Bag Your Chicken And Separate From Other Foods To Prevent Food Poisoning, Warn Officials. – as spotted in various newspapers today. Processors are trying to reduce the likelihood of campylobacter infections in kitchens across the country
Is that you? It could well be as I know quite a few folks who read or follow this blog fall into that urban farming category.
To cut a long story short I’ve been contacted by Will Steel of STV via Jane Perrone of The Guardian (ok, ok, name dropping… did I mention I was on Countryfile the other month? I did? Oh well my apologies) and he is developing a programme about people who have chickens and pigs in their city gardens.
As such he’s looking for anyone who has chickens in their city home who he could potentially contact about the programme? At the moment he’s just looking for some stories but you never know, this could be a fine opportunity to show your flat pack farm or backyard Bonanza !
If you are interested then contact Will directly firstname.lastname@example.org
Well it’s my blog, so why not plug my new title due out in the Spring of 2015…..?
The title might sound a little corny however the focus of the book is in fact “eggs”. The origins and science of eggs along with the ways to get the best out the breeds you choose with particular emphasis on a number of the key laying pure breeds, all beautiful illustrated in the loose water colour style of that exceptional artist, Kate Osbourne . I’ve yet to see the finished product but if it’s anything like the previous title I worked on with Ivy Press then it will be exceptional and well worth owning…. and I’m not just saying that because I wrote it, but because the other book genuinely is a cracker 😉
Freshness and diet can influence the look and texture of an egg when it is cooked and it will also effect to a degree the flavour of the egg. For example off-tasting eggs (assuming they are not old and stale) can occur if your chickens have eaten excessive quantities of garlic, fish oil or strongly flavoured fruit and vegetables. However, did you know that because the egg shell is porous eggs are also capable of absorbing strong smells from the surrounding environment that will influence the flavour of the egg? Creosote, fuel, and paints, along with more organic odours such as moulds and natural fragrances are capable of permeating the egg shell and affecting the flavour. The storage of the eggs produced by your chickens is as important as the husbandry of the flock when it comes to egg flavour.
A Handy Hint – An electrolyte solution from store cupboard staples
If a chicken is suffering dehydration, for example due to an extended bout of diarrhoea, or recovering from a heavy worm infestation, then essential minerals can be leached from the body. The health and wellbeing of the chicken can be dependent upon these minerals, and it is important they are replaced in order to enable a rapid recovery.
Pre-mixed electrolyte powders and solutions are available off the shelf however did you know it’s possible to mix together your own from ingredients found in the home? Take a gallon/8 pints of water (4.55 litres) and mix in 1 tablespoon of sugar (sucrose), 1 teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), 1 teaspoon of salt (sodium chloride) and half a teaspoon of Lo Salt/Salt Substitute (potassium chloride). Give it a good mix until everything is dissolved and then it’s ready to offer to the chicken in place of normal drinking water for 5 hours, before replacing with regular water. This should be repeated for 5-7 days, and then return to using normal drinking water only by which time the chicken should be showing signs of improvement
It’s a handy thing to remember if the feed store is some distance away, or the need arises outside of normal business hours.
Now there can’t be many people, even those with little or no interest in chickens, that won’t heard of or seen the Eglu produced by Omlet. In fact so iconic is the design that there is one permanently exhibited the Victoria and Albert museum. Furthermore to celebrate 10 years since its creation those constantly inventive individuals at Omlet HQ have added another product to their ever expanding range of poultry paraphernalia; and to be fair, it is in fact an essential piece of kit for any chicken keeper unlike the somewhat bonkers hi-vis jacket released last year. Fair play, it put the Omlet name about the place but I can’t say my birds liked wearing it as the video shows.
The Eglu Egg Cup though takes it all one step further. Not only is the holder for the soft boiled chuckie egg made from a scale model of the Eglu itself, but salt and pepper dispensers come in the form of two plastic hens sitting by the house and the run becomes a toast rack! Now love or loathe the popular plastic housing, or the occasionally barmy ideas that comes from the designers there, you can’t help but admire Omlets latest venture, and with Father’s Day not too far away I’m hoping one of my children might be reading this as I’ve not had a freebie sample (unlike the jacket…..)
