It has finally warmed up and i moved my laying hens out of their winter abode in the garden into their new safe haven of a fenced lot in the pasture. I then move them about once a week, depending on forage availability during the growing season. Now, warm weather, sunshine, lengthening daylight, and out on pasture make happy hens lay oodles of eggs.
When i posted these photos on Facebook, one fellow suggested, ‘ Eggs are hard to come by at some of the big city grocery stores these days… you might wanna put those up on Amazon (:’
Given the expense and logistics of shipping a very breakable commodity, it’s just not worth the cost, so i end up giving away extras to people who help me throughout the year and will never accept a payment. Plus, nobody is going to pay what it actually costs to produce them. Springtime provides a lot of eggs, but the supply will dwindle as the daylight hours are shortened and as hens get older. Prime laying is only through their third year of life (max!)
Please know, however, that i don’t just give them away willy nilly (i do like to give them to people who do things for me but will never take payment) because it harms those who are trying to make a living at it. In a similar fashion, when US Aid sends tons of grain as a ‘help’ to other countries, it drives down the market price for the local farmers scratching out a living. Much the same happens here when our markets are opened to meat that is produced overseas for far less than what we can produce it here. Free stuff is never free.
In the United States, many of us automatically think of an InSinkErator, which is a brand of electrically run mechanical grinder of food which then flushes it all down the drain for someone else to deal with. It is attached to a kitchen drain and mounted underneath.
I remember when i was growing up, we had one. There was always a good respect for its power – keep fingers and spoons out of them! However, as an adult, i’ve never had one and honestly never missed it. Now, i wonder why one would ever need this type of garbage disposal. Natural processes are excellent at garbage disposal – especially food scraps and other organic stuff.
But, garbage disposal is actually just a term that describes various ways to dispose of garbage. Your location and occupation often determines your definition of garbage and how you may dispose of it. If you have too much; it might be time to make a plan to reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle, repair.
In my world, food scraps are not garbage – either they are composted, (i’m lazy and just throw them out on the garden spot to break down over time, or if i’m really energetic, i may get a spade and bury them) or i feed them to our pastured laying hens (chooks), but chicken scraps go to the dog – (i never feed chicken bones and such to chickens – it just seems wrong). Fruit from fruit trees almost always produce far more than i’m willing to preserve in some fashion, so the extra is allowed to fall, rot, and provide fodder for soil microbes which in turn provides fertilizer for the tree.
There are some amazingly attractive kitchen sized compost bins available. Here are some on Amazon, but i’ve never tried any of them. Do some research before purchasing – you sure don’t want smell and/or flies in your house!
But, by and large, we have very few scraps. Leaves from broccoli and cauliflower, for example, make awesome replacement for celery or other similar greens. This goes for nearly all greens attached to vegetables. The core from tomatoes go to the chooks; they love them! Beef fat goes to the chooks for extra protein they need when bugs are in short supply outdoors. (As an aside, if you are buying eggs that are labeled as vegetarian raised chickens, the label is either a lie or the hens are in confinement – either crowded in a floored building or in a cage.)
There is a lot of hue and cry about being ‘green’, but as is usual, the ones crying the loudest are often the ones living the least ‘green’ and the biggest wasters of natural resources. They are the crowd who shout ‘do as i say, not as i do’ while they manipulate regulations to suck cash out of your pocket and put it in theirs.
We can all do better at managing resources – we are, by and large, a wasteful country because we are blessed with so much abundance.
Allen is working his calves today and Monday (mine are tomorrow) – it’s time for their second round of vaccinations and some fall calving cows need pregnancy checking. Weather is perfect except super windy. My job is to prepare lunch for the guys for whenever they arrive. It’s ready now (11:30), and i was notified that they’ll be in probably about 1p. Hopefully, all will go smoothly.
Beef short ribs offered with BBQ sauce
Homegrown slow simmered green beans with onions and garlic
Paraguayan Corn Bread (this is a new recipe for me i’ve made a few times this week – adding this one to my lineup and will post recipe soon)
So we have some traveling hens. Brett took these chooks for a ride on the pickup to the North place, where apparently they hung out for about 15 minutes, then continued their bumpy muddy gravel road journey to Highway Y, pulled in at the Neal farm and loaded two big bales of hay then continued to Brook road, another mile west on Brook road (another muddy, hilly gravel road. Cord drive was too muddy for a pickup, so Brett held up there to unload the hay for tractor to pick up and continue another mile to take out hay. It was during that down time, the hens apparently decided they’d had enough travel and hopped down to make themselves known. Dallas caught them and they scored an up front ride home. Never a lack of entertainment on the farm.
How did they go unnoticed for 22 miles? The only answer must be that they were settled on top the spare tire which is bolted underneath the bed of the pickup.
Should be enjoying fresh pullet sized eggs in about 3 months.
From delivery of chicks to first pullet eggs is typically about 6 months.
25 female chicks (26 actually, but 2 were roosters and one hen is deformed) – $100
Starter feed – 3 bags each 30 lbs at $90
Mixed feed about 1 gallon (or 4 lbs) per day: $2.20 per day times 120 days – $396
Labor for 180 days varies, but averages about 20 minutes a day at $15/hr – $900
So before 25 hens are even laying or producing anything at all, your backyard laying hen project has invested a total of $1486. That’s a lot of eggs you could have bought at $4/dozen. But now that they are laying, there should be about 1 1/2 years of good laying, but of course the feed and labor expenses continue. Labor will slightly increase because I’ll be moving the chicken tractor to fresh grass everyday and collecting, sorting, washing (if needed), and packaging the eggs EVERYDAY.
