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Posts Tagged ‘eggs’

We don’t have that many hens.  I haven’t counted lately, but I would guess around 35.  Some of these hens are three years old, now; they should probably go in a stew pot, but we decided to free-range them for bug control, and if the fox happens to get them…well, that’s too bad, but not the end of the world.  The three year olds are pretty savvy anyhow, as they are the ones who survived the foxes in the first place.

 

So, now that the days are longer and the weather warmer (this weekend’s dump of snow notwithstanding), out of our 35 (ish) hens, we’re suddenly getting 12 or 16 eggs, depending on the day.

 

A dozen eggs a day.   Or a dozen and a half.

 

It doesn’t sound like a whole lot of eggs.  It really doesn’t.

 

bucket of eggs

 

Until you have to figure out what to *do* with them!

 

It’s actually not a bad problem to have, and I’m lucky to work in a large office, so we haven’t had too much trouble selling off the surplus.  We eat some, of course, and feed the ones that are too dirty to bother washing to the dogs in their porridge.  There’s also a local food charity we support with occasional donations of the extras that build up.

 

I’m not sure what we’re going to do when I go on maternity leave, though…

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Well, the cold snap in the US seems to be over, now, and our own month-long run of -30 C temperatures seems to have broken, as well.  I noticed a recent spike in traffic to a few of my posts from the last couple of winters, but didn’t really draw the connection until just now…folks have been searching for information on how to manage livestock in extreme cold, but my poor visitors have mostly gotten anecdotes about me feeling sorry for myself and about frozen-solid chickens.  I thought that even a belated post might be useful to somebody someday, so here are some observations about coping with extreme cold.

 

winter pic

I’m not going to say much about dressing for the cold, since that’s been done to death on the internet.  Dress in layers, and take layers off as you become warm.  Make the outer layer windproof if you can.  Windchill is much more dangerous than just cold, especially if you are only outside for short periods – an hour or two – Hubby routinely goes out to shovel for a couple of hours at a time in -30, as long as there’s no windchill.  Of course, he’s acclimatized to this weather, and appropriately dressed, more or less.  He’s never gotten frostbite, even though he doesn’t make much effort to cover his face; the moustachesicles get pretty impressive sometimes:

 

moustachesicles

The  chickens seem to cope pretty well with the cold, overall.  Our breeds are suited to colder temperatures, but we don’t heat the coop, even when it’s -40.  Our main tactic has been to insulate; our primary coop is an old shed, and we stack old bales of hay and straw around the structure to cut the wind and keep it warm.  We try to get the stacks as high as the heads of the chickens on the top rung of the roost, as someone has used the shed for a target for shotgun practice, so it’s anything but airtight, and we don’t want anyone to get frostbite when they’re sleeping.  You don’t actually want the coop to be totally airtight; you need some airflow to keep it from getting too humid, which will cause problems with frostbite.  The birds also get a deep layer of bedding, and as much feed as they want.  They eat half again as much at -40 C as they do at zero degrees or above, and they need all of that energy to keep warm.   We have had some issues with frostbite in the past; Gallus, our original rooster, had a pretty spectacular comb until he encountered his first major winter freeze.  We’ve since learned to keep the coop shut on really cold days, which keeps the birds inside, and also helps keep the temperature up.  While I’m sure it hurt to lose that comb, it doesn’t seem to have slowed Gallus down too much.

 

Before his first encounter with real cold

Before his first encounter with real cold

 

All healed up, but not much of a comb left

All healed up, but not much of a comb left

 

The frostbite itself makes the combs and wattles turn black in the frozen parts, and eventually peels off.   If you come across this, you will need to monitor that the other chickens aren’t pecking at it and keeping it from healing, as it sometimes bleeds as the damaged tissue sloughs off.

 

One challenge is collecting the eggs before they freeze so solid that they crack, which takes no time at all in -40.  The cracked eggs are okay to eat, as long as the shells are clean; we just thaw them on the kitchen counter overnight.  They need to be used immediately once they’ve thawed, though, as bacteria can get in through the crack.  Whatever we can’t eat ourselves, we feed to the cats and dogs, who really appreciate the extra protein.  Eggs that have frozen but not cracked are fine, and we just put them in the cold room to thaw.  As far as we’ve been able to tell, they keep just as well as unfrozen eggs, and behave the same when you cook with them, so we don’t even check anymore, beyond looking for the cracked ones, of course.

