Why Eggs Are So Expensive Right Now–and What You Can Do About It

Day 240 of 365

Everyone is talking about it. My friends and family send pictures of eggs with expensive price tags. Eggs have been so cheap in recent years that people are shocked by how expensive they are right now. Prices vary by area, but as of December 2022, egg prices had jumped over 49 percent. It looks like the prices may continue to rise in the coming months. On top of the rising prices, I have read reports of egg rationing in some areas of the U.S., much like what has happened in the UK in recent years.

What is going on? Though rising costs of feed and supplies for farming are factors, avian flu or bird flu is mainly to blame.

Avian Flu Hits the United States

Avian flu has historically been relatively rare in the United Sates. There have certainly been outbreaks, but last year was a big one. Last year, anyone with chickens was highly aware of a deadly outbreak of bird flu in the U.S. Even here in Maine, a state that had been fortunate in terms of avian flu outbreaks in the past, there were enough cases of avian flu that chicken farmers throughout the state were encouraged to enclose their flocks, something that is not an easy task for most small farmers. While most of the cases here in Maine were near bodies of water, it was a serious scare for everyone in our state.

But Maine’s cases were few compared to what was happening in other states in 2022. According to recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture, an estimated 57.8 million birds were affected by avian flu last year. I don’t know if everyone else was paying attention to the chicken news, but it was devastating to read about the cases impacting large farms where millions of birds had to be destroyed. Sadly, they were often destroyed in some of the most inhumane ways. It was like a tragedy that just kept building upon the previous tragedy. Now, months later, consumers are feeling the effects of a year of epic loss.

The United Kingdom As Warning

As a chicken farmer, I have been following the outbreak of avian flu in the United Kingdom fairly closely because the stories have been worrisome for years–year after year of outbreak, flocks destroyed, required indoor lockdown for all flocks. These are things we are not used to here in the U.S, but scientists have been warning for years that the U.S. could be in for a taste of what has happened in the U.K. Year after year of outbreaks has led to significant changes in the way poultry are kept in many parts of the U.K., and even that is not enough. 2022 was a record year for avian flu in the U.K. According to reports from late last year, egg rationing was necessary in some grocery stores.

Bird Flu and Climate Change

You may be wondering why we are seeing such record numbers of avian flu cases, and some scientists point to climate change. At the very least, researchers know for sure that climate change impacts avian flu cases amongst wild birds. And this year’s epic outbreak of avian flu was directly related to wild bird contact with commercial and backyard flocks. Experts were not seeing cases spread from flock to flock. It was being spread by wild birds, who are often immune to the symptoms.

Climate change impacts migratory patterns–what birds come into contact with what other birds and when. On top of this, warmer temperatures impact transmission. According to a report from Arizona State University, researchers at several universities in the U.S. warned in 2019 that “a shift in the global climate could lead to a shift in migratory patterns, leading to the reassortment of these viral strains and increasing the chances of a new, threatening strain emerging. Higher temperatures are also typically more conducive to viral transmission and pathogenicity.”

What You Can Do

I have always been a supporter of buying local eggs from your local chicken keepers, and now is a good time to connect to someone locally who sells eggs. Even chicken farmers and homesteaders with small flocks will often have extra eggs to sell during the spring and summer months. Of course, these small chicken farmers are also being impacted by the cost of feed and supples, but if you are looking for delicious eggs at a fair price, now is the time to connect with your local chicken lady.

In addition to saving money, you will be buying fresher eggs that taste better and may even be more nutritious than the eggs you get a the grocery store. You will also be able to experience the beauty and diversity of eggs from a small farm or homestead. You will find eggs in all shapes and sizes and in a variety of beautiful colors from blue to green to chocolate and cream.

And, if you are ambitious and have been thinking about getting chickens anyway, it’s something to consider. Of course, right now, building a coop and buying expensive food may not be the best option if you are looking to save money; however, in the long run, you will be more self sufficient and prepared. And, more and more, cities across the country are allowing backyard flocks.

