Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lost Chicken and Eggs

We have two Silkie pullets, Frodo the red one and Mumble the blue.  Frodo has gotten most of the attention since she was just a wee chick due to her apparent brain injury.  I blogged before about how Silkies are designed to have holes in the tops of their skulls from which part of their little chicken protrudes.  This head shape contributes to top notch of feathers sticking up.  Without a hard skull to protect their heads, the breed is more susceptible to brain injuries.  Mumble's brain seems to be normal although she is very shy.  Frodo is our Special Needs Chicken.  She seems to need to sleep more often and will often be napping while the rest of the flock is roaming around.  Also, when she panics, like she did the other day when a hawk got too close, she starts doing somersaults and running into things.  Yes, she is still the Flippin' Chicken, but only when under extreme stress.  Not the best survival skills. 

The chickens have free range of our yard during the day and are confined to their fenced-in space around the coop at dawn and dusk, prime predator times.  The girls are normally very good about not wandering far from our yard.  They are completely locked up in the coop after dark for safety.  The other afternoon I got the chickens in their yard, a process which is pretty easy since every time they see a human, they come running for hand outs.  I tossed chicken scratch on the ground and counted 13 out of 14 chickens.  Where's Frodo?  Whenever a chicken is missing, a feeling of dread slowly builds as I walk around the yard calling (yes, our chickens do come when called).  If she isn't found, the whole family participates in a chicken search.

Frodo and Kelsey
We've only lost one chicken, a Jersey Giant chick last year who just never came back.  In the grand scheme of things, I guess that's not bad considering we live in a rural area surrounded by acres of woods.  Jay credits our dog Chardonnay for intimidating the predators from coming too close.  Not that a Golden Retriever is a great guard dog by nature, but she is big and has a bark to go with it.  She also clearly understands that her job is to protect our yard from outside critters and has chased a fox and a raccoon into the woods before with pit bull-like intent. 

After 20 minutes of searching and calling for Frodo, I got worried.  However, looking for a missing Frodo has happened numerous times before so I tried to keep it in perspective.  I looked behind our garden shed several times as Jay found our first Silkie egg back there in the leaves the day before.  Silkies are a bantam (miniature) variety of chicken so the eggs are tiny and cute.  Frodo had recently started doing the Chicken Squat, a behavior where a hen will squat, flatten her back, wings slightly out, and stomp her feet when a human reaches to pet her on the back.  I've found that when a young hen starts doing this, she is "coming of age" and will start laying eggs soon.  So we knew Frodo had recently matured to the point of egg production.  Since Mumble was not squatting yet, we surmised that the Silkie egg was Frodo's. 

Frodo's egg with a medium brown egg

We have an old doghouse behind the garden shed among the bike, ladders, snow blower and other stuff.  The doghouse is one of those large plastic ones that have top and bottom halves.  I looked under the top half...nothing but a couple of buckets.  I looked under the separate bottom half and found exactly 12 brown eggs.  So that's why my brown egg production was so low!  I look up to see if there was a container nearby I could put the eggs in and saw Frodo, casually strutting around the back yard.  She had probably just woken up from a nap and come out of hiding, wherever that was.  

Now that I'd solved two dilemmas, the next one was whether or not the dozen found eggs were still edible.  Store-bought eggs have been washed to remove any chicken poop.  However, washing them also removes the natural "bloom" or coating they have which enables eggs to safely remain unrefrigerated for weeks.  So unless it's really hot outside and/or the eggs could be fertile, 2-week-old unrefrigerated eggs are still safe for consumption.  I knew this but how to convince my husband who throws out anything once it hits the expiration date?  I have explained and provided written proof to Jay that the Sell By date isn't the date an item suddenly develops salmonella.  With proper refrigeration, many foods are perfectly fine a week after that time. 

With the dozen eggs I'd found, how to determine just how long they had been there under the dog house?  I turned to Backyard Chicken's Chicken Forum and found the answer.  It's called the Float Test.  If the egg sinks to the bottom of a bowl of water, it's good.  If it floats to the top, it's over 4-weeks-old and should be tossed.  If the egg stands vertically on its narrow end, fat side up, it's 3-weeks-old and stale.  Many of your factory farmed grocery store eggs are a month old, however, they've been refrigerated from the beginning.  This test applies to eggs kept at room temperature.  I imagine that if there's a rooster around, you'd only want to keep the sinkers.  We no longer have a rooster and all these eggs sank to the bottom, so I had some reassurance we wouldn't get food poisoning or find a partially developed chick inside.  Knowing that a hen spends 1-2 hours a day in order to lay each egg would be a waste of nutrition and hen labor if they had to be thrown out.

Assortment of eggs, Frodo's mini-egg on the right

1 comment:

  1. Frodo is our Special Needs Chicken. She seems to need to sleep more often and will often be napping while the rest of the flock is roaming around. Also, when she panics, like she did the other day when a hawk got too close, she starts doing somersaults and running into things.

    Interesting diagnosis. I think if I were a chicken, I would probably be special needs too.