Last spring Greg picked up some Welsummer hens and a rooster at a local feed store. He was told they had belonged to a 4-H/FFA student who had them as a project. I fell in love with these chickens. The Welsummer rooster was the "poster rooster" for the Kellog's Cornflakes box – beautiful colors and an incredibly charming rooster with perfect manners. The hens lay the most incredible eggs – dark brown, and jumbo sized, with lots of mahogany colored speckles – and each hen has a distinct speckle pattern to her eggs. That set the poultry standard for Hawkins Springs Farm located near Ketchum, Oklahoma.
Early last summer, after much research, Greg decided on another variety of laying hens that we should have on the farm. His choice was the Red Star Sex Links – this variety is a cross-breed from two or more varieties of chickens that when born, you can identify the sex of the chick – the cockerels are all white and the pullets are red and white. They will generally lay an egg a day – nice, brown and generally between a large and x-large size egg.
But picking the perfect breeds of chickens doesn't always mean success. We had some dog issues last year – mainly due to one of our new Australian Shepherd pups – namely Kosmo. So to make a long and frustrating story short, after the loss of my Welsummer hens, several of the Red Star hens, as well as Hans, the Welsummer rooster getting half of his right wing ripped off, Kosmo was sent to a new home in town. We loved that dog, but he had a definite mind of his own, and despite the training and vigilant watchfulness on our part, which didn't seem to deter Kosmo, we hit the last straw – when he damaged Hans. Kosmo's exhuberance had led the other Australian Shepherd pup as well as our adult male German Shepherd astray. The kids immediately found Kosmo his new home and delivered him post haste. The chicken killing stopped. During Kosmo's brief stay at our house, he had also encouraged the other male dogs to chase cars going down our country road. Our heartbreak occurred when Orion, our large male German Shepherd, was found dead on the road a couple of days after Kosmo was adopted out. Smoky, Kosmo's brother, who has a totally different personality, has learned not to chase vehicles and is still with us. We have also not lost anymore chickens.
We had 19 laying hens and thought we needed some more – We ordered 10 more Welsummer chicks and 10 more Red Stars chicks. They are now 4 weeks old. The saga continues . . . about the time we got the new chicks, Greg decided he wanted to try the incubator again (went that route last summer and didn't hatch a one – something about the thermostat in the incubator). So we saved several eggs – I think about 40 – and voila – 3 weeks later, we are hatching eggs – we ended up with 22 little chicks from the Red Star eggs. OMG – now we have 19 laying hens, 20 pullets at 4 weeks old and these 22 little chicks! We've been playing round robin in our poultry facilities – moving the chicks from boxes in the sun room to brooders in the hen house to outdoor pens as they grow. Fortunately, the weather has been warmer than usual and has made the requisite habitats much nicer to deal with.
The upside of all this are the delicious eggs we are getting and will eventually get from the new chicks. Our hens lay an average of 17 eggs a day – wonderfully nutritious because our chickens free range. One of our big expenditures last year for the chickens was an automatic door in the hen house. We set the timer and the chickens are out every morning shortly after day break; the door closes at dark each day after all the hens and Hans have roosted in the hen house. During the winter we fed Purina's new Sunfresh Natural egg pellets, which contain no hormones or medication – just good grains with some added vitamins and minerals. We continue to keep this available in a feeder inside the hen house. During the winter we also fed them cracked corn which was cracked fresh from whole corn every morning in our little grist mill, along with a scoop of mixed grains. Now that spring is here, the chickens are having a blast eating everything they can find on our farm – the bugs and spring grasses and "weeds". And little snakes and worms as well.
The benefits of eggs from free range chickens often go unnoticed by the average consumer – most folks buy farm-fresh eggs because of their freshness. But free range eggs pack a much bigger nutritional punch than the eggs you buy at your local grocer.
Eggs from truly free range chickens contain much less fat and cholesterol than store bought eggs; they have a higher vitamin and mineral content as well. Don't get free range eggs confused with "cage free" eggs – they are not the same. Do a little research and you will find out that "cage free" really means the hens are in a building, crowded together in a large pen – a far cry from free ranging all over an acreage.
Our eggs are sold to individuals at a lower price than the "cage free' eggs at your grocer; they are fresher; and they are better for you. Stop by the farm and pick up a couple of dozen of our free range eggs and see for yourself. You will never want another store-bought egg again.
Next up, duck eggs.