What the Future Holds

Because there is a connection between climate change and avian flu, as a chicken farmer, I have concerns about the future. The U.S. has been fortunate, but scientists have been warning that we may not always be so fortunate. This last year has been cause for serious concern. In an article from NPR early last year, Jonathan Runstadler, an influenza researcher at Tufts University said, “It’s somewhat surprising how widespread it is already in North America.” He continued. “It’s clearly able to persist and transmit from year to year in parts of Asia, Europe, Africa, and I don’t think we should be surprised if that’s going to be the case here.”

If we do see repeated years of avian flu, it could mean that eggs will be more difficult to get, even from a local chicken farmer, as smaller farmers most likely do not have the facilities to keep chickens in lockdown–or at least not very many chickens. If we had to lock down our chickens, for example, we would have to keep fewer chickens, which means we would have eggs for our family and a couple other families, but we would not be able to sell eggs on the scale that we do now. We would also have some very sad chickens who would lose their freedom to come and go as they please.

For now, however, I try to be hopeful, hopeful that we will not see a repeat of 2022 in 2023. And, for now, it’s going to be a really good year to buy eggs from your local chicken farmer.

Egg Business

Day 239 of 365

Our teenage son is a very big boy. He’s about 6’4″ and is a foodie. He loves scrambled eggs and can eat four eggs in the blink of an eye. I told him one day that, when he grows up, he will have a hard time finding eggs as good as our eggs. “You’ll probably have to pay about $10 a dozen for similar eggs, but you should pay. They are worth it.”

Our eggs are very, very good. They are not registered as organic, but our chickens are fed organic food and scraps, and when I have to administer any kind of non-organic medicine, I withhold the eggs. Our chickens also get to free range in a small, fenced pasture and are treated as well as we can possibly treat them. We work hard to make sure each chicken is happy. If someone is unhappy, we try our best to figure out what to do to improve the situation. Sometimes, as in the case of Ruby, this means they get sleep in the garage all summer. Or, in the case of Juliet, this means they stop the car when I come home and get treats.

You can taste happiness. I didn’t fully understand this until I tasted the difference. Our eggs are so good because our chickens are fed high quality, organic food–and they are, overall, quite happy. I mean, they have some complaints at times, but they let me know about them. One time, a few years ago, we had to buy eggs during the winter, and I made the mistake of making scrambled eggs. I thought I was going to cry. The eggs were terrible and tasted like depression. I swear, I could taste the sadness.

In contrast, the other day, I made some scrambled eggs for breakfast for our son. Right now, scrambled eggs are a rare treat because we do not add light to our coop to give our chickens a rest during the winter. On a good day, we will get three our four eggs at the most. On a bad day, we will get just one egg. Anyway, it’s been a month or two since I have had scrambled eggs, which I also love, so I snuck a bite of the eggs. They were so good I thought I was going to cry.

I am going to be so glad when the hens come online again. We’re getting close. The light is coming back.

We have wait lists for our eggs. I have a base of very kind and loyal customers, and then I have some customers who can only get a few dozen during peak season when we are overrun. Still, they are so excited about getting them. I was teasing Ron one day that I am going to be like The Lost Kitchen of eggs and will have to have a postcard lottery to see who gets some of our eggs. I wish we could have a little bigger farm and raise a few more chickens for eggs. I love teaching, but the conditions have gotten pretty rough over the years. I would love to teach a little less and chicken farm a little more.

But there is not really in profit in it, I think. Still, I am wondering if we were able to scale up if we could figure out how to make it profitable. It helps that our chickens get to eat bugs and grubs and worms in the summer and fall, but organic feed is still very expensive–and getting more expensive all the time. And you really can’t charge too much more than the grocery store because, otherwise, people will just buy eggs from the grocery store. Of course, right now, grocery store eggs are outrageous because of the avian flu this last year. When our eggs come available again, $5 a dozen for organic eggs is going to seem like a deal for sure. However, the high costs of eggs should not be permanent. Hopefully, we won’t have an avian flu outbreak again. If we do, then all bets are off for all of us anyway.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to finally start keeping records of eggs sales and compare it with feed costs. I figure I have to also consider how many eggs we eat and imagine those costing $5 a dozen as well because, if I had another chicken coop, all of their eggs could be sold.

