The Secret Life of Chickens
Our good chickens started laying eggs in the dead of winter. I went out to check their water one cold morning in January and found 2 eggs.
I sent this note to Erika:
“Omg! Omg! Omg! Guess what I found this morning!?! My first eggs! One of my good girls laid her first eggs in the dead of winter. It’s 34 degrees out. They’re beautiful–lovely blue/green color. With nothing to compare them to, I don’t know if they’re blue or green. I estimate they cost me about $3000 each. Lol. They make me so happy! What a lovely treat. One of the hens was making this new clucking noise. Is she just happy to see me?”
Erika told me that the happy clucking noise is a called an “egg song.” It’s the chicken singing a song to anyone who will listen (you, the other chickens, the sun) about what a good chicken she is and how proud she is of her beautiful eggs.
They have been laying consistently since then. We’re getting about 10-12 eggs a day. My math says my price is dropping and they only cost about $1 each now. I’ll be able to compete with Whole Foods soon. Lol. They’re blue, green, several shades of brown, and white. They’re really beautiful!
So, now I’m making a bunch of amazing great food like deviled eggs, egg salad sandwiches, frittatas, mayonnaise, homemade caesar salad dressing, and homemade Hungarian dumplings (thank you to Stephanie, my sister in law’s mom, for teaching me). We’re going to try to make homemade pasta next.
Everyone who visits takes home a dozen eggs. But, it kind of surprises me how many questions people have about chickens and eggs. It’s a food we eat a lot. And, I was raised to understand where my food came from and how it got to the table. But, I’m realizing a lot of people don’t know much about the secret life of chickens. Here are some of the things that they’re curious about:
Do you need to have a rooster for the hens to lay eggs?
No. Just like humans, female chickens produce eggs regularly. They don’t need a male to produce them. They do need a male to fertilize them. But, most of the eggs we eat are unfertilized.
Uh…how does a rooster fertilize the eggs?
When a mommy chicken and a daddy chicken love each other very much…
The rooster runs around the coop and does a little dance. If the hen likes it, she squats down, and he jumps on top of her and “breeds” her. It takes about 25 seconds. According the the University of Georgia, a rooster can successfully mate 10-25 times a day. Once mated, the hen is fertile and will lay fertilized eggs for up to 14 days.
So, a rooster’s job is just to mate chickens?
No, that’s one of the rooster’s jobs. But, he also works very hard to protect the flock. He is on constant alert for danger and crows any time he wants to warn the ladies of anything that they should be aware of (birds, dogs, the mail truck, etc). If there is significant danger, he will chase the ladies into the coop where they’re safe. He will chase off anything that he can by making a big display of crowing and flapping his wings. He also has a large beak, big spurs on his legs, and talons on his feet that he will use to actually fight off any predators if it becomes necessary.
Do the hens get mad when you take their eggs away?
My hens are completely indifferent and don’t notice or mind me taking the eggs out of the nesting boxes.
If you just leave the eggs in the nesting boxes, will they hatch?
Probably not. In order for eggs to hatch into chicks, they need to be fertilized and incubated. You can take fertilized eggs and put them in an incubator and invite a bunch of kindergarteners over and hatch them. Or you can wait for a hen to decide that she’s ready to hatch a clutch of eggs.
So, how do you get baby chicks?
When a hen decides she’s ready to be a mommy, she gets “broody” and will sit on her nest of eggs until they hatch. She will typically lay 8-9 eggs during that time and then sit there for 21 days until they’re all hatched. She won’t leave the nest except for very, very short periods to get food or water, typically when it’s especially safe. Around 21 days later, the chicks will start pecking their way out of their eggs. This has not happened in our flock yet. Rest assured that I will absolutely let you all know when it does.
Let us know what other questions you have about the secret lives of chickens. If I don’t know the answer, I will ask Erika. If she doesn’t know, we’ll do some research and find out.