City Chick goes Country

Homesteading on a 0.18 acre suburban lot in rural Arkansas

Month: June 2014

How chicken eggs get their color

My quest to figure out which of my seven hens were laying eggs led me to start researching egg color. Trying to determine which of my hens were producing blue/green eggs was becoming difficult. One of my hens looks like some form of Auraucana cross, maybe and Easter-Egger or Olive-Egger. My unanswered question was “would a single hen lay eggs of different colors?” Off to the search engines I went.

He says, she says

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My new hens are laying beautiful colored eggs. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

The internet is full of contradicting information. Some say of course Easter-Eggers and chickens in that class lay multiple colored eggs. Others said, no, just one color per hen. Additional responses claimed hens can lay different shades of eggs in the same color family. Finally, I found my answer thanks to a research paper titled “An EAV-HP Insertion in 5′ Flanking Region of SLCO1B3 Causes Blue Eggshell in the Chicken.” Exactly what I was looking for—a peer reviewed paper on chicken egg color. It is a very interesting read, especially if the genetic origin of the Auraucana and blue chicken eggs piques your interest.

It’s in the genes

Hens that lay white eggs, will always lay white eggs. Hens that lay brown eggs can lay eggs in shades of browns, ranging from dark brown to almost light pink. Those that lay blue or green eggs will only lay eggs in shades of blues and greens. Even the blue/green eggs of the Auraucana are different than truly blue eggs.

 

All eggs start out white. Hens that lay white eggs lack the genes which produce colored eggs. A hen that lays white eggs will never start to lay colored eggs—not even very light colors.

 

Brown eggs are caused by the pigment protoporphyrin, which adds the color at the end of the shell development process. Break open a brown egg and remove any membrane from the inside of a shell fragment and you will notice that the inside of the shell is white. The brown coloring on the outside of the shell can be rubbed off. A hen that lays brown eggs, no matter what breed, will only lay eggs in shades of brown to pink. The shade of brown will vary due to breed, temperature, stress, age, health, and diet.

 

Blue and green eggs are a unique situation. The eggs are colored by the pigment oocyanin, which adds the color during the early formation of the shell. Break open a blue or green egg and look at the inside of the shell–it will be blue. Green eggs are caused by the hen being able to produce both pigments—blue and brown. Genetics dictates whether a hen will lay truly blue eggs or green/blue eggs. Blue eggers lay eggs in shades of blue. Green eggers lay in shades of green. Stress, breed, environmental factors, health, and age all play a part in how dark or light the shade is.

 

Will a single hen lay multiple colored eggs?

This takes us back to my original question. The answer is no—genetics dictates the color she is able to lay. There may be subtle shading within her color range. Weather, especially temperature, can impact egg color. Young hens who are just beginning to lay may have eggs that darken over time. Older hens approaching the end of their laying days will gradually have smaller eggs that lighten in color.

 

Did this post help you? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear about your flock.

 

–Lynda, a city chick gone country.

Who is laying eggs?

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This little red and black hen lays perfect tan eggs. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All Rights reserved.

 

Forget Where’s Waldo. Who’s laying is way more challenging. I have seven hens. They were purchased at a livestock auction on June 14th. One of the hens was laying, as she left an egg in the cage at the auction. I am positive that at least four of the ladies are gifting me with eggs. It could be more. The hens are of different breeds and they make a pretty little flock. Over the past 11 days they have given me a total of 13 eggs. Not bad when you consider the stress of being sold at auction, quarantine, and integration into a flock of pullets.

 

 

 

 

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My new hens are laying beautiful colored eggs. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

 

Eggs, glorious eggs

The seven hens are of different breeds. It appears that I have a Barred Rock, a Black Australorp, two that could be Rhode Island Reds or Red sex-linked or Production Reds, one Easter-Egger or Ameraucana, and the other two are most likely mixed breeds of some sort.

 

I am thrilled that they are laying this well. In the back of my mind, I reconciled the fact that these hens were at auction because their egg laying days were over. The Barred Rock is older, you can tell by her legs, but she is a gorgeous bird.