There’s the labor, but I am not going to worry about that because the chicken work is one of the joys of my life. Ron worries about me cleaning the coop all of the time, but I try to tell him that I generally love it–well, maybe not in the summer, but you don’t have to clean your coop much in the summer anyway. I love to clean the coop because I love to make it cozy and nice. I don’t decorate our coop like a lot of people do because the chickens somehow manage to poop on everything. But clean and cozy seems important. Today, I cleaned it for the second time this week, and because our local grocery store was out of peppermint oil to deter rats and mice, I ended up sprinkling the entire coop with cloves. That’s another story for another night though. I guess this is just a long way of saying my labor for those chickens is good for me.

The real struggle we would have in trying to have a little egg farm is that we let our chickens rest all winter. Obviously, no eggs means no sales. You can add light to your coop, but after having a few hens, including my Poe, die from ovarian cancer, I am determined to let our chickens rest in the winter.

Anyway, I have a little notebook, and in just about a month, we should be back in egg business. I’m going to keep track of it all and see where we are at the end of the year. Ron used to dismiss me when I would ask about expanding our egg business, but I can see he has some curiosity about it. It will be interesting to see how the numbers add up. We could be losing our shirts, but I don’t think so. Either way, it will be good to know.

A First Egg

Day 235 of 365

Yesterday, I saw one of the Salmon Faverolles in a nest box, and I got so excited! I have been waiting and waiting to see what their eggs would look like. Their eggs are supposed to be a light, creamy color. For last couple of weeks, I have noticed the nest boxes were wrecked, and this is always a sign that someone is about to start laying.

I was hopeful for a Salmon Faverolle, as they are the oldest of our summer babies, but last night, even after I saw her in the nest box, there was no egg.

This morning I was outside doing a safety check of the chicken yard when I heard an awful lot of talking and carrying on from the coop. It was a different kind of talking from a voice I didn’t recognize.

When I went to the coop door, I saw one of the Salmon Faverolles at the water dish. She was drinking and carrying on about something, just talking, almost complaining but not quite. It was more like “Can you believe I just did that?” Truly, she seemed tired and a little concerned and a little relieved all at once. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was going to be laying an egg several times a week for the next few years.

Of course, there, in the nest box, like a golden egg to me, was a tiny creamy egg, so perfect. I thanked her over and over. She just kept carrying on. When I left the coop, she was still drinking and talking. I guess she had been in the nest box a long time and got thirsty. What work!

Oh my gosh, I am thankful to chickens. How humans do not worship the ground their little feet walk on is beyond me. What a gift! What a beautiful egg!

Chocolate Egg

Day 205 of 365

Our power is flickering, as it is literally “a dark and stormy night.” But I have to share this quickly. I found a new, very dark egg in the nest boxes today. This is darker than the other egg, and it’s truly a chocolate egg. Isn’t it magnificent?

It must be this one is from Hector (our Black Copper Maran), as she should be laying the darkest egg out there, based on breed, which means the first lighter chocolate egg must be from Faure (our Blue Copper Maran). I cannot believe Hector lays such a gorgeous egg. This is the goal for the breed, a prized egg. I have to give a big thank you to Why Not Farms because Hector is from their breeding program, and she’s perfect in every way–not just in her eggs.

I also cannot believe that there are people in this world who read my blog almost every day and know exactly who Hector and Faure are. I love that other people know our chickens. They’re cool people.

What do the labels on egg cartons really mean?

Day 190 of 365

We have 35 laying hens. Well, I did some math yesterday and figured out 5 are definitely retired, but we have 30 hens who could technically be laying eggs right now. Yesterday, we got 3 eggs. The days are short, and the nights are long here in Maine. This means it’s time for our chickens to get their rest. For 3 or 4 months out of the year, our hens (unless they are first-year hens) will not lay much, if at all.

Our eggs are quite delicious. You can taste happiness, and that is the reason we have a wait list for our eggs. Our chickens are treated very well. They are fed organic food, and most importantly, they have access (and actually spend their days) in a small, fenced pasture where they can nibble on grass or look for bugs and grubs in the wooded parts of our property. There is also the occasional frog, but I won’t go into that. They are deeply respected because they are our partners on our homestead. In addition to providing us with eggs, their poop feeds our garden, and they provide important pest control. They are also joyful to observe.