 

When it gets below about -25 C, we tend to leave the barn shut up, and the body heat from the animals adds at least ten degrees in there.  The barn cats are bright enough to stay inside, and we’ve built them a cozy insulated shelter out of hay bales.  So far, they’ve never had any issues with frostbite, even on their ears.  However, the barn cats are outdoor critters, and acclimatized to the cold through the fall and early winter, and they know enough to snuggle up together in the shelter.  Like the chickens, the cats are free-fed – we put out bowls of food, and they can have as much as they want.  They put on several pounds each of fat in the fall, which helps them stay warm, too.

 

If we had a sudden huge drop in temperatures like happened so recently in the US, though, I would consider bringing outdoor cats and dogs inside, or locking them in a garage or barn, as they may not be equipped to deal with the cold.   At the very least, they need some sort of insulated shelter, including insulation between them and the ground, that is windproof, dry, and small enough to warm up with just their body heat.  Stacked bales covered with a tarp would probably do, but remember to insulate the bottom, too, either using a layer of bales, or a thick bed of straw or blankets.

 

The goats and alpacas mostly cope fine, as well, but again, they grow a thick coat in the fall, and we give them extra grain as it gets colder outside – the colder it is, the more hay and supplements they get.   We take out warm water twice a day, and they drink their fill immediately.  The buckets freeze over in a couple of hours, or less when it’s really cold.  We’ve found that the goats drink more when the water is taken out warm, rather than cold, and it probably helps them maintain a good temperature.  Some people say that the buckets freeze slower if you use cold water, which may be true, but for the small difference it makes in freezing time, we go with the warm, especially because the goats drink so much more when we take the warm water out.   I have heard of people putting sweaters on their goats, which is probably a good idea in a sudden cold snap; we’ve never done it because we worry they would lose their winter coats.

 

If you are milking in winter, make sure the udder, and especially the teats, are completely dry when you are done.  We minimize trimming the udder as much as possible, and leave some fur, especially on the back, even when we do trim.  I just brush the furry parts of the udder thoroughly with a soft brush before milking to make sure there’s no crud falling into my milk bucket.  I take a towel out with me to dry everyone off after milking.   However, since I’m not fond of milking -30, we’ve taken to drying the girls off by late November.  While this doesn’t maximize our milk production, it does minimize everyone’s discomfort.   We freeze milk and make (and freeze) lots of cheese in the summer, to tide us over.

 

Our biggest issues with the goats has been with kidding during cold snaps.  Our first year, we were kidding in March, and at least four kids came when the temperatures were below -20.  All of those kids got frozen ears, and two lost part or all of their ears.

 

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

 

We’ve since started breeding for kidding in late April or later; this year’s kids will come in mid-May.   I know of breeders with unheated barns who treat kids like day-old chicks; they confine them using straw bales, and hang a heat lamp overtop.  Other breeders keep their kids indoors in playpens for the first couple of weeks.  Either tactic works fairly well if you are bottle feeding, but not if you’re dam-raising your kids.   We’ve learned to keep the pregnant does confined for the last few weeks of their pregnancy, and we do our best to keep the maternity stall well-insulated and draft-free.  The kids are most vulnerable to freezing just after birth when they are wet, so it’s important to make sure they are dried off quickly, which has involved us ‘helping out’ with towels when momma wasn’t working fast enough.   When they are cold, kids tend to stand all hunched up with their back arched, and look really miserable.   If we see that going on for any length of time in cold weather, we bring the kids into the house periodically for ‘warm-up’ sessions, and take them back out to their dams every couple of hours to eat.

 

We’ve had kids collapse from cold before; if you’re quick, they can recover without issue, but you need to get them warm, fast.  We’ve used 2L plastic juice bottles filled with hot water from the tap, wrapped in towels and tucked around the kid.  Remember, too, that kids need extra food when it’s cold, and make sure your does are producing enough, and/or you add a bit extra to the bottles if they’re living in an unheated barn.