 

Egg color tells me that I have at least two different layers. I am getting eggs in shades of browns/pink and eggs in shades of blues/greens. All of the eggs are about the same size. When compared to commercial large white eggs, they are slightly smaller, but not by much. I’ll call them medium/large.

 

Detective work

The pullets are only 10 weeks old. They are not laying so I can remove them from the “who is laying” equation. A little detective work leads me to the conclusion that at least four hens are laying. While checking to make sure the chooks were going to be safe and dry from an approaching storm, I noticed one of the hens going in and out of the nest box. She was very protective over it. At the time, the nest box was empty. I sat and watched her. It was raining, but I wanted to see if she would lay, so in the rain I sat. My efforts paid off. She rewarded me with a blue egg.

 

A similar situation happened a few days later. This time there was already an egg in the nest box. I noticed the Australorp exhibiting the same behavior as the hen who laid the blue egg for me. The brown egg was removed from the nest box and I continued to watch the Australorp. After an hour had passed, I decided to give up. As I started to walk away, the hen came out of the nest box and there was another egg. Happy dance time—for me and my hen. She struts around the run singing after she lays. Nice to know that she sings, it will alert me to check the nest box.

 

Today, I watched my little red and black hen sit in the nest box. Even when I offered treats to the others, she refused to leave. She emerged about 45 minutes later, leaving behind a medium tan egg.  This is layer number three.

 

There is a fourth layer—my mystery hen. She lays medium tan eggs, but based on the fact that chickens have a cycle of at least 26 hours, it is unlikely that all of the tan eggs have come from either the red and black hen or the Australorp. I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of when I find the eggs and their colors. Now that I have confirmed egg times for three of the hens, there has to be at least one more hen laying tan/brown eggs.

 

This confirms at least four layers. Three are laying brown eggs and one is laying a blue egg. I hope that continuing to observe my hen will lead me to figure out their laying cycles and finally determine who is laying and when.

Roo is not a lady

Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

Our first ever little Cornish Cross chicks.

Back in April, I purchased 24 chicks from Tractor Supply. The salesperson swore up and down that the chicks were pullets even though one of the price tags said straight run. FYI – pullets are baby hens, cockerels are baby roosters, and straight run chicks are supposed to be a 50/50 mix of pullets to cockerels. Based on the information from the salesperson, I purchased 24 chicks: 8 Australorp, 8 Barred Rock, and 8 Ameraucana. One chick died within a day—things happen—leaving me with 23 chicks that were supposed to be all female. So imagine my surprise when some of the ladies started developing crowns and wattles.

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Black Australorp Cockerel. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

Dude is not a lady

Barred Rocks and Australorp roosters and hens both have combs and wattles, the roos have larger ones, but I am new to this chicken thing. Giving the salesperson the benefit of the doubt, I figured that maybe the few that were lacking were just slower to develop. WRONG! Last week, the first of the ladies started to crow. Dude is definitely not a lady. This morning, there was a cacophony of crowing. No only am I worried about neighbors complaining, but roosters are not allowed inside city limits. It is only a matter of time before zoning or animal control shows up at my door. So the boys have got to go—ASAP.

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Barred rock and Ameraucana cockerels–young roosters. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

Tough Choices

In my naiveté I assumed it would be fairly simple to sell off the roosters. Once again, I am wrong. Everyone wants hens. My cockerels are not as marketable as I had assumed. They are beautiful, constantly looking for trouble, and loud. They are also big enough to dress out as meat birds. My research has given me the option of driving an hour and a half each way to the livestock auction in Marble, Ark. or to use the cockerels as meat birds. The boys will not bring enough at auction to warrant an entire day in Marble. While it is a wonderful little town, there is very little to do while waiting hours for the auction to begin. I have made the decision to process them when I process my broilers.

Tractor Supply’s helpful sales force

I understand that everyone makes mistakes. But I asked more than once for clarification about the gender of the chicks before I bought them. I was assured that they were pullets. Being naïve about chicks and chickens, I assumed if the salesperson was wrong, I would be able to process the roosters before they became sexually mature enough to make noise. Again, inexperience got the best of me. Apparently, roosters mature faster than hens. The Hens won’t start to lay before 20 weeks. Our boys are about eight weeks old.