In the past, it is during this time of year that we have had to buy eggs at the store. Thankfully, three years ago, we started freezing our eggs to preserve them for the winter shortage, so we no longer have to buy eggs at the store. However, this time of year gets me to thinking about buying eggs and how the labels on egg cartons are very misleading and how people who many not understand chickens might appreciate some educational materials on what those egg carton labels mean and why one label is particularly important.

Caged

You will never see this label on an egg carton, but I start with this to ensure you look for labels that specific treatment of the birds. According to many experts, caged eggs is, perhaps, the cruelest food offered in our food system. If you see labels like farm fresh or all natural, or vegetarian fed, and that’s all you see on the carton, you are probably looking at caged eggs. (By the way, farm fresh and all natural are meaningless labels, and chickens are NOT vegetarians.)

Hens in cages never get to leave those cages, which, according to industry standards, is about the size of an 8 and 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper. I am begging you to never buy caged eggs. Chickens are brilliant animals. They have complex social structures; they have friends; they feel joy and sadness; according to researchers, they have the emotional intelligence and complexity of thought as many mammals. Researchers are finding that chickens are far more complex and far more intelligent than people used to think.

In my experience, this is all true. I have seen chickens mourn the loss of a friend. I have seen them feel joy at watermelon in the summer. I have seen them understand human language at amazing levels. I have seen them be shy around strangers and more themselves around me.

Please never support this cruelty.

Cage Free

Cage free is obviously better than caged eggs, but it’s a bare minimum when it comes to egg carton labels and definitely does not guaranty a good quality of life. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to use the cage free label, the eggs “must be produced by hens housed in a building, room, or enclosed area that allows for unlimited access to food, water, and provides the freedom to roam within the area during the laying cycle.”

So this is better. However, you will notice the USDA does not specify how much space the hens should get. This label also does not require any outdoor time for the hens, so hens could spend their whole lives and never see the outdoors. In fact, that’s often the reality. My main concern with this label is that the hens can be (and usually are) way too overcrowded. Their living conditions still are not good at all. The hens do not even have enough room to spread their wings.

I have seen what happens to our flock in the winter if we have had days and days of ice storms or really bad weather. After about a week of being cooped up, people get grumpy. I bring treats, toys, and make visits and sing songs, but our chickens still get grumpy. They peck a little more and have zero patience. Every time I see my hens get grumpy after a few days in the coop after a bad winter storm (and our hens have four square feet each in the coop, plus lots of perches), I think about the poor hens in our food system who have spend their whole lives with far less space. I can’t imagine how those hens make it.

It’s because chickens are very resilient animals, and it is because of this resiliency that we are able to abuse them and they keep going for us. When I see companies act like they are doing something wonderful because they are switching to cage-free eggs, I want to let them have it.

Free Range or Pasture Raised

In theory, these are the labels you want to see, BUT only when they are accompanied by a Certified Humane label. The USDA does not specify how much time outside or space is required for a free range label, for example, so it’s not a label that can be trusted by itself. But, if you see a Certified Humane label with free range or pasture raised, then that’s a good sign. Certified Human will be discussed below, but, under the Certified Humane umbrella, free range means 2 square feet per bird and outdoors at least 6 hours per day, weather permitting. Pasture raised means approximately 108 square feet per bird, and the hens are outdoors year round with housing that allows them to go in at night to be protected from predators. They are kept indoors only due to inclement weather. Again, this is ONLY under the Certified Humane label. If you see these labels without the Certified Humane label, then it’s hard to say what it really means. There just isn’t federal regulation of this. The Certified Humane label is a third-party program, but it’s trustworthy.

Certified Humane

This is the label you really want to see, so I am picturing it here. To get this label, the hens who lay these eggs must be uncaged and have access to perches, dust bathing areas, and nest boxes. Flock density is limited, but with this label alone, it is important to note that birds are not required to have access to the outdoors. Beak trimming is allowed, but de-beaking is not. And farmers are not allowed to use starvation to induce molting. (Yes, that’s a thing because hens will reset and lay again after they molt, but molting is very hard on chickens even when it happens naturally in the fall. I cannot imagine starvation-induced molting, but it happens a lot in the industry.)

