Chester the Chicken Hawk Update
I want to thank all of you for your gracious outpouring regarding our chicken deaths. Apologies for those of you who read my last post and thought that the chicken hawk wiped out our entire flock. I originally started with 15 chickens and 3 guinea hens. Chester ate 7 of the chickens, leaving us with 8 hens and 3 guinea hens. Here’s something pretty coincidental or creepy, depending on how you look at things. When I posted that I had an unwanted rooster, Chester the Chicken Hawk ate him the next day. Then on my last post, I wrote how Chester had killed seven of our hens and how devastated we were. Since my last post, we have NOT lost a single hen! Is Chester merely a manifestation of my internal desires? Chester, if you are reading this, I do not want you near our coop!
We Got Our First Egg!
Chickens have the equivalent of a photovoltaic cell in their eyes. Longer daylight hours trigger the hens to start reproducing and thus lay eggs. Most commercial hen-houses have coop lights on timers, to fool the chickens into laying eggs year round. I did not want to go this route because each chicken has a finite number of eggs. Forcing a hen to lay during the winter will reduce the effective lifespan of a hen (and with wifey’s no-kill policy, I did not want several dozen chickens that were essentially useless pets.
Imagine our surprise when we got our first egg! This winter has been especially mild in the North East U.S., and accordingly the hens do not have to spend as much energy keeping themselves warm. Add this to the infrared heater that wifey bought for the birds, and the hens are toasty warm in their coop (I tried preventing wifey from buying this, because the chickens I bought are especially winter hardy).
From the 8 hens, we get approximately 4-6 eggs a day. That is a good average for chickens, and great for the winter! When I initially selected my birds, in addition to selecting breeds that are winter-hardy, I got a selection of white, brown and blue layers. Yes, you heard that right, blue eggs! The breed I got are called Araucana, and are nicknamed “Easter Eggers” because they lay eggs that are blue to turquoise to green. And, no, because they are green on the outside, does NOT mean that they are green on the inside, although I have fooled a couple of folks, telling them that Dr. Seuss created his story about “Green Eggs and Ham” precisely because the yolks are green.
The Case For Not Washing Eggs
There is an enormous amount of debate in the poultry world about whether or not to wash eggs after harvesting. In the U.S., egg washing was mandatorily implemented by the USDA after a particularly nasty outbreak of salmonella in the 1970s. In Europe, however, egg washing is strictly prohibited. What gives?
When hens lay eggs, out with the egg is a cuticle called a bloom that surrounds the egg similar to the way a wax job protects your car’s finish. This cuticle protects the eggs from bacteria. There is a theory that Washing dirty eggs removes the bloom and invites bacteria to be drawn inside the egg. And washing eggs in cool water actually creates a vacuum, pulling unwanted bacteria inside even faster.
According to Fooducate.com, EU directives state that washing eggs “may favour [sic] trans-shell contamination with bacteria and moisture loss and thereby increase the risk to consumers.”
“To summarize, European eggs are not refrigerated, not washed, and end up sickening less people than here. The U.S. is more effective at producing low cost eggs, cleans the poop off, and requires refrigeration. Yet in 2010, half a billion eggs were recalled after potentially being tainted with salmonella.
But what about salmonella statistics? In that, there seems to have never been any definitive studies (at least that I could find), but it would seem on the surface that the European method is the winner. (Though there are uncontrolled factors that could potentially be skewing the numbers, so take this with a very large grain of salt.) On average, there are approximately 142,000 cases of egg-related salmonella poisoning in the United States every year according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is approximately 1 in 2,200 people infected every year (give or take depending on whether an individual is a repeat offender in a given year). In contrast, in England and Wales in 2009, there were just 581 cases of egg-related salmonella poisoning, or about 1 in 95,000. Notably, before the British started vaccinating their chickens in the late 1990s in response to a major egg-induced salmonella outbreak, in 1997 there were 14,771 cases of egg related salmonella poisoning in England and Wales, or 1 in 3,700.
One of the best ways of controlling a salmonella outbreak is controlling the cleanliness of the coop. Accordingly, we change the bedding pretty frequently adding wood shavings and bedding for the chickens. For those eggs that have a bit of poop on them, we use sandpaper to wipe them away. After handling eggs, we ALWAYS wash our hands.
Best Ways to Store Your Eggs – Refrigeration or Not?
Mother Earth News has an excellent article about an egg storage test. They found that unwashed eggs stored at room temperature easily lasted 8 weeks or two months. Commercial farmers immediately refrigerate their eggs because the USDA mandated egg-washing and washed eggs do not last as long as unwashed eggs at room temperature. Once refrigerated, eggs need to be constantly refrigerated. According to Marianne Gravely, technical information specialist at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, “[Washed] eggs shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours,” “There is no way to know if a shell egg is pathogen-free. Food poisoning bacteria don’t affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a ood.”
Eggs don’t need to be refrigerated, but one day out on the counter at room temperature is equivalent to about a week in the refrigerator, so we are not planning to eat them for a while, we will refrigerate the eggs. Unwashed eggs will last three months or more in the refrigerator. Washed eggs will last at least two months in the refrigerator but won’t taste as fresh as unwashed eggs of the same age.
Let’s Break the Internet with this Egg Giveaway
So our 11 hens are averaging about 7 eggs per day. We get a mixture of very dark brown guinea eggs, dark brown eggs from the Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire Red, light brown from my two Barred Rocks, white from my two Leghorn Hens (please do not ask whether we named one of them Foghorn) and green and blues from my two Araucana mentioned above.
I’m willing to give away a few farm dozen of our fresh, free-grazed organic eggs. There are three ways to win a free dozen eggs.
- The FB post/tweet with the most likes. Please use the hashtag, #FreeEggs.
- Person with the most subscription referrals. One entry for each person that you get to subscribe. Have that person reply to the subscription email confirmation that I send to them.
- Most creative post to this blog below.
Eggs can be picked up here at AlIris Farms, or if you prefer, I can ship them to you – another benefit of not refrigerating our eggs is that we can mail them without refrigeration.