To each hen her own egg

Barnavelder Auricauna cross eggs

As of June we’ll have had our new hens for a year, and we’re very pleased with them. They’re unusual hybrids. They’re a cross between a Barnevelder, a pretty utility/show breed named after the Dutch town where it was developed, and the more popular Ameraucana.  We got them from our friends at Winnetka Farms, who raise Barnevelders and tried this cross as an experiment.

They’re very nice hens. Pretty. Mild-mannered. Quiet. There’s never any squabbling or pecking. And then are prolific layers of big eggs with big yolks. And here’s what’s interesting: Barnevelders lay brown eggs. Ameraucanas are known for their blue to green eggs. Our “Winnetkavelders” each lay a distinct color egg.

We posted about this when they started laying, but as the hens got older, their eggs became even more distinct, so I thought it worth another mention. All four hens look the identical, but their eggs are different, each expressing different aspects of their parentage. One is classic Barnevelder brown, one is speckled, one is light olive green and the other dark olive drab. The picture doesn’t capture the olives at all.

It’s useful to be able to associate each hen with her egg, so you know if there are any problems with her laying. Unfortunately, these four ladies look so much alike–and tend to visit the nesting box in pairs–so we haven’t been able to ID their eggs yet. Closer surveillance is required!


And while we’re talking chickens —

Update on chicken integration:

Regular readers may remember that we had to integrate Handsome, the surviving elder hen from our last flock, with this new flock. This involved many stages, but no violence, thankfully.

At first, the new flock shunned Handsome. Handsome, a five-year old Ameraucana, who’d had only us humans for company for months, seemed sad. Then the tables turned and Handsome took over the coop. She had been the lowliest hen in our old flock, which was a tough bunch of birds with some pecking problems. Using the skills she’d learned under the dominion of the infamous Stewpot and other mean hens, it didn’t take her long to establish dominance over these peaceable, shy Winnetkavelders.

Thus the reign of bossiness began. Mild mannered little Handsome became Iron Claw. She never let them forget who was in charge. It must have been exhausting work for her.

There was no bloodshed, so I didn’t get too worried about coop politics. I only hoped the Winnetkavelders wouldn’t learn bad habits from her. But what happened instead is that over the course of the year Handsome absorbed their mellowness and now they all rub along peacefully. She is still the elder queen of the coop–sort of like the Dowager Countess from Dowton Abbey, but she seems to share day to day authority the largest and boldest of the Winnetkavelders.

It all goes to show that there is no way to predict how a hen integration will go, but more often than not everything smooths out just fine.

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  1. Louise seemed to be a mild-mannered hen. But a new hen brought out the terrorist/bully in her. Thelma tried to peck the new hen, too. But, Louise soundly pecked her for that. Thelma and the new hen cuddled at night and shared a dust bath in the daytime. When I had Louise killed, Thelma and the new hen were best friends. Lucy only started laying after Louise died. I suspect she did not get enough food and was too stressed.

  2. I have a small flock. I started with Buff Orpingtons, nice docile birds that lay large brown eggs. I know you are in L.A., but these birds are very cold hardy. I’m in SE Mass and have had a couple of cold winters since I’ve had my “girls”. the only thing I have done is add a electric base heater for their water and have a 40 watt light on a timer in the coop to provide 14 hours of light a day(during one extreme cold snap, i did use an oil filled radiator type heater for about a week, temps well below zero, but they are getting older and the production is slowing, time to retire this group and start more. Any suggestions for retirement? I hate the idea of using them for the pot.

    • Buff Orphingtons are beautiful hens. I’ve always wanted some.

      The retirement issue is tricky. My current thinking is to have a coop large enough to hold retired birds as well as producing birds. Erik and I only need 3 or 4 producing hens, so I figure if my coop can hold 7 or 8, I might be able to cycle through their lifespan gracefully. In other words, the unproductive ones will pass on before the younger ones become unproductive in turn, making room for new hens.

      As an aside, having seen my last flock go of natural causes, I’d wonder if the pot is such a bad fate.

    • This story about Boggy Creek Farm’s 17-year-old hen brought tears to my eyes.

      My hens are only 2 years old, but I have every plan on giving them a happy retirement. I do not want them to suffer if they get ill, but to pre-emptively euthanize them because they might get sick later seems like bad logic to me. You wouldn’t euthanize a dog or cat because they might get sick as they age.

      I have seen people complain about the cost of unproductive hens. Really?? I spend $12 every three months on chicken feed for 2 hens. That’s $2 per hen per month. It seems like a very flimsy excuse to do what is convenient over what is right. (As an aside, retired hens have lower protein requirements since they are not laying regularly, you could probably feed them even cheaper than the $2/month layer pellets.)

      At the risk of sounding flaky, I think flock diversity benefits chickens. I only have 2 hens, but I have seen it happen with other backyard chicken keepers. The younger birds learn from the olde ones. A placid old hen will calm flighty pullets. And, a chicken that is passed her laying days will still fertilize and till the soil.

  3. What pretty eggs. We have 3 hens 2 Rhode Island reds and a barred rock. I want one more but have been worried about the integration process.

    • I know. It’s a worrying thing. But if your new hens equal or outnumber the old it helps. And if your current hens aren’t mean to each other now, they probably won’t be all that mean to newcomers.

      This comment and the last, about retirement, makes me all the more sympathetic to the idea of killing off the older hens. Many problems are solved that way!

  4. I had two hens and got two more. The equal numbers did not work. When I had four, then three, then two hens, none of them pecked each other. When I had the two and added two, then Louise became horrid.

    I have had two die from the raccoon and two from disease. When Louise became obviously ill, I had someone take a machete to her neck. That was less stress on me than watching a hen get more ill by the day and die.
    It would have helped if he had brought a sharp machete instead of beating her neck until she died! Note to self—->tell him to bring a sharp instrument of destruction next time.

  5. My small flock currently numbers 18, the cost to feed unproductive hens is getting a little expensive. I prefer letting the ladies live a natural life til the end, but charity can only go so far. I have lost 12 to undetermined causes/predators. Of the 18 left, there are two age groups. I haven’t decided if I will start another class this year, the projects and repairs to 3 separate properties required after this winters storms will take most of my attention along with working full time. But do try to aquire some Buff Orpingtons, they are wonder birds.

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