Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The First Egg

Our chickens Betty Boop and Scarlett O'Hara (pictured above) finally started earning their keep. About mid-day, Sunday February 21, one or the other of them finally laid an egg. Success at last! We purchased the Ameraucana hens in early November. They are known for laying "Easter" eggs in colors of blue and green. The chickens were born in north Texas and arrived by mail at about four months old. My husband built them a nice chicken coop behind the garage. Since then, the girls have had the run of the yard, and began their reign of flower, herb and vegetable annihilation. We are in the process of fencing off a smaller area of the yard for their run. They are going to miss their free range but unless we confine them their appetite for foliage would mean little or no success in spring gardening. After all, here in Houston it is almost time to put tomato plants in the ground.

What have I learned that I didn't know about chickens before? There is some yellow pigmentation seen in their beaks and legs when they are not yet laying eggs. This same yellow pigment goes into the egg yolks once the hens start producing eggs. This process is known as bleaching, and the pigment drains progressively the more eggs they lay. The average hen lays about 265 eggs a year. When their feathers are molting or they are not getting enough light, they don't lay eggs. They can fly but usually don't stay in the air more than a few seconds. Until they are one year old, they are called pullets and then hens after that. Backyard chicken farmers often use a portable bottomless cage known as a chicken tractor or ark in order to move birds around to different areas of the yard. Chickens eat grit because they don't have teeth. They store the small stone particles in their gizzard, which grinds the grit with their food before it heads into the intestines.

The chickens are getting to used to being around us as time goes on. Betty and Scarlett seem to have warmed up to my husband more than me. He puts his hands down low and kind of hovers near them and then is successful at quickly picking them up. At first I was skittish about holding them, but that passed quickly. Now I find it very satisfying to hug a chicken; it feels like holding a fat football. I talk to them when I let them out in the morning or feed them scraps. They do come running towards the gate when they think I might have treats. And yesterday we found a second egg in the nesting box. Next step is the taste test. I am looking forward to the perfect fried egg sandwich. Hopefully soon we will have occasional eggs to share with friends.

To quote Frank McCourt: "Oh, God above, if heaven has a taste it must be an egg with butter and salt, and after the egg is there anything lovlier than fresh warm bread and a mug of sweet golden tea?" - Angela's Ashes: a Memoir (Scribner, 1996)


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