Total costs (not including building the brooder and chicken tractor): $1486
So figuring forward:
Feed for 1.5 years (540 days @ $2.20) – $1188
Labor at $15/hr for 30 minutes a day – $2025
Egg cartons if you buy them are at least 50 cents (281 cartons) each: $140
Assuming a lay rate of 1 egg per two days (this is an average including a harsh winter where costs will continue but few eggs will be laid) per hen (times 25 hens) – 3375 eggs
(270 days/2 = 135 times 25 hens – 3375 eggs)
Total costs during laying period of 1 1/2 years – $3353
Final costs of raising 25 chicks to laying age plus production for 1 1/2 years: $4839
Cost per potential dozen (281 dozens): $17.22
Value of spent hens is negated completely by labor costs associated with butchering.
All this assuming that in one night along any part of this route, a fox, raccoon, neighbour’s dog or coyote doesn’t come in an annihilate all your hens.
Now winter laying could be increased somewhat by keeping heat and light on the hens.
Certainly, i could be the typical farmer and say ‘well….if i don’t count my time….but that would be unfair, right? He’s taken ALL the risk, done all the labor, built all the infrastructure, and cared for them every single day. If i removed all the labor costs from the scenario, cost per dozen is $6.63/dozen.
Why am i doing this? good question. it’s ridiculous actually, except i cannot buy eggs from hens on pasture being fed non-gmo and mostly organic grains in our part of the world and they do taste better and have more nutrients (according to various tests).
These are real costs to produce eggs from hens on pasture, not inflated or overpriced. Lowering production costs is easy – stacked cages with 67 to 76 square inches of usable space per hen being fed well balanced diet of conventional grains and no chance of being eaten by predators. Automated egg sorting, washing, and packaging. Find employees who will work for minimum wage or less in dusty conditions. Tightly confined conditions allows for fewer employees. Hens will be allowed to lay for less than a year (until first moult) and then replaced to maintain high production year round. This part can also be done on pasture raised as well and would be a good idea. Production drops considerably after that first moult, so replacing them with younger, higher producing hens would reduce costs a little.
On Sunday afternoon, i threw a thawed 4 ish lb sirloin roast into a small electric roaster. I must admit, i use this little roast unrelentingly, yet only paid $5 for the thing! It was at a church fundraising bazaar and that is the price marked on it. I did not like the noisy little fan on the air roaster, so it was simply removed and the holecovered with tape. Done and done.
Day 1: Sliced roast with smashed sweet potato and fresh salad. Not much more to say, very delicious, simple, and filling. Pictured here is one small smashed sweet potato and about 3.5 ounces of beef roast and a ubiquitous power salad.
Day 2 – Beef & Vegetable Soup – was planning something else, but my husband came up croupy and sick with a cold, so switched gears to make a cold buster soup. Mix the broth created when the roast was cooking with the cooking water from the sweet potato preparation for a nutritionally powerful base for adding sliced carrots, diced scrubbed potatoes with skins, finely chopped onion, minced garlic, sliced celery, then salt and pepper to taste. The broth is strong, but i added 2-3 oz of roast chopped into small pieces to this dish. All in all this yielded about 5 cups of deliciousness. Bring to slight boil, then simmer 20 minutes, but longer doesn’t hurt, just mind keeping on the lid so the moisture doesn’t get away. Feel free to add water for a thinner soup.
Day 3: Crumbled roast in Scrambled eggs (Egg Frittata)
This is my go to when i’m short on time for anything – don’t even need meat. Saute a finely chopped small onion in the saved fat drippings from cooking the roast. After a couple minutes, cut or chop fresh spinach into the skillet, stir those around until softened, then add as much crumbled roast as you want, then add eggs. This is one of the recipes where you can add as much or as little as you need to make the meal. Plus, dress it up even more with sliced fresh mushrooms, sliced black olives, shredded cheese. Or exchange the spinach with any leftover greens you have in the frig.
Day 4: Cubed roast beef with smashed potatoes and white sauce, steamed broccoli
Since i used all the broth for the sick day soup, white gravy made with milk will be a great substitute. Onions are for healing, so finely chopped and sauteed in the beef fat before adding flour and milk creates more robust and healthful gravy.
Day 5 – Roast Beef Salad – an old fashioned favourite
To squeeze out another power soup, use the cooking water from potatoes and steamed broccoli – chop onions, carrots, and the stems of the broccoli – add to the water and bring to a boil. Season with salt, pepper, and even parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme to boost flavour if you like. Although i seldom use rosemary or thyme simply because i don’t like them!
So, there’s a small example of roast flexibility, whatever it’s worth!
Final three days of testing for chooks verifies eating/trampling about 3/4s of a pound of grass per chicken per day. We’ve had about 7 inches of rain, however, on the last 6 days of testing and they really had scratched out some mud holes. In weather like this, they really need moving more often to avoid bare spots. Open soil not protected by forage will invariably be eroded by weather.
Egg production has stayed at 7 eggs per day. After this trial, their grain offering will increase up to whatever they’ll clean up in a day – probably close to 3-4 lbs per day for the lot of 14 hens.
They are over two years old, so that may have something to do with decreased production as well as the constant rain and no sunshine will also cause stress. That has certainly caused stress to all of our livestock and people as well. However, our hearts go out to those who are flooded beyond imagination.
Next project is to build a 7 ft by 16 foot low profile chicken tractor with little wheels light enough to be pulled by hand. Hopefully, this will take out the chore of moving all that electric netting!