 

Cold is not bad if you are prepared for it, but I can imagine it would be awfully miserable if you didn’t have, and couldn’t get, appropriate clothing and supplies.  I know some of my American friends really struggled.  Hopefully everyone has come through okay, and is at least starting to warm up now!

 

Bundled Up

 

 

 

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Social Capital

Every so often, Hubby reminds me that the eggs are building up in the cold room. Especially now that I’m back to work, and we don’t have eggs for breakfast every day, we do sometimes end up with way more than we need. Last summer, we were selling our extras, and that worked out well, but after the fox got a bunch of our hens, we didn’t have enough to fulfill orders anymore, and we got too sporadic for most of our buyers.

 

Not long ago, I got ‘reminded’ that we had six dozen extra eggs downstairs. That’s seventy-two eggs, in case you were counting, which is actually quite a lot! It is not, however, enough to really sell to regular buyers, and not enough to be worth making a special trip into town to sell.

 

Now, we owe a bunch of thanks to a bunch of people around here. The folks up the road who plowed our garden for a cut rate, for instance, and the neighbors who gifted us a hundred and fifty bushels of bin sweepings (waste grain, which makes great chicken feed). People I don’t think we could really adequately thank, or repay.

 

So we took our six dozen eggs and shared the wealth around. Everybody was very happy with them, and wanted to pay us, but you know, I’d much rather have happy neighbors than the money anyhow. Twenty or thirty dollars worth of farm eggs go a long way to strong community relations, and you just can’t put a price tag on that!

 

farm eggs

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In the admin statistics for this blog, I have a record of search terms that led people here.  There are the expected searches, like things relating to goats, or root cellars.  Some are a little surprising.  The top terms that bring people to Rural Dreams are searches for a recipe for rose petal jelly, and searches relating to dogs eating tampons.

 

Then there are the ones that make you wonder.  “Pictures of chickens when defecating”?  Really?  Or “chicken with raggedy bum feathers”?  “Do sun city palm desert garages have rebarb”? Huh?  “Porn”?  When I read that last one out to Hubby, he laughed out loud, and said my blog must have been the very last click on a totally epic night.  How many pages in would you have to be in on google to find this blog with that search?!?

 

Some of the search terms make me wonder if the seekers found what they were looking for.  I even have good answers for some off them, but I don’t know if they’re really typed out, here on the blog.  It’s been bugging me, here are some of the questions, and my answers.

 

How long can you keep unwashed eggs in a root cellar?

 

We’ve kept them in the root cellar for several months, even in the summer.  It does depend to an extent on how cool your root cellar is, but even if it is a cool-ish room temperature, you’ll have a couple of months at minimum, as long as the eggs were fresh from the chicken when you put them down there.  In the UK (and possibly other parts of Europe, though I wasn’t paying enough attention in other countries), they don’t refrigerate eggs at the store or in homes – they are often kept on a basket on the counter.  Of course, the UK doesn’t experience the same sorts of summer temperatures as, say, Texas, so your location does play a role.  However, most root cellars will keep a reasonably stable cool temperature right through the summer, so you should be fine.

 

Also of note, if you have any question about whether your eggs might be good, drop them in a glass that is three- quarters full of water.  If they float, discard them.  If they sink, they’re probably fine.

 

How to melt winter snow quickly for toilet flush?

 

Well, first, don’t flush the toilet if it’s only pee.  That’s a waste of good water.  It takes a few gallons for a satisfactory flush, and it takes something like eight or ten gallons of snow to get one gallon of water.

 

We found the most effective way to melt snow was in large pots on the stove.  One trick, though, is to melt one pot full by continuing to add snow as things melt and compact, then let it get quite warm.  Pour that into a five-gallon bucket of snow (if you have one), and the heat from the water will melt a lot of snow very quickly.

 

If you suspect you will need to flush a number of times, it is efficient to scoop up pots and buckets of snow in the evening and bring them in the house to melt overnight.  Then you can heat the resulting water to melt a bigger bucket-full for flushing.

 

What to do with 20 pounds of cherries?

 

I recommend eating as many as you can.  I am happy to eat both sweet and sour cherries out of hand, but I am odd that way.  They are a pain in the neck to pit.  If you have a cherry pitter, it is a little more manageable, but it is still an awful lot of work.

