If you live in Texas and have watched the news lately you’ve likely heard the TERRIBLE news that Whataburger has shortened the hours they serve eggs because of an egg shortage. Well I’m here to tell you that we don’t have an egg shortage at the farm! Right now we get a little over two dozen eggs per day out of our 50’ish hens. Hens lay about an egg per day at the height of their egg laying years. We have quite a few hens who are past their prime, but since we have no interest in eating them they get to stick around. Every year in about August we get 30-40 chicks to replace the hens we lose to coyotes/bobcats/hawks/owls and illness and it’s about time to place our order so we are able to get the exact breeds we want.
The timing for when we get our chicks is very purposeful. It is best to get chicks when they days are getting shorter. This assures that we will have laying hens during the dark winter days when the more mature hens slow down or stop laying entirely. Plus, Texas summers are so hot that we don’t need to put them under a heat lamp if they arrive in August or September. Chicks need to be kept at 90-95 degrees for the first week of their life. After the first week the temp can be lowered by 5 degrees each week until they are fully feathered and can regulate their own temperature. Running a a heat lamp to keep chicks warm in December is a huge pain-in-the-neck, especially after you realise how much easier and better it is to get them in August!
We try to mix up the breeds of chicks we get each summer, but we always get at least 10 Aracauna chicks. These are hens that lay blue/green eggs and they have the cutest little tufts of feathers on their cheeks. We have had good luck with them in terms of heat tolerance and surviving predators. Generally darker coloured chickens are harder for predators to see so they tend to live longer. Aracaunas can be all kinds of colors, including white, but we’ve had nearly all brown ones.
This year we are also going to order Lakenvelder chicks. We had some a few years ago, but they were victims of a pointless raccoon crime. A raccoon went into our outdoor chicken coop and killed 30 pullets that were within a few weeks of laying eggs. Killed every last pullet and didn’t eat a single one of them. Just broke their necks and went on it’s merry way. Raccoons are NOT popular at our house. Lakenvelders are white with black heads, which kind of goes against our no-white rule, but they are small and active, which are good characteristics for free-range birds. We avoid the more portly breeds because then tend to do poorly in hot Texas summers.
We haven’t settled yet on the third breed we want to get. We have had great luck with the Egyptian Fayoumi chickens. They are wily little chickens and nearly all of the Fayoumi chickens we got 7 years ago are still around! I also like the Dominiques. Another breed we had that were victims of the raccoon attack. The last option we are considering are Blue Andalusians. We got some 2 years ago and love love love them. They are very hardy in the heat, intelligently avoid predators, and they are nice to be around. Some of the better free-range breeds can be pretty darn wild! The Fayoumis, for instance, are pretty unhappy about being caught and they sure let you know so with their beaks.
We have to place our order soon to assure our breeds of choice are available and are all female. Until then I’ll leave you with a pic of some of our existing flock enjoying a chicken spa day in the dirt. They were sure happy when the ground finally dried up enough for their dirt baths!