Chickens as "Teenagers"
I joined the farm team recently and toured the ranch one bitterly cold day in February. In that short three hours,
I learned so much! For now, I’ll share about the egg-laying ladies.
The first thing Monte showed me was the chickens. We pulled up, stepped over a thin netted “fence” and approached two eggmobiles - imagine big, walled tents that can be wheeled around behind cows daily. One had the laying chickens, and the other had what Monte referred to as the pullets. I had never heard that term before so Monte helped me understand a bit more.
Before I get into what a pullet is, I’ll describe some very cool things that I learned about the Grateful Graze eggmobiles. Believe it or not, they have a solar-powered door that moves up and down similar to a garage door. It closes very slowly at sundown, giving enough time for the hens to return for the evening. Chickens like to congregate to sleep at night, usually perching on the various levels of planks and pipes. When the doors close for the evening, the farm dogs continue to keep watch, protecting the hens at all times. The hens are highly sought after by country predators, hence the netted fence, solar-powered enclosed tent, and the adorable, highly-focused guard dogs. Once inside, another noteworthy observation caught my eye and that is that the tray that catches the eggs inside the laying box is sloped ever so slightly. The slope allows the egg to gently roll away from where it might get pooped on, and makes it easier to pick up. It’s the simple things!
Back to the pullets. When it comes to laying hens (vs. meat chickens), there are chicks, pullets, and hens. Chicks as we know are cute and fluffy. Hens are much larger with feathers. In between those two life stages, is the pullet, usually from around 4 weeks to 6 months. Although to the untrained eye like mine, they look like a chicken, they’re not fully grown. The feathers form and are smooth, shiny and close together. The comb and the waggle (the red fleshy things on the top of the head and under the beak), are forming, but are still small. Pullets are pretty energetic and scare easily. Most importantly, they aren’t physically developed enough to lay eggs.
Once chicks are old enough to move into an eggmobile, they stay in their own accommodations for a few weeks before mingling with the older gals. Their energy levels are different, their confidence is different, and some grappling could take place if they were just thrown in together. They are first allowed time to get used to the new environment, then they're introduced to their new roommates.
Assuming proper care and nutrition, first eggs, although tiny, magically appear around 18 weeks of age, give or take. Discovering a hen’s first egg is a thrill. Consistent egg production is a sign of happy, healthy hens. Amazingly, a happy hen will lay an egg almost daily.
As of the time of this writing, the pullets at Grateful Graze Ranch 226 have been introduced to the hens and have started laying eggs. Also in play is the law of nature with spring/summer approaching and hours of daylight increasing, hens will naturally lay more eggs. So let’s see, currently, we have 470 laying chickens and pullets at Grateful Graze, and approximately an egg a day each, and what do you have with this state of affairs - LOTS OF EGGS!
Here are just a few eggcellent egg ideas:
- Pound Cake - usually takes at least 6 eggs
- Frittata - crustless quiche, versatile and very simple to make
- Angel/Deviled Eggs - get creative - add green onions, capers, GG bacon, mix the yolk with avocado or hummus, top with everything bagel seasoning
- Egg in a Hole - cut a hole in a slice of bread, butter the bread, and toast in a pan on medium heat. Crack an egg in the center and fry it up. Crumbled GG bacon on top...why not.
- Eggs Benedict and Hollandaise Sauce
- Huevos Rancheros - eggs (typically over-easy), and tortillas smothered in sauce/salsa
- Fried Egg Sandwiches throw on a slice of GG cottage bacon
- Boiled Egg Snacks - shake a little s&p and you’re all set
- Top off a salad - spinach salad with bacon, sauteed mushrooms, and hard-boiled egg
- Egg Salad - serve on sandwiches or crackers
- Chilaquiles - fry tortillas pieces, top with fried or scrambled eggs, salsa, and cheese
- Frittatas/Quiche - Click here for a delicious, yet simple, frittata recipe
- Dog/Cat Food Scrambles - eggs are great for pets, just make sure they’re cooked thoroughly without oils and spices
- Bless a friend - give a dozen to anyone and make their day!