The Sussex has a long history and could be placed in either the table or the laying sections as certain bloodlines would fit those categories. It does however serve both functions well making it predominantly a dual purpose breed today. Initially developed in the 19th century, it is a heavy bird with a block like shape and comes in a variety of colours. Like the Rhode Island it has played an important part in the development of todays commercial hybrids.
It is a very calm breed of chicken and can become very friendly over time being quick to trust its keeper. This composed nature extends towards each other and given sufficient space it is possible to keep more than one male within a flock. A robust bird, it copes well with all weather conditions and is happy free ranging or within a fixed run. The hens are excellent layers producing a good number of eggs often during the winter too. They can go broody, and if so they are known to be good sitters and even better mothers.
Cock weight: Large Fowl 9lb (4.10kg), Bantam 40oz (1130g)
Hen weight: Large Fowl 7lb (3.20kg), Bantam 28oz (790g)
Region of origin: United Kingdom
Plumage: Light, White, Silver, Speckled, Buff, Red, Brown
Eyes: Dependent upon plumage; brown, red, or orange
Comb: Single, evenly serrated
Feet & legs: Featherless, white
Egg production – Medium to High
Egg Colour – Tinted
Show classification –Heavy; Soft feather
Hatching chicks via a broody or an incubator is fascinating. I constantly find it an amazing process both as a biological scientist and a chicken keeper, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had a hatch (actually that’s not true, I’ve recorded the details of every hatch I’ve done but perhaps that’s more to do with my anorak collection than anything). In articles and talks I’ve done I’ve been an advocate of hatching birds and engaging in the whole process of rearing chicks to full grown adults; it’s a livestock experience which if well planned for, is accessible to anyone with even a small amount of garden. But by the same measure I do bang the drum on the key term – “plan”.
Before you even consider the concept of hatching little fluffy bundles to beautiful matronly egg layers you need to be aware of one key element; on average 50% of what you hatch will be male. It might sound patently obvious but it surprises me just how many people claim to be aware of that basic fact but hatch anyway, but with absolutely no idea or plan on how to deal with the inevitable surplus males.
Now you might well have spotted ‘gadgets’ that proclaim to be able to sex an egg (they do exist, I tested one and guess what, it was no more accurate than my random choices). You may even read articles about the Australian Brush Turkeys and the way these birds have the ability to manipulate the sex of the chicks that hatch through the temperature control of their incubation mound in what seems like a similar manner to reptiles. The later though are biologically different; they use temperature-dependant sex determination (TSD) whereas the turkey in question works on temperature-dependant embryo mortality meaning the heat of the mound can define to a degree which sex of chick hatches and which dies in the shell. There may well be similar technique that could be applied to the artificial incubation in chicken eggs but as yet I’ve not seen any evidence of it that could be applied successfully in a backyard situation.
And so back to the inevitable cockerels; what is your plan? Rehoming or selling on is possible but unless you have a particularly stunning blood line of a breed then those options are extremely limited. Selling them on accompanied by pullets is an option but unless you have significantly more pullets than cockerels you could end up selling stock you wanted to keep. The bottom line is that until the birds hatch you have no idea what the ratio of male to female will be, so face the reality – you are likely to need to either cull out the spare males or grow them on for the table (unless of course if you have an unlimited amount of land and housing to accommodate the extra chaps). Planning what to do is part of your responsibility when it comes to hatching and rearing chicks, as is caring for the chickens you bought on a whim when swept up in the ‘fashion’ for chicken keeping.
Ringing up your nearest breeder asking them to take on your unwanted birds is likely to be met with a polite ‘no thank you’ and many animal rescue centres are simply not geared up for poultry and could struggle to accommodate them. Worse still though is the increasing number of reports of birds simply being dumped. And if you think I’m making a storm in a teacup then speak to Raystede Centre For Animal Welfare who recently reported 12 hens and cockerel squashed into a box and dumped overnight at their premises. As their Chief Executive said, it’s not only irresponsible but also “a criminal act” as is chucking them over my fence in the hope I’ll not notice the extra three or four cockerels in the field.