Organic

The organic label only somewhat relates to the welfare of the hens, but it is an important label to be aware of, as it mainly focuses on what is going into the eggs you are eating. To be certified organic eggs, the hens must be fed 100% organic food. Contrary to popular belief, organic does not mean that farmers withhold non-organic treatments from a sick animal; instead, it just means that the eggs must be withheld for an extended period after a treatment because the eggs would not be organic. This label also ensures some level of humane treatment in that hens are required to have access to the outdoors year round and must at least be free range. However, this label is not gold standard for humane treatment like the Certified Humane label is.

This list is not comprehensive but does cover some of the most common labels I see. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. If I do not know the answer, I know how to find it. It is important to note that sources will vary a little bit on what some of these labels means, so I used a variety of sources and used as many primary sources as I could from places like the USDA and CertifiedHumane.org.

I hope you will consider buying eggs with the Certified Humane label. They will be more expensive, but they should be. When food from animals is cheap, there is suffering, often great suffering. I wish I could write something different. I wish this weren’t the case, but it is. I have been wanting to write about the topic for a long time, but I have been hesitant because I have worried about offending people or showing my privilege by expecting people to pay more for eggs. I will just say this: If you can at all afford to buy humanely raised eggs, do. Chickens are magnificent animals and deserve some kind of reasonable existence while they are here, serving us and feeding us.

Sources

USDA Organic Standards, Egg Carton Labels: Here’s What All Those Terms Really Mean, Cage Free Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be, The World According to Intelligent and Emotional Chickens, Here’s What 10 Different Egg Carton Labels Really Mean, Certified Humane, How to Decipher Egg Carton Labels

Photo Credit: Morgane Perraud, Unsplash

20 Weeks Tomorrow

Day 158 of 365

Today, when I collected eggs, I collected just five eggs. We are definitely well into the molt now. But, as I considered our lack of eggs right now, I started to wonder how close our summer babies were to laying age. I realized our little group of Salmon Faverolles, which have just been affectionately labeled as “my muppets,” were the first ones born and might be close to laying.

I normally write baby chick birthdays on the calendar in the kitchen, but I did not this year. Thankfully, I realized I have this blog as a fairly detailed record of all things chicken, duck, and garden in my life. And there it was. On May 30, Ruby became a mama, and my little muppets hatched.

I counted the weeks. This means our babies will be 20 weeks old tomorrow. Time has flown, has it not?

Anyway, I looked up to see what age Salmon Faverolles tend to start laying, and it’s 20 weeks! Of course, with the light fading, there is no telling if they will lay any time soon. The 20 weeks is really just under ideal conditions, but still, there is some hope.

Of course, right now, I can’t imagine them laying. They still seem like such babies to me and are still very, very melodramatic. When I try to pick one up, you would think I was trying to eat it. I think I’m making a little bit of progress though. They are tempted to eat treats out of my hand. No takers yet, but I can see they are considering it.

But I am excited we are close on the eggs. Their eggs are supposed to be creamy and light creamy brown. I’m going to be watching the nest boxes hopefully and keeping my fingers crossed.

Apples: Part I

Day 141 of 365

I was in graduate school before I learned that the Bible doesn’t actually say that Eve ate an apple. It just says she ate a fruit, and I had always thought it was an apple. In art, it’s always the apple. It turns out John Milton, author of the epic poem, Paradise Lost, published in 1667 about the fall of man, said it was an apple. I guess that stuck. Maybe it’s because we really like the aesthetic of apples.

photo credit: Vera De, Unsplash

I have often wondered about this, when a food has an aesthetic we love so much that it becomes a central part of art or decoration in our culture. I wonder about eggs in this same way. Why are eggs so beautiful to me? And I am not alone. Every chicken lady I know spends way too much time taking pictures of eggs and then sharing said pictures on social media. Are the eggs beautiful to us because of something deep inside of us on a primitive level? Eggs are so full of nutrition. Maybe that’s why I love them so, or are they just beautiful?

With apples, I have to believe that their beauty plays a big role in our love for them, but they are nutritious–perhaps not as life giving as the egg–but still. Of course, there’s also hard apple cider, so I supposed apples bring us joy and give humans something in that way too.