 

If you are still determined to preserve them, the best way of doing so depends on whether you have sweet cherries or pie (sour) cherries.  Sweet cherries freeze fairly well, especially if you have a vacuum sealer.  Sour cherries are best canned, in my opinion.  I have tried making jam from sweet cherries, and found it fairly bland; pie cherries make a delightful pie filling or jam.  You could also make them into pies, and freeze them that way.

 

Can homemade ice tea stay out on the counter?

 

Yes, but not for more than a couple of days if it is sweetened, especially if it is hot out.  It will, in fact, go off.  Even if it is unsweetened, molds can grow in plain black tea, though unsweetened iced tea would probably last longer than the sweet stuff.  If in doubt, give it a sniff, and you’ll know.   However, to me, the whole point of iced tea is to have a refreshing cold drink, so we normally keep it in the fridge.

 

How long will my infant goat live without food?

 

It depends on the age of the goat kid, but if it is still exclusively nursing, then you probably have hours, not days.   The baby goat gets its liquids from the milk, as well as its nutrition, so the main issue here would be dehydration.  By the time a goat kid is a couple of weeks old, it will start experimenting with nibbling hay and grain, but it may or may not be drinking from a bucket.  If you are desperate, dip your finger into some water, then drip it in the goat’s mouth, or give it some in a baby bottle with the nipple sliced a bit to make the hole bigger.  This will buy you a little time to figure out what to feed it.  If it is a brand-new newborn, however, it needs colostrum right away, which gives it some antibodies to keep it from getting sick.  Without that colostrum, it does not have a very good chance of surviving.

 

Pics of dreaming cute baby?

 

Yup.  We can do sleeping:

 

cute sleeping baby

 

Or waking up:

 

cute baby waking up

 

 

 

 

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Molting

Our chickens are molting.

 

This is a process that started back in November, just as the weather started turning truly crappy.  Considering it involves the loss (and eventual replacement) of all of the chicken’s feathers, I don’t understand why it would happen in the nastiest possible climatic conditions, but that’s just me, and I clearly don’t understand Nature’s bigger picture.

 

Actually, it’s not like the feathers all fall out at once.  They sort of dribble off the chickens, a patch here and there, getting dropped and growing back in over a period of weeks.  This caused some serious confusion for a while, as the chicken coop pretty much constantly looked like a fox or hawk had been in there (feathers everywhere), though a head count always revealed the right number of birds.

 

The downside to molting is the lack of new eggs.  This is not a huge issue for us right now, as we had built up eight or ten dozen in the cold room, on the basis of a Mother Earth News article that had concluded that unwashed farm eggs will store acceptably for months and months at cool temperatures.  So far, we’ve had no problems with keeping eggs for weeks in the cold room, even in summer, so anything we put in there after about October 1 should be fine until spring.  However, our egg stockpile is starting to look a little bare, and we’ll be in trouble (or out of eggs, at least) if they don’t start laying again by Christmas or shortly after.

 

The upside to molting is that our poor hens are getting some feathers back.  Back when we first got the chickens, we got 50 “straight-run” chicks – that means they were un-sorted, and we got roosters as well as hens.  Too many roosters, as it turned out, for the number of hens we had, and our poor hens ended up with all the feathers on their backs ripped out by the constant stream of over-enthusiastic roos.  We did not worry too much about it, but it turned out that those feathers don’t just grow back at the time the way a dog’s fur will; rather, we (they) had to wait for a molt.  Which means our poor hens were naked through last winter, and also through the summer, causing much shivering and also some sunburn.  Poor girls.  Now that we have culled the roosters, our girls will have a reasonable chance of keeping their backs covered, which is good.

 

We had planned to keep a fairly constant stream of new chicks coming in, either through hens going broody, or through ordering them from the Co-op.  However, nature conspired against us on both counts this year, as nobody decided to set a nest, and additionally, I was hugely pregnant and not interested in dealing with chicks in the spring, so there are no new layers picking up the slack while the 2011 girls molt.  We’ll fix that for next year, but this year, we’re kind of out of luck.  I just hope at least one or two girls go back into production soon…

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Yesterday, for some extremely odd reason, I woke up early, with lots of energy.  So I cleaned out the pantry.  I’m clearly crazy.