So plan before you hatch and remember, with it comes responsibility for the welfare and future of every chick that appears.
You fancy a chucky butty (well that’s what they call them where I come from, it’s generally known as egg mayonnaise). It’s simple enough to make, egg, pan, water, boil, peel, mash, mayo, bread, eat. It’s amazing isn’t it how the shell just peels off… or at least it always used to on those shop bought chicken eggs you hard boiled so what’s wrong with these eggs my backyard flock are laying? The white sticks to the shell in lumps and what previously had been a bowl of glistening white elliptical shapes now resembles some moth eaten mess.
The answer is simple – the eggs you are using are just too fresh, or to put it another way, they aren’t old. The contents have not started to evaporate and shrink and hence the contact between the white and the shell remains in place. In scientific terms, the mammillary layer (which is the inner most layer of the shell and connected to the calcareous layer) is in direct contact with the outer thin (the outer most layer of the albumen surrounding the yolk).
The solution is simple too – if you fancy hard boiled eggs that peel easy then put aside some eggs for a week or 10 days before you use them. You’ll find they peel like the good old shop bought ones once boiled.
Side note – the eggs you buy in the shops are old enough to have evaporated sufficiently to enable clean peeling when boiled… (it’s debatable if they could be called ‘fresh’!)
As the end of the main harvesting is over and the year draws to a close I’ve usually already started to think about next year and what to grow. The seed catalogues are already starting to look a bit well-thumbed and my list grows longer each year as I find new varieties of veg to try but I’m a Yorkshire man and suffer from that affliction of having short arms and deep pockets. This invariably means I’ll have a rummage through my seed box first and foremost to see what I might have in there that is not beyond its ‘sow before date’ and could be sown come the spring.
It’s at this point that I usually unearth various packets of seed that need to be used this year and of course it’s too late to be sowing outdoors even if I could get a spade in the frozen ground. So up pops my northern roots again, don’t waste the seed, sprout it instead!
A sprout is the transitional stage between seed and plant, it is in effect a plant but one with no roots yet that is surviving off the nutrients available in the seed itself. But what’s the value in eating a sprouted seed, why not just eat the seed? Well aside from the aesthetic elements of munching on a juicy sprout as opposed to crunching on a tasteless seed there’s the science to consider. By sprouting the seed you call into action the seeds enzyme content. These enzymes set to work on the nutrients locked within the seed converting them into a bit of superfuel that enables the plant to grow rapidly before putting down roots. By doing this it makes the starches, fats and proteins contained within the seed more accessible and easier to digest.
….. and as the title suggests, if you sprout enough then feed them as a supplement to your chickens, they will get much the same benefit as you and I.
What You Will Need
- A couple of clean pots or jam jars with lids
- A ferret around in your seed box to find some suitable seeds to sprout such as radish, beetroot, alfalfa
- Some squares of muslin or net curtain
- Elastic bands
Step 1 – Add couple of tablespoons of seed to a jar.
Step 2 – Part fill the jar with cold water and seal with the lid.
Step 3 – Put the jars on a window ledge or in a light position (but not in direct sunlight) and leave the seeds to soak for 8 hours or overnight.
Step 4 – Remove the lid and carefully drain the soak water off. Give the seeds a good rinse through with fresh water and place them back in the jar
Step 5 – Cover the top of the jar with a square of muslin or net curtain and hold it in place with an elastic band. Turn the jar upside down and tilt at a 45 degree angle for 5 minutes. This will help the remaining water to drain off and reduces the risk of the seeds going mouldy
Step 6 – Place the jar in a warm well lit position, again avoiding direct sunlight and repeat the rinse process each day until the sprouts are ready. After 2-3 days the sprouts should begin to appear and are ready to eat when they are about 1-2cm long.