I asked our resident garden Gnome, Chef Matt Lowe, to talk about one of his other passions: raising chickens. And let me tell you that he’s right: there’s something special about a fresh egg that comes from your own backyard. – Chef Justin
Eostre is the ancient goddess of spring fertility whose name gives us the word Easter; and chicken eggs & baby chicks are a symbol of that fertility. Our hen at the Wine Center, Mabel, recently hatched nine baby chicks. We’ve been raising chickens here for years for the fresh eggs – it’s so nice knowing where the eggs come from and that the chickens are raised free range.
These days it’s common for people to embrace growing fresh vegetables and tomatoes in their backyards around the country. More and more, people are also discovering the joys of having a small chicken flock for fresh eggs. We certainly have, and Mabel is proof.
Just think about how delicious fresh vegetables from your garden are, it’s the same with eggs. We cook with the eggs and they are wonderful. It’s especially fun to use the fresh eggs since we got our new immersion circulator; the yolks are so yellow in those perfectly cooked 63⁰F eggs.
If you are interested in raising chickens, there are several ways to obtain baby chicks. They can be purchased at your local feed store or ordered from one of the large commercial hatcheries, such as Murray McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, Iowa and shipped by the United States Postal Service. Or you can get them right from the hen.
Depending on the breed of chicken, hens will start laying eggs when they are about 20 -24 weeks old. Chickens are most productive egg layers for their first 2 -3 years. Their egg production will slow after that, but they will continue to be a pleasant addition to your garden for many years to come.
Broodiness, where a hen stops laying eggs in order to focus on incubating the eggs, is a trait that has been bred out of most commercial breeds, but heritage breeds will want to take a break from laying eggs to sit on and incubate them. The hen will sit on a clutch of 13 eggs for about 21 days getting off the nest only briefly for a little food and water. When the chicks hatch, she will take them under her wing to protect them from predators like raccoons and to keep them warm.
If raising a backyard flock sounds like too much work to you, fresh eggs are always available at your local farmers market. Please support your local farmers – they work hard to provide food for your table and they would love to tell you all about their chickens