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Posts Tagged ‘Pasture-raised eggs’

After a great family vacation to Puerto Rico, I was pleasantly surprised to get back to New Hampshire and find that everything went so smoothly while I was gone. Omar seems a bit jumpy every time there is a puff of breeze, I’m not sure why. Come to think of it, the laying hens are, too. Other than that, the farm is in great shape.

Speaking of layers, our pullets have started to lay. So we have plenty of pullet eggs. Pullet eggs are just as nutritious and delicious as regular eggs, only about half the size. (The official term in the egg business is “pee-wee” eggs.) If you are interested, we are offering pee-wee eggs while they last for $1.50 per dozen.

And speaking of eggs, look who made the front page of the Union-Leader today!

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Now that our laying hens are finished with their molt, it is time for them to get back to work. Chickens naturally lay the most eggs at the time of year when the days are longest. You can fool them into laying more by putting lights on in their houses to extend the day length. The advice we have heard is to add lights in the pre-dawn hours only. (The chickens are less stressed if allowed to settle down for the night at the pace of a natural sunset.) The photo above shows our mobile chicken houses (now docked to the greenhouse for the winter) with the lights on at about 6:20 this morning.

I have posted before about our nifty electronic controllers that turn the lights on a little bit earlier each morning. In addition to running the lights, the controllers also open the eggmobile doors at sunrise and close them at sunset to protect the hens from predators. The whole system—controllers,¬† lights, and door motors—runs on 12 volts DC. During the winter, we use transformers to plug them into 110 volts. But when the pastures green up, these egg ships will launch again, running off deep cycle 12V marine batteries.

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Molt

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If you have stopped by the farm recently, you may have been disappointed to find the egg supply very low. And, if you know the farm well, you may have noticed that our laying hens are looking very spiffy. These two things have the same cause: our chickens are going through their annual molt. When chickens molt, they drop their old feathers and grow a new set. The pretty much stop laying eggs for the duration, focusing their body’s energy on making feathers. The new outfits look very nice, but we would frankly rather have the eggs.

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Who knew that you could fill a whole day learning about egg quality? Not me! Not until this week, when I attended a seminar by Dr. Kenneth Anderson from North Carolina State University. In this photo, Dr. Anderson (background) is giving pointers to Craig Fournier on how to grade an egg. Besides grading, here are some other things we learned that I never knew before:

  • Eggs should be packaged small end down for best protection of the yolk.
  • That plastic egg-holder in your fridge? Throw it away! Eggs keep much better in cartons.
  • Larger eggs degrade faster than smaller eggs.
  • Smaller eggs have higher quality shells than larger eggs.
  • Younger hens lay higher quality eggs than older hens.
  • Modern laying hens will lay one egg each day about an hour later than the previous day until they hit mid-afternoon. Then they will skip a day and start over in the morning.
  • If promptly refrigerated, eggs will remain grade AA quality for about 7 days, then grade A for about 60 days (but the sell-by date must be no more than 30 days from packaging).
  • It is true that the cuticle (bloom) on an unwashed egg has anti-microbial properties, but only for 96 hours. After that, it sloughs off.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there. Many thanks to Dr. Anderson for making the trip north to help us Yankees re-learn some of our forgotten skills!

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We started building this mobile chicken house back in March. With the help of welder Sean Azarowski and carpenter Frank DeGennaro it is finally finished!

The layers are slowly getting accustomed to the new digs. When we moved them in last week, many of them jumped the fence to return to their old laying house in the greenhouse (in the background of the photo above). Watching a grown man trying to catch an escaped chicken is a lot of fun. But that show will soon be over. We plan to launch the mobile house this week and move it down to the lower fields—out of sight of the old house.

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I have been scouring Craigslist daily for used egg sorting equipment. Today, I hit on this ad for a job opening in a Colorado egg-packing plant. I thought it was interesting, because it highlights another difference between our small-scale farming system and large-scale industrial farming not just for the animals, not just for the land, not just for the food itself and the health of the consumer, but for the farm worker.

There is a trade-off between efficiency on the one hand and all the benefits of small-scale farming on the other. Perhaps there is a sweet spot where the need for efficiency and the benefits of small-scale are perfectly balanced. As we grow, we too are searching (daily) for ways to be more efficient. This ad is a sobering reminder that we have to keep a constant watch to make sure we don’t get on the wrong side of that sweet spot.

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This is the machine that will save Steve’s sanity. Some might say it is too late for that. But I say there is still time. Steve has been taking eggs home every night and washing them by hand. Ever since we hit 250 eggs per day, he has developed a strange twitch. Now, thanks to the folks at Gibson Ridge Farms, Steve will finally have time for a full night’s sleep. He should be better in no time.

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