The Crazy Chicken Chronicles at the 44th Parallel, Part 1

Have you ever enjoyed fresh chicken eggs? I don’t mean fresh from the grocery store, either. I mean, fresh, fresh… like from someone who raises chickens. They taste amazing!


Normally, if you know someone who owns chickens you can purchase fresh eggs for around $1.00 per dozen. And before you argue that you can get eggs from the local, big box store cheaper, I have to say again, they are not FRESH. As a matter of fact, the one’s from the store don’t really have much flavor left in them. Probably because they are at the end of their shelf life by the time you get them home.


Expiration Dates

Farm Fresh Eggs can last up to 15 weeks in the refrigerator. Unlike the old way of storing unwashed eggs on the shelf after collecting, research from a food technologist with the Agricultural Research Center has proven that thoroughly washing fresh eggs to eliminate salmonella, and promptly refrigerating them in the coldest part of the fridge offers the best longevity.


In comparison, have you ever noticed the expiration date on store-bought eggs? FDA guidelines set them to expire within 30 days of being loaded in the cartons. Oftentimes, the carton you snatch from the cooler has an expiration date waaaaay sooner than the 30 days you’d expect. The good news is, even grocery store eggs can last longer than the date on the carton.


You can test eggs for freshness with the water test.


Carefully place an egg in the bottom of a short glass and fill it with cool water. If the egg stays at the bottom of a glass, it’s still fresh. If it stands upright and floats off the bottom a bit, it’s still good but should be used soon. If you have any eggs floating to the top of the water glass, it’s a sure sign they are bad and should be tossed rather than consumed.


Consuming spoiled eggs will cause Salmonella poisoning. You could expect a fever along with a wicked mix of gastrointestinal issues such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting 4-7 days after eating them. Severe infections in some people may result in hospitalization or even death, so check your eggs for freshness!


My Pet Chickens

It has been years since we raised chickens. It was only after enjoying farm fresh eggs for breakfast recently, and seeing the cutest little chicks at our local Tractor Supply that I decided to raise them again. Selecting four pullet chicks on sale for only $0.99 a piece, I assumed the store needed to get rid of them before their next order of hatchlings arrived.


Let me introduce you…

(The picture is red from the heat light.)


Abbey & Katie are Buff Orpington’s. I had never heard of this breed before, but after reading over the specs hanging on the chicken bin, I learned this breed was, very friendly with a sweet disposition. Additionally, these chickens didn’t mind living in a pen, they laid large brown eggs, and could manage a cold, Michigan winter with ease. Being TSC didn’t have the breeds we owned years ago, I decided that this breed would make a good addition to my mini chicken farm.



Jenna & Etta were located in a bin labeled Black Australorps & Leghorns. All of the pullet chicks in this bin were either black and yellow, or brown with black stripes. Like the Orpington’s, the sign stated that these birds were also friendly, didn’t mind confinement, laid large brown eggs, and could handle cold winters.


Perfect!


Asking the clerk for two Leghorns, I didn’t realize that all Leghorns were white in color until the gal mentioned the Leghorns were sold out. Shrugging, I asked her to catch two of the brown chicks figuring they were the other breed labeled on the bin.


It wasn’t until researching more about these chickens that I discovered Black Australorps were supposed to have black feathers, legs & feet, and the bottoms of their feet should be white. Etta and Jenna were brown & black feathered with orange feet, so I didn’t have any idea what they were.


Looking up Tractor Supplies’ chicken selections, I discovered they sold one particular mix of chickens that included several breeds - the Leghorns and Black Australorps included. One kind were called Rainbow Chickens. Since they are to have unique color patterns - similar to the pullet chicks I purchased - I’m thinking that’s what I have.


Rainbow Chickens are also supposed to possess a sweet disposition. Since they are considered a social bird that don’t mind confinement or the cold weather, they will be a perfect breed to share a pen with my Orpingtons.


After getting my new chicks home, my husband asked, “Why didn't you get more?”


Even though four chickens would be enough work, I started thinking about if one or two died right away. I would want to make sure there were enough chickens growing up together that they had each other for company and warmth.


I thought to myself, “Maybe I should get a few more.”



So every week for a month, I cruised the chicken section at Tractor Supply looking for the specific breeds we had in the past. Finally, I found my Rhode Island Red’s, Gerdie & Penelope (left), and my dear ISA Brown’s, Betsy & Maddie (right).



Rhode Island Red’s are considered gentle, exuberant, curious and friendly. They are the most productive layers of all the breeds, and do well in a confined pen. The ISA Brown is a calm, gentle bird that is also sweet and docile. They lay eggs almost every day, and do well in confinement. Being we have had both of these breeds in the past, I am certain they will also do fine this coming winter.


A 10% Chance

Call me the crazy chicken lady, but I am so excited about this latest endeavor! The only issue now is the chance one or more of these pullets end up being roosters.


According to a Washington Post article by Karen Brulliard, “Hatcheries employ professional “sexers” who make the call after scrutinizing newborns’ downy wings and nether regions, but most companies guarantee that they’ll be right only 90 percent of the time.”


When I bought the ISA Brown pullets they were a very light yellow. Actually, the whole batch of ISA Browns were the same color. According to TSC’s specs, the pullets should be red when they are hatched and the cockerels white, so I’m a little worried I have 2 roosters. Hopefully, Maddie & Betsy were red at birth, or they will surely upset the neighborhood!


No Smooching the Chicks!

It has been so long since I’ve raised chickens that I had to look up a lot of things I had forgotten. But one thing I remembered is… no matter how cute they are, there will be no hugging or kissing allowed!


If you didn’t know, the CDC website states, “Chickens, ducks, geese, turkey, and other live poultry can carry Salmonella germs in their guts. Live poultry can have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their feathers, feet, and beaks, even when they appear healthy and clean.


For this reason, I purchased a pair of chicken boots that I leave out in the barn for wearing inside the coop, and I make sure to wash my hands thoroughly after tending them.


I’m thinking I have another great location for a COVID hand sanitizing station, and maybe some social distancing!


Wish me luck as my flock grows, and stay tuned for more developments such as…


What kind of fowl entertainment will decorate the coop?

Will Maddy & Besty be renamed Manny & Bob?

Who will be the first to lay an egg?

How will they like the snow this winter?





Thanks so much for reading!


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References

Brulliard, Karen, June 19, 2018, It’s a boy! Chicken owners face a dilemma when hens turn out to be roosters, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2018/06/19/its-a-boy-chicken-owners-face-a-dilemma-when-hens-turn-out-to-be-roosters/


CDC, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Human Salmonella Infections from Live Poultry in Backyard Flocks, https://www.cdc.gov/media/dpk/food-safety/live-poultry-salmonella/live-poultry-salmonella.html


DiLonardo, Mary Jo, January 8, 2021, How long do fresh eggs last, https://www.treehugger.com/how-long-do-fresh-eggs-last-4859426


Egg Safety Center, 2021, How long are eggs safe to eat after purchase?, https://eggsafety.org/faq/how-long-are-eggs-safe-to-eat-after-purchase/


Fletcher, Jenna, May 18, 2019, How to tell if eggs are still good, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325210#health-risks


Holmes, Rich, April 4, 2019, Is raising backyard chickens safe for your family, https://www.capecodhealth.org/medical-services/infectious-disease/is-raising-backyard-chickens-safe-for-your-family/


Tractor Supply Co., 2021, Chickens, https://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/catalog/chickens?