 

The hen to rooster count to date is as follows:

12 roosters, 7 hens, and four undetermined. If the four undetermined turn out to be roos, as I suspect (based on coloration) then my ratio is 70/30, roosters to hens. If the four remaining surprise me, then I end up better than expected.

Lessons learned

Unless I am buying Cornish Cross broilers, buying straight run chicks is not an option for me. I have learned not to rely on the inexperience of store clerks. If I am unsure of a chick’s gender, I will pass on the purchase. Next time, it is either livestock auctions or buying direct from the hatchery. An incubator purchase is in my future. Hatching eggs are the most cost effective way to raise poultry. Stay tuned to see how this all works out.

Chicken Run is Finished

I am so far behind with posting about my chicken run. So here is the update, complete with pictures. As for the chooks, we have four broiler hens that will be processed this weekend. I will cry and be sad to see them go, but it really should not be easy, should it? I like them. They are mellow and easy going. The ladies treat my Romeo well.

The Chicken Run Location
We decided to put the run in the far corner of the yard. This is actually the ideal place for it. We can see the run from our bedroom and the living room. Although it is in a low lying area of the yard, it is also very shady—thanks to our neighbor’s trees. It is not possible to use this space for vegetable gardening and with the roof over the run, it stays pretty dry. Another reason we chose this location is the privacy fence. We can use the fencing for two walls of the run.

There is a downside to this location. My neighbors have dogs. This means the coop will be surrounded on all sides by dogs. Our dogs, with the exception of Romeo are a threat, one neighbor has two dogs, the other has one. The dogs have turned out to be a problem, but more on that in another post.

Building the Run
First, a two by four frame went up so that we could attach cedar fencing to it. This is in addition to the existing fence. We wanted to be sure that no dogs could get through—We were wrong, but that is another post.

City Chicks Chicken Run

The chicken run takes shape

After the two by four frame went up, part of the front was assembled. This consisted of 2, four by four posts. Three, 2 x 4s were attached to this.

A space for the door was left open. Then the rest of the front was assembled with 2, four by four posts, and three, 2 x 4s. The last side along our garden fence was completed.

 

 

 

 

City Chick Goes Country Chicken Run. Copyrighted Image

Fitting the door

A frame for the roof was assembled. We used sheets of corrugated plastic for the roof. It slants away from the neighbors. The roof extends past the frame to make sure the chooks stay dry.

Chicken wire with one inch openings was used to enclose the frame. We stapled the chicken wire to the frame and made sure that there were no openings near the roof where small birds could get in. Wild birds steal the feed and it gets very expensive.

Finally, we purchased an inexpensive screen door and cut it down to fit the opening. We attached it with hinges and added a handle on both sides. A hook and eye type latch keeps the door secure.

 

 

City Chick's Chicken Run. Copyright Lynda Altman

Completed chicken run

About Security
This set up will not work if you have opossum, raccoons, coyotes, feral cats or other at large predators. Our coop is built knowing that our dogs are under control and will not cross into the chicken area. Hawks and other flying predators are kept at bay with the chicken wire and solid roof. My chickens cannot be seen from the air. Small, four-legged critters like opossum, raccoons and such are non-existent in my yard. This includes rats and mice. Our dogs: a Chinese Shar-pei, a Treeing Walker Coonhound, and a Bedlington Terrier, keep everything out of the yard. Privacy fence completely encloses the yard. Trespassers will not enter the yard—the dogs are not stranger friendly. The neighbor’s dogs do their job of keeping vermin at bay.

If you are in a more rural setting and have predators roaming the woods or pastures near your chicken run, then you would need to replace the chicken wire with welded ¼” galvanized wire. The screen door could be replaced with a storm door or you could reinforce the screen with welded wire. Surrounding the run with

electric wire, like Harvey Ussery describes in his book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, would be a good idea.