This week, our family will go pick apples at a small local orchard. I love picking apples. We have wild apples that grow on our property, which we do not eat, and we planted two apple trees a few years ago. But, so far, the planted apple trees have yet to produce. It could be we have done something wrong for them. Ron and I have much to learn about fruit trees. It’s an area of weakness in our homesteading knowledge, but the pear trees produce most years and were planted just one year before the apple trees.

It’s okay though because we can visit the orchard, and the whole experience is wonderful to me. We will pick a bunch oaf apples. I will make apple pies, apple crisps, and we invented a family treat where I make homemade tortillas and then fill them with cooked apples and cheddar cheese. They are wonderful to me! We will also freeze many bags of apples for future apple pies, apple crisps, and our apple tortilla invention. I wonder if other people would like these. Maybe I will share the recipe. During the pandemic, we had a terrible storm that knocked down or broke many of the big trees on our property. Ron hired a “tree guy” to come in with his team and take down the dangerous trees. It was a group of young men, and they were so sweet and kind. So we made all of them snacks, which included our apple tortilla invention. They seemed to love them. I don’t think they were just being polite. But I digress.

Apples were the first food I fell in love with for its history. If you have not read Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, I highly recommend his chapter on apples. It was a life changer for me. Of course, there is also Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Wild Apples” published in The Atlantic in 1862. Oh, how I wish The Atlantic still published essays on apples. Well, maybe Thoreau said all there was to say.

I have to admit that Thoreau would be ashamed of me that I don’t eat the wild apples on our property, but after rereading his essay this week, I think we should at least get a press and make cider. But then what would the deer eat? Maybe the deer are willing to share?

Dog Crates and Duck Eggs

Day 16 of 365

I have no recipe for you today, as today has gone longer than I had anticipated, but I do have a name for that recipe now and will have the recipe for you tomorrow. I think it will be a treat. My struggle with recipes is that I want to tell too many stories before I get to the recipe, which just annoys the heck out of people, so I am trying to figure out how to tell my story about the recipe very briefly. We’ll see if I can manage that tomorrow.

Today was spent focused on duck eggs and dog crates. I’ll start with the dog crate story.

We have two giant dog crates, which are truly just essential for chicken keeping. They are hospital wards and broody hen homes. Two used to be enough–until Juliet claimed one. She has to come into the garage to lay her eggs, and unless I provide her with a proper dog crate, she’s going to either lay her eggs in my husband’s tools or just leave altogether and lay her eggs in the woods. We’ve been there and done this.

Since Ruby has a dog crate now and I need a space for Kate and her eggs, I have been looking online for a used dog crate. I refuse to pay full price for a new dog crate. My frugal self simply will not allow it. Both of our current dog crates were purchased used and have been wonderful. Once you get a good deal on something, how is it possible to then go backwards and pay full price for something? For me, it’s just too painful.

So I have been on the hunt and getting a little desperate. But, today, I found a used dog crate that would be perfect! Ron was in the garden working, so I went out to discuss it with him. He was not a fan of my plan. We don’t really have the room for storing three dog crates. “We need a barn,” he said.

I agreed, but I explained that there was really no choice in this matter because of Juliet.

“You’re going to buy another dog crate because we have a spoiled chicken?” he asked.

I confirmed.

So I set up the meet, drove out to a beautiful house on a beautiful pond, and landed the perfect dog crate for Kate. I’ll have to share a picture soon because I am quite proud of myself.

I spent another part of my day washing and then freezing duck eggs. I love chicken eggs, but duck eggs are just extra. To me, they are everything wonderful about chicken eggs–and then some. I love them boiled the most, but they are an absolute dream for baking. Professional chefs and bakers prize duck eggs for their cooking, and I can see why. They are magnificent.

Ours are also beautiful, at least I think so. We have a total of seven ducks–six females and one male, Antonio. He’s both wonderful and terrible at the same time. We originally had just six ducks, but a few years ago, a farmer friend asked if I might be willing to rehabilitate a female she had who had been over-mated. Anna Maria was in pretty tough shape, but I took her on and am thankful. I am happy to report that she thrives now.

