I like barnyard hens.
I like the sounds they make as they scratch the ground in search of tasty tidbits; I appreciate how a couple of chickens in a pen can clear a garden bed and prepare the soil for seeds; and I like how they turn kitchen scraps and barn floor gleanings into friable compost for topdressing my plants. I love watching a broody hen set, protect and teach a clutch of chicks too.
We all like to eat eggs. Thanks to our kitchen waste and hoop house weedings our hens lay beautiful eggs with orange yolks, even in the winter.As much as I would like to share the bounty with customers, I don't regularly sell eggs. To produce eggs on our small scale is an expensive, labor intensive project. I do not want to raise enough hens to achieve an efficient economy of scale , nor do I want to subsidize egg sales by underpricing each dozen.
So why are eggs an expensive farmyard enterprise?
- Farmyard hatched chicks don't usually produce eggs until they are about 6 months old-eating plenty of feed and requiring daily care before they produce one egg.
- Ready-to-lay hybrid pullets are worth the $7 I spend annually for each, but concerns about disease brought onto the farm and their clipped beaks keep them in the relatively protected garden run and coop.
- Feed is expensive. I could change to something cheaper but the feed I buy is grown and blended locally, certified organic and my birds thrive. I have not found a reasonable alternative to fix what is not broken.
- Like eggs available in much of the world, my eggs are not refrigerated. Refrigerating and washing fresh eggs is customary in the USA. Managing two sets of eggs adds complexity to the pantry and refrigerator. That said, I do refrigerate eggs for sale when we have plenty on the home shelf.
This winter's flock, 10 hens and two roosters, seems to be the ideal overwintering flock; the size is a manageable balance of labor and eggs. The biggest challenge to this balance is that first statement in this post, "I like barnyard hens." The lure of breeding my own Australorps and Easter-eggers, not to mention the Cream Legbars peeking out of the hatchery catalog is fierce.
Although I am not always able, I might have an extra dozen if you stop by.