 

It got me to thinking, though, that I have not really talked a whole bunch about our successes (and failures) with storing our produce from the garden.   With time on my hands, this morning, it seems like a good time to share that information.

 

As you may recall, I canned a lot of jam, jelly, salsa, and fruit this fall.  Most of it is still there.  The jam and jelly and salsa we have been using a bit at a time, but we make tons extra, and give it away as gifts, so I don’t have a set amount to make each year.  We don’t seem to eat a lot of canned fruit through the winter – when we really enjoy it is in the spring and summer, eaten with a spoon in lieu of a meal on a hot day, or served over ice cream.  I did discover, however, that while it is fine to leave the skin on the pears and the nectarines, it is truly essential to skin the peaches prior to canning – the fuzz on my tongue makes me feel like I’m trying to eat a cat.  At any rate, the canning pantry is still quite full, and that’s about what we expected for this time of year.

 

The root cellar has been a mixed success.  We harvested mid-September through mid-October, but there were still a lot of warm days after some of the crops were pulled in.  However, some of the roots (like beets) don’t like frost, and our first frost came mid-September, so Nature set our harvest date for us.  We were expecting a hard freeze and even heavy snow by Halloween, which would be normal enough for this area, but in fact, we did not get real cold and snow until mid-November.  Oh, well.  Better to harvest a little early than to lose the harvest entirely!

 

The root cellar started out fairly humid, as the basement had been flooded in the spring, due to a water delivery fellow who did not know where the hole for filling the cistern was, and chose wrong – the dirt floor of the root cellar absorbed a fair bit of water.  However, our furnace is in the basement, and has really dried things out down there.  We put most of the root veggies (except the potatoes) in plastic rubbermaid containers, covered with garbage bags (that we could move on or off to control the humidity), in order to prevent them from drying out too much.  That has worked better for some things than others, and we’ve had occasional problems with mold, as a result.

 

The turnips, most of which had some level of worm damage, had to be disposed of in late November or early December.  Some, we cut the mushy bits off and fed to the goats, but a lot of them just had to be composted.  When they went, it was very fast; a couple of weeks prior, I had taken out a turnip for soup, and had not noticed any issues with the rest of the bag.  If we have bees next fall, we might try cutting out the damaged bits and waxing them, but I’m not willing to dip my food in paraffin, which is a petroleum product, so we did not do that this year.  Apparently, due to the amount of canola (a relative of turnips, broccoli, and cabbage) grown in this area, turnip pests are heavy and endemic, and we have been told we are doing well if we get any crop at all, especially without spraying, so we’re not too disappointed with our results.

 

The beets are still going strong.  They have not gotten moldy, wrinkly, mushy, or otherwise disgusting.  Too bad we did not get much of a harvest, as they look to be one of the big successes in the cellar.

 

The carrots are doing so-so.  We had early problems with rot from too much humidity, but now we’re finding an awful lot of limp, wrinkly roots that taste bitter.  There are still a lot of good ones, but Hubby is saying he does not think they’ll last much into February, at the rate we’re going.  Given that we harvested something in the realm of 200 pounds, we will have plenty of carrots right up until they get too gross to eat.  Happily, the non-wrinkly carrots still taste fantastic.

 

I can see why potatoes are a staple in northern climates.  They are all still fine, almost as crunchy as the day we harvested them, with no special care at all.  We just dumped them in burlap sacks in the root cellar and ignored them, really.  We used the blemished ones early – we assumed that the scars from the digging fork would probably cause them to rot early – but we have not found a single rotten potato yet at all.

 

We bought a 20 pound bag of cabbages from the store in the fall – sometime before Halloween – they were very cheap, and I wanted to know how well they would store.  Some of the outer leaves have gotten dried out, but you just peel off the top few layers, and the cabbage underneath is fine.  They will clearly do well in our cellar.

 

We’ve also been keeping eggs in the root cellar, as we’ve long since run out of room in the fridge – there’s four dozen in the cellar, and two dozen in the fridge, right at the moment.  We really weren’t prepared for winter eggs. The cellar seems to keep them just fine, and we’ve eaten eggs out of there that were several weeks old, and they were as tasty as the ones from the fridge.  I’ve read that you can store fresh, unwashed eggs in the fridge for up to 9 months, or up to 2 or 3 months on the counter, so presumably the root cellar is a fine place for them.