She also lays a green-ish egg! My reward for sure!

We have one other duck who also lays a green egg, but Anna Maria’s are the darkest. This morning, after I washed the eggs and was about to crack and freeze them, I decided it was imperative that I do a duck-egg photo shoot.

Aren’t they beautiful?

***

I have a quick Ruby and now Kate update. Ruby is doing well considering. She had some whole wheat pancake for breakfast, and I discovered that she won’t really eat unless I feed her. I put a tiny bowl right under her face, left and did some other chores, and came back to find she hadn’t eaten. When I put the pancake bites in my hand, she ate. So I guess I’m feeding Ruby by hand for the next week.

Kate will be moved to her crate tomorrow, and, then we just cross our fingers that she’ll take the baby chicks next week. I’ll detail the process in a later post. She seems to be doing well.

Candling Eggs–and a Little Surprise from Juliet

Day 9 of 365

I have such a great story to tell today.

It was a big day because it is day 8 for Ruby’s eggs, so I decided to candle her eggs to see which ones were developing and which ones were duds. It’s good to remove the ones that aren’t developing, as they will go bad and just take up extra space. Ruby was sitting on 8 Salmon Faverolle hatching eggs from Why Not Farms, and I was hoping we would have at least 4 or 5 eggs developing so far.

I waited until Ruby was taking her break this morning and decided I would just scoop up all of the eggs into my son’s old Easter basket and candle them quickly in the house. It’s important to be gentle when you candle, so as not to disturb the developing chick. It’s also important to try not to candle too much, as it is just more disturbance. Historically, this has been a challenge for me. I think I candled my first batch of hatching eggs 4 or 5 times. That’s not a good idea. I will probably candle Ruby’s eggs just one more time in another week. I probably don’t need to do it again. I probably will anyway.

When I started putting the eggs in the basket, I counted to 8 and then had 1 more in the nest. I counted again. There was a total of 9 eggs under Ruby. I paused. I wondered if I had been mistaken, but, no, we had just 8 eggs at the start. Then, I looked more closely. The last egg in the nest was not a cream Salmon Faverolle egg. It was an olive egg from Juliet! Oh, she’s a clever girl!

Juliet is our most special hen. She refuses to hang out with the flock–unless she’s in the mood to hang out with the flock. Every morning, she leaves the coop and heads for the driveway and garage. She used to fly over the fence, but we now just let her out when we open the door in the morning. She’s always waiting and ready to go.

She sneaks into the garage where she gets a special treat, either some sunflower seeds or scratch; then she either hangs out in the garage and driveway doing her own thing or she heads to the dog crate with straw I have set up for her to lay her eggs. I did this because I realized last year that she was not going to lay her eggs in the nest boxes. Instead, she laid her eggs in the woodpile, under trees, in the shrubs. I normally would not find them until it was too late. I started to try to train Juliet to lay her eggs in a box in the garage.

It took just a few times. When she laid her egg in the nest in the garage, I was there immediately with a treat. Within three days, she was trained. And I set her up with a nice dog crate. This became our routine. In spring, summer, and fall, when Juliet is laying eggs, she lays her eggs in her special nest, and when she’s finished, she gets a treat from me. It’s the deal we seem to have.

A couple of weeks ago, I forgot one morning and closed the garage door. About half an hour later, I heard a chicken hollering at the front door. It was Juliet. I apologized, opened the garage door, and she made a path to her dog crate.

Juliet is wicked smart. Still, how she managed to sneak into Ruby’s nest and lay her egg during one of Ruby’s short breaks is a bit of a mystery to me. I always check on Ruby while she’s on her breaks and never once saw Juliet in Ruby’s nest box. I don’t know when she did it, but she did it. “Cowbird,” I thought to myself when I saw that adorable little olive egg.

I am happy to report that 7 of 8 of the lovely Salmon Faverolle eggs from Why Not Farms were developing! Those are very good numbers. I am also happy to report that Juliet’s egg is developing too. She’s such a fantastic little stinker. NOW, Ruby really has 8 eggs.

If the egg continues to develop and a chick hatches, it will be the first and only baby we have from Juliet.

