick to Drink More Water

Drinking water is critical, obviously. We mostly think about it in summer. When we're outside and it's 90* plus 1 million percent humidity we're drinking water with abandon. It's a no brainer. If you're sweating you should be hydrating. But what about in winter? We think less about it, unless it's going outside to water the chickens. Besides, they'll eat snow if they get really thirsty. Our bodies are made up of no less water just because it's cold outside, when the thought of drinking an ice cold glass of water is unappealing. When it's hot we tend to drink cucumber water since it's refreshing and cucumbers seem to multiply like rabbits in the field. Come winter we switch from cucumber to lemon. We clearly don't grow them here, but lemons have a season just like any other fruit. Their season happens to be November to March when it's cold in the north and I feel much less guilty purchasing them even though they've been trucked in from Florida or California. 

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To make it more palatable we usually put the lemon in hot water. Water is water and hot lemon water in winter is just as good as cucumber water in summer. I promise. Here's the world's easiest "recipe."

1. Boil water or heat up a mug of plain water in the microwave for three minutes. 

2. Pour the water into your favorite mug.

3. Drop 1-2 lemon slices into the hot water. DO NOT POUR THE HOT WATER OVER THE LEMON. If you do it gets all sour and bitter because of the pith part. I learned this the hard way and then asked our Facebook fans how I could possibly have messed up making hot water with a single slice of fruit in it. The Facebook community is full of smart people who, very kindly, informed me of the proper order of operations. I consider a lemon to include three slices and I put only one in a large mug. If you want your drink to be more lemony add more slices. Go wild. 

4. If this is too puckery for you just add honey. A quick dribble (maybe half a tsp) will cut the flavor and make it more palatable. And if you're feeling ill you can add a jigger of brandy. Technically that turns it into a hot toddy but I won't tell. 

I drink this constantly in winter (not the brandy version, of course), adding fresh lemon slices throughout the day. If I add the whole lemon over the course of a day I've achieved 35% of my Vitamin C needs, some B vitamins, magnesium, an antioxidant or two, and consumed a whopping 12 calories. I feel less "dried out" when I've spent the day hydrating and managed to trick myself into drinking so much water when there's snow on the ground. Try it out and tell me how you like it!

Top 5 Backyard Chicken Toys

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Chickens are fast becoming as common a pet as a cat or dog...and they can be just as spoiled. Depending on how you raise your animals they need toys and treats to keep from getting bored. For example, if you raise your cat indoors it's going to require toys and scratch posts so it can perform the behaviors it would if left outside all day. Chickens are the same. Birds left to free range will be fine and can entertain themselves, but if your city doesn't allow it or you choose to keep them penned for their own safety, then they need something to do all day. Preferably something that will mimic what they would do if left to their own devices in the wild. Try out the top 5 toys on Amazon for your flock.