Our New Chickens

When I put out the call to you, our readers, to name the ideal urban chicken I got a call from my friend Craig Ruggless of Winnetka Farms. He said something like, “Duh, the Barnevelder, of course!” Craig and his partner Gary Jackemuk have an ambitions breeding program to take the Barnevelder from show chicken back to farm chicken. So far the results are impressive.

I took this as a message that I should fix my run and get ready for some new chickens. This weekend, I picked up four new pullets from Winnetka Farms, all crosses between a Barnevelder and an Americauna. I call them “Winnetkavelders.”

The Barnevelder, according to Craig and Gary, are a great dual purpose breed that is both heat and cold tolerant. They also take well to confinement.

The “Winnetkavelders” that now live at the root simple compound have an unusual characteristic. At least one of the pullets is laying an olive green egg:

Hmm. This color may not display correctly. Basically, the green-ish egg they lay is exactly the color of a cocktail olive. Not one of those fancy (and suspiciously) bright green olives, but the true drab olive you’ll find in your typical dive bar martini olive. (No offense to the hens! We’re just talking color here.) Yesterday we were joking with a friend that we should paint red pimento spots on the end.

This is the result of crossing the blue/green egg color of the Americauna with the dark brown of the Barnevelder. Another of the Winnetkavelders is laying an amazing dark brown egg like a purebred Barnevelder and a third is laying a green/olive egg with brown spots. They’ve been very productive and are taking well to their new surroundings.

A big thanks to Craig and Gary!

Vital Farms: Pasture Raised, Organic Eggs at Whole Foods

Image from the Vital Farms blog.

Over the weekend I attended the Natural Products Expo West, a massive health food industry convention. Yes, indeed, Fabio was in attendance selling some sort of powdered supplement and I may have seen Ziggy Marley packing up his own bottles of “Coco’Mon” coconut oil. Such are the indignities one encounters on the downward arc of a career in reggae music or romance book cover modeling.

Out of the nearly 2,000 exhibitors of, frankly, health food store junk food, one stood out: Vital Farms, purveyors of eggs from pasture raised hens. The overwhelming majority of eggs in this country are laid by chickens crammed into small cages or, arguably worse, crammed into big sheds.  “Free range,” “cage free” and “organic,” mean absolutely nothing. What makes Vital Farms different is that the eggs they sell were laid by chickens who live outside, during the day, on pasture. Their spokesperson offered to let me tour the farms they contract with, something that, I doubt, any of the big egg producers would offer.

The Cornocopia Institute gives them a “five egg (exemplary)” rating, citing their rotational grazing methods, abstinence from the practice of beak trimming and year round outdoor access for the hens. Vital Farms contracts with several farms in Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia. Their eggs are available nationwide at Whole Foods and they have expanded into meat chickens.

Now, hopefully, I can recover from the spectral celebrity hallucinations induced by downing hundreds of free samples of things like pro-biotic frozen pizza (I’m not making this up) and caveman power bars. Perhaps a pasture raised egg omelet will wipe away my açaí berry hangover.

Thanks to Dale Benson for suggesting attending this event and for driving, spending a half hour finding a parking space and pointing out Ziggy Marley or someone who resembled Ziggy Marley packing up those bottles of coconut oil.

Help Us Find the Ideal Urban Chicken Breed

Townes Van Zandt with chicken

We are in the market for new hens and lately it has occurred to us that the best breed criteria for our situation is not a breed which lays most frequently, but a breed which maintains its egg production as it matures–even if that means that it doesn’t produce as many eggs per week as a typical high production hen.

Does that make sense? Because Erik is such a soft touch, we have to maintain a nursing home for hens. It would be great if our ladies would continue to contribute eggs into their dotage. It is less important that they are daily producers in their youth, because the two of us can’t eat that many eggs.

This is not what hens are bred for–I understand that. Laying hens are bred to give as much as they can for two years, after which they are usually culled. Long term laying isn’t much of a consideration. But I thought this trait might be more apparent in some of the heritage breeds.

Let me know if you have an old hen still laying, and what kind of hen she is.

Erik adds this: In The One-Straw Revolution Masanobu Fukuoka mentions he has just such a hen–but he doesn’t go on to tell us the name. Anyone know about Fukuoka’s chickens?

Is This Egg Good?

From left: Very Fresh • Pretty Fresh • Bad • Cat

When you’re wondering about the age of an egg, put it in glass of water.

Really fresh eggs lie on the bottom the glass, flat. These are the eggs you want for poaching and other dishes where the egg is the star.

If one end bobs up a bit, as does the middle egg above, the egg is older, but still good. The upward tilt can be more extreme than it is in this picture. In fact, the egg can even stand up straight, just so long as it is still sitting on the bottom of the glass. The egg in picture above is just a tiny bit past absolutely fresh, but still very suitable for egg dishes. If it were standing up a little more, I’d use it for baking or hard boiling. Indeed, older eggs are best for hard boiling, because fresh eggs are impossible to peel.

What you don’t want to see is a floating egg. A floating egg is a bad egg. (Like a witch!) Old eggs float because the mass inside the egg decreases–dries out–over time, making it lighter. I personally don’t trust any floating egg, but I do know that other people draw a distinction between eggs that float low and eggs that float high, and only discard the high floaters. And I honor their courage.