It’s Time to Freeze Your Eggs

Day 7 of 365

I have to start today’s post with a Ruby update. She deserves top billing today. This morning, when she took a break from her eggs, I started the clock for her. I always give her one hour and then have to go chase her down and bring her back to her eggs. But not today! This morning, after her hour break was up, I went out to see where she was. I was feeling quite tired from last night’s big night of cello. I have learned over the last few years of being a cello mom that another perk of being an empath is that I feel exhausted after my kiddo performs. I did not think I had the legs to chase a tiny, speedy chicken again this morning.

I am happy to report she was waiting for me at the door of the coop. When I opened the door, she went right to the garage. I played it cool and watched from afar. Sure enough, within a minute or so, she went to her eggs! I was so thankful she didn’t have to be reminded this morning. I brought her some treats. She rewarded me with a good peck on the hand.

Another task for the day was freezing eggs. It’s May, and our hens always lay really well in May and June. By the end of June, half of the flock is trying to go broody, and the egg laying drops off. We have a few customers who love our eggs, but I am hesitant to take on too many more, as I have found, that later in the summer, things slow down. And, of course, in fall, there is the molt. And, of course, after that comes winter. And since we do not add light in our coop, egg production really slows down. But right now, we are overrun with eggs!

Since hard times are always coming in fall and winter, a few years ago, I started the habit of freezing eggs in May and June. Then, this coming Thanksgiving, when I need like two dozen eggs to make Thanksgiving pies and rolls and the like and only have two eggs in coop, all I have to do is bring out the frozen eggs.

One year, I had to take the walk of shame at the grocery store and buy eggs. It had been years since I had eaten grocery store eggs, but our hens really slowed down one winter when we had no new hens laying to help us through the slow times. We ended up making scrambled eggs one morning out of those store-bought eggs, and I could not believe the difference! The eggs were terrible to me, and, I am not kidding, I just about cried eating them. “They taste like depression,” I said. I couldn’t finish eating them. For real, you can taste the difference between happy eggs and sad eggs–at least I think I can.

After that, I started freezing eggs.

It’s a very simple process. I have tried a few different methods I read about on the internet, but this one worked best for me. If you are overrun with eggs and do not plan to add light to your coop in the winter, now is the perfect time to freeze your eggs. They will be great for baking, quiche, and even scrambled eggs come December.

Supplies

muffin pan
whisk
small bowl
cooking spray
eggs
metal straw (optional)
gallon freezer bags for storage

Directions

  1. Spray your muffin pan with cooking spray.
  2. Crack an egg and scramble it in a small bowl. It’s best to scrambled it. I tried a batch without scrambling, and the yolk was just too hard and wouldn’t thaw properly after freezing.
  3. Pour each single egg into each individual muffin round.
  4. After you fill up each round, put your muffin pan into the freezer. Leave for a good half day. I always forget mine and leave them for a full day anyway.
  5. Remove your muffin pan and let it sit at room temperature for just about five minutes. This will allow the outside of the frozen egg to soften a bit and will make it easier to get the eggs out of the little round.
  6. Using a butter knife, pop out the frozen egg and place it in your freezer bag.
  7. After you have a dozen eggs in your gallon bag, seal it most of the way. Get out as much of the air as possible and then seal the bag. As an option, I use a metal straw and suck out any extra air, but you have to be careful not to suck up a piece of egg. This happened to me last time, and it was not pleasant.

Using Frozen Eggs

This has been the tricky part for me. Come winter, when you have to use your frozen eggs, you have to plan a bit. The eggs should be thawed in the refrigerator, but I can never plan ahead this well. Ron figured out how to use a low defrost setting on our microwave to thaw our eggs, but it’s tricky. I failed several times and accidentally cooked some eggs. I think thawing in the refrigerator is the best method.

I was told that you should use the frozen eggs within a year, and I can see this is ideal. However, we saved so many in 2020 that we were still eating them a year and half and up to two years later. They were still good! I could tell no difference between the year old and nearly two year old eggs.

I hope this can be helpful to any new chicken keepers who may read this. In your first year of keeping chickens, they will lay through the winter. In the second year, they will molt and will slow down quite a bit or even stop laying altogether in the winter. Freezing eggs now will keep you from having to eat sad eggs later.