Orange Yolks

In putting together this week's recipe I had to pause and admire the beautiful deep orange of our chickens' egg yolks. Pastured chickens eating a diet high in greens and bugs produce eggs rich in carotenoids, which are responsible for the orange hue. While the orange colour itself doesn't mean a more nutrient-rich egg it's a sign of a more varied and complete diet for the chicken, and thus an indirect indicator of a more nutrient dense egg. Ethically it also means chickens who are free to roam rather than being cooped up, and who get to eat what they like best - their enthusiasm for a fresh patch of grass is unequaled. 

Egg producers have caught on to consumers' preference for more vividly coloured eggs and are able to tinker with yolk colour via additives in chicken feed, so don't automatically assume that orange yolks mean a happy chicken. As always, it's best to have a relationship with the farmer producing your food so you can ask directly what the conditions are like. I think this is especially true if you consume animal products, where the ethical stakes are higher and consequently the moral responsibility to eat well that much greater.

Moving the Chickens

The chickens spent the winter in a coop by the barn to keep them warm when the ground was frozen, and dry in the muddy spring. Now that the weather has warmed up and the grass and bugs are abundant they have been put back to work in the garden.

They are now back out in their mobile pasture shelter. I originally had great plans to tow the whole thing all the way from the coop up to the back (very slowly, with chickens inside). In the end, we had the fortune of friends lending extra hands so we just carried them all. 

I took the troublemaker (barred rock rooster on the left) on the first trip to make things a bit easier.

The helpers / audience check out the winter housing.

Not big enough to carry one, but still part of the team.

The mobile shelter is on grass now, preparing ground for a potential garden expansion. The chickens are obviously happier with the grass and bugs, although it's a bit dirtier without dry straw keeping everything clean. They will be on the grass about one more month and then I will move them to start cleaning up garden beds for me. If all the timing works out, they will in turn clean up and fertilize the alliums (garlic and onions), potatoes, and squash once those areas are harvested.

Chickens At Work

The chickens have been on grass in an unused pasture since I moved them outside in the spring. Now it's time for them to do some work!  

Chickens working in the garden

In a happy coincidence, the chicken tractor (their mobile coop) is almost exactly the width of two of my standardized beds. I've moved them on to a couple of the old garlic rows, which have been filling up with weeds since the garlic was harvested. In the picture above, you can still see some of the straw mulch that I used. I will move the chicken tractor down the row a little bit every day and the birds will happily eat all of the weeds and scratch out any bugs they find in the soil.

I figure that the manure they leave behind in a 10-14 day trip down the row will cut my fertilizer usage by about 40 percent next year (in those rows). In theory, the bugs they eat should also reduce pest pressure next year but we'll have to see about that.

I'm hoping to have the chickens patrolling garden beds that have finished for the year until about the end of November, when they will need to move into their winter housing. Until then, they will be eating garden culls, clearing weeds and bugs, and improving the soil, all while giving us eggs (and a few more for meat). Not a bad deal at all! 


Fresh Grass

The chickens have made a big leap in size. Suddenly their grassy patch doesn't look so, um, grassy:


They definitely stayed a few days too long before I realized that they had made the leap from little fluffy chicks into scratching and pecking machines.

A quick move of the chicken tractor later and the chickens are on fresh grass.

Fresh grass and bugs

It was pretty gratifying to watch them literally jump with joy as they scratched and pecked in the new grass, completely ignoring their feeder.

Chicks arrive!

Baby chicks have arrived and are safe and warm in their brooder.

Busy chicks

We're not producing any chickens (or eggs) for sale - these are a homestead flock for the time being. But livestock on the farm will help close a loop and allow a bit more sustainability here. The chickens will eat weeds, bugs and garden scraps while scratching out new planting areas for next year and contributing fertility.