 

We did not keep the onions in the root cellar; they and the winter squash went in an unused bedroom with the furnace vent covered, so they stayed cool and dry.  We had one squash (a very small one, probably immature when we picked it) go bad in December, but the rest are still fine.  We’ve picked out the odd mushy onion, but they are also going strong.

 

The tomatoes were mostly goners in late November and early December.

 

We still have some frozen fruit from prior years, but we are going to have to freeze up quite a lot more this year, as I am absolutely burning through it right now.  We did not put much fruit in the freezer this year, as we did not find the local U-pick operations in time.   Hopefully, the strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries we planted will start bearing this year or next, and we can just freeze our own, though I question if we will really have enough to be able to get through the whole year.

 

We figured out our annual corn quota a few years ago, and we’re on track to have enough again this year.  I wish we’d had more peas to freeze, though.  We’ve got plenty of green beans; probably even more than we’ll use this year, as it has been so mild we’ve not really been making soup, which is where I usually go through the bulk of my frozen beans.

 

We are still buying a lot from the store, especially dairy and fresh fruit and veggies, as, with me being pregnant, we need to keep up eating lots of good, fresh food.  However, our days of buying frozen fruit and veggies from anywhere else are over, and I am impressed with the beets and potatoes.  I don’t imagine the root cellar will carry us all the way through to the early harvests in July, but I am curious how close we’ll get.   All in all, I am happy with these early attempts at feeding ourselves from our own land, though we still have lots to learn!

 

 

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First Eggs

We got our chickens as day-old chicks at the very end of May.  They are dual-purpose heritage breed chickens – Barred Rocks, Plymouth Rocks, and Red and Silver Laced Wyandottes.  The girls will lay plenty of eggs, though not quite as many as a true laying breed, and the boys will get pretty big, though not quite as meaty as a true meat breed.  The hatchery also sent us some ‘bonus’ chicks, of unknown breeds.  We ordered ‘straight run’, meaning we got what hatched, rather than getting just girls.  In effect, about half of our chickens are roosters.  Our plan was to keep the girls for the eggs, and maybe a couple of roosters so we could hatch next year’s chicks ourselves, and butcher the rest of the roosters for the freezer.

Of course, butchering did not happen as scheduled – between back problems, a cold, the boys being here, another cold, another visit from the boys, and now crappy, snowy weather, we still have as many roosters as we started with.  Sooner or later, though, something will have to happen with them, as they are so aggressive with the hens that the girls all fly out of the coop and yard at the first opportunity, and go hang out in the barn or scratch around in the grass by the house, or else risk losing half the feathers on their backs from aggressive roosters trying to mount, often two or thee at a time.  We could clip their wing feathers to make it harder for them to fly, but we haven’t the heart, seeing the treatment they get from the roosters.

I did not really expect eggs from the hens until next spring – heritage breeds mature a little slower than other types, and the hens were not expected to begin laying before 6 months of age.  From what I had read, chickens need a certain number of daylight hours to trigger laying – something like 12 or 14, but certainly more than we get in Saskatchewan in late November.  September 22nd was the Autumn Equinox, the last time we’ll see a full 12 hours of daylight until the Spring Equinox in late March.  Today’s sunrise was 8:23am, and sunset will be 5:11pm, so we’re getting just under 9 hours of daylight right now, or would be if it hadn’t been overcast and snowing for the last three days.

So, you can imagine my surprise when, the day before yesterday, Hubby came in with a little green egg.  He had found it in the baskets of hay he had prepared for the goats – we had not bothered to build nesting boxes for the hens, yet, as we weren’t really expecting them to lay in the winter.  Apparently, one of the bonus chickens turned out to be some variety of Easter Egger hen – likely an Auracauna or Americauna – they lay blue and green eggs.  Yesterday, Hubby found one green and one little brown egg, so the Easter Egger is not the only one getting busy.   The eggs are quite teeny – apparently hens work their way up to laying full size eggs – and they’re really very cute.  With around 20 hens, if they all get going, we’ll be drowning in eggs soon…

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