Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Eggs are a pretty incredible food, and one of the easiest to produce in your own backyard. All you need are a few hens and, with appropriate space and care, you’ll be collecting them in no time. Why are eggs such a great food? And what can you do with them when your hens are producing more than you can eat? Here are a few fun facts on eggs for poultry farmers everywhere.
Why are eggs different colors?
Eggs come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. There are a lot more options than the simple white or brown you see on grocery store shelves. Breeds like Marans lay dark chocolate-colored eggs, Ameraucanas lay blue eggs, Olive Eggers produce deep green ones, and there are any number of specklings and shadings within each color variety.
How do your hens do this? Egg shells are produced over a period of about 20 hours, and as they travel through your chicken’s oviduct certain pigments are released. For example, Ameraucana’s produce a pigment called oocyanin, while brown egg layers produce more protoporhyrin. There is no known reason why different breeds produce different pigments, but because this process takes place at the very end of egg production and only tints the outside of the shell, there is no taste difference between the different shades of eggs.
You can somewhat tell what color eggs a chicken will lay by the color of their earlobes. White earlobes indicate a white egg layer, while red lobed hens will lay brown, blue, green, or chocolate eggs. Chicken’s Easter bunny like laying abilities make them great starting animals for kids, who will love collecting rainbows from the nesting boxes.
Do you need a rooster?
The simple answer to the most common misconception about eggs is no. You don’t need a rooster to get eggs from your hens, who will lay happily with a flock of mixed sexes, all girls, or even if they are kept by themselves. The only reason you need a rooster is to get fertilized eggs from your hens, necessary if you want to hatch your own chicks. If you live in an urban area, you may find that local ordinances do not allow you to keep a rooster. Don’t worry, you can still get fresh eggs!
What’s the most unusual egg recipe?
There are plenty of wild and crazy egg dishes from around the world. It is a universal cuisine that has been enjoyed for centuries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Century egg is a Chinese delicacy that dates back over 500 years, while balut is a Filipino dish of duck eggs incubated to 17 days. You won’t be making those in your backyard, however.
Hard-boiled eggs can be pickled with different flavors and spices, and jars of pickled eggs used to be a common sight in bars as a snack food. Pickled eggs are a great way to use up a quantity of eggs, and make an easy treat to keep in your pantry. Eggs can also be baked in all manner of different dishes, and tea eggs are an Oriental dish similar to pickled eggs, with a spicy tea flavor.
What makes eggs so healthy?
Eggs are full of healthy nutrients and important proteins. While eggs are high in cholesterol - about 186 mg per egg - they contain HDL instead of LDL, which is considered the good kind of cholesterol. Eggs are also full of vitamin B2 and important minerals like zinc and iron. Thanks to their high vitamin content they are great for heart health and maintaining strong bones, among other benefits.
How are eggs used outside the kitchen?
Not only can egg shells be painted in beautiful and surprising ways for Easter, the yolks can be used to make traditional paints. Throughout history painters have mixed egg tempera paints, easy to mix and use on a variety of surfaces. Egg whites can be part of an at home hair conditioner, and the shells make great starting containers for seeds who will use them as fertilizer while they grow.
Can chickens eat eggs?
Absolutely! Egg shells offer your hens great nutritional benefits. A chicken has to use a lot of calcium to produce egg shells, and therefore egg laying hens need extra calcium in their diets. The easiest source for calcium is reused egg shells: simply crush them into small pieces so your chickens won’t start eating whole eggs from their nesting boxes. Because eggs are full of all those good proteins, they are also healthy for your chickens to eat in cooked or raw form, but again be careful about how you feed them so you don’t end up with hens eating your fresh eggs.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200 year old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.
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