Oct 21, 2013

7 Things I've Learned About Chickens

1. While I love feeding hens leftovers from our table (especially things I don't compost, like meat fat), and as much as I believe in free ranging chickens when possible, the more chickens eat food other than their carefully-formulated feed, the fewer eggs they lay.

2. Not all chickens are created equal. Be sure you understand that some breeds are generally better layers, some are more friendly, some are better for meat, some lay better in the winter, etc. This chart can help you determine what type of chickens are best for you.

3. Chicken breeds that tend to be more friendly also tend to be more dumb, and chickens that are smart tend to have more...um, vim and vigor.

4. Chickens usually have to be taught to eat snails. My method is to handpick snails from the yard, spear them with a stick (so I know they are dead and won't get back in my garden), and throw them in the run. Usually it only takes one hen realizing they are food for the whole flock to go crazy over them. Although this training takes a little effort on your part, it's well worth it. It not only ensures fewer snails in your garden, but it gives the hens a source of protein that also offers calcium (which keeps them healthy and makes their egg shells less likely to break).

5. Chickens don't mind eating mustard. Or hot sauce. When I had an egg-eating hen, I read all over the Internet that I should blow out an egg and put either mustard or hot sauce in it, then place it in a nesting box. The hen would be so turned off by the flavor of that egg, the collective Internet voice said, the chicken would quit eating eggs altogether. But my hens eat scraps off our table - which very frequently have either mustard or Tabasco sauce on them. They don't mind the flavor at all. (To discourage egg-eating hens, collect eggs often, keep the nesting boxes clean, and keep your chickens busy by offering frequent treats - a cabbage head is a great idea, especially if you hang it up - and foraging opportunities.)

6. Hens are quite trainable. So if you take a little time, you can train them to stay out of your garden, to go back in their run when you want them to, or to go into their henhouse before they would otherwise. (Click here for training tips.)

7. Chicken eggs last a long, long time if stored in the fridge, unwashed. I've had mine in the fridge for 6 to 8 months. For best results, store the eggs pointy side down and make a system where you are always eating the oldest eggs first. If you're worried about storage, eggs also freeze beautifully.

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