Archive for August, 2013

The Mystery of the Weird Rubber Eggs!

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

(Broadcast 8/23/2013)

One of the big perks of having chickens is obviously the eggs. You learn right away how different eggs from your own chickens are compared to eggs from the supermarket. They taste way better, the yolks are much brighter, the shells seem tougher, and you can even leave them out unrefrigerated if you want to. I want to, just to seem like a daredevil to the uninitiated. It’s not like they sit out for very long, anyway. If I don’t eat them, I find some way to use them as currency, so my supply stays fresh.


Green eggs, no ham

So what do you do then when you start to get eggs that are a little, well, weird? I’ve had ones before that have been kind of pale and flimsy. What are egg shells made out of? Calcium. So how do you think you might strengthen a weak eggshell? Add more calcium to the chickens’ diet. I now leave out calcium chips for my chickens every day. We do still get the occasional oddball brittle egg, but the supplements seem to have drastically lowered the occurrence.

vitamin supplements

Try not to take the wrong one.

There is, however, another sort of weird egg that is possibly the proverbial “bad egg.” You know those water balloon wiggly things you can buy in stores that the whole purpose of them is that they’re difficult to hold? These eggs feel like that. They have the coloration of an egg, but no shell. The egg lining seems to be what holds them together. I probably don’t need to tell you that this is super freaky. The first time it happened to one of my chickens, I was very confused, and that confusion continues to this day. The rubber eggs seem to come at odd times, because often when I find them, they’re in the bedding under the roost. So it’s like a chicken is asleep, and the egg sneaks out before it’s ready for prime time. Wake up chicken! An egg is escaping! They also will sometimes appear in the nesting boxes, but are usually broken at that point, since this is not the sort of egg that can hold up to being sat on.

unfinished egg

An unfinished egg makes its escape.

When you report a rubber egg to the internet, the first question you get in response is whether or not the chicken is young and new to laying. When this first happened, yes, my chickens were pretty young and probably still working the kinks out of the production system. But they’re over a year old now, so I think they should have figured it out. The next suggestion is that it’s a calcium issue. But I give them oyster shells every day, so you’d think they’d be good there too, but these eggs do still happen. The third issue could be that something is internally wrong with the chicken, which could be very bad. The problem for me here is that I have no way to know which chicken is laying these, and if it’s the same one, or if they do this on a rotating basis. I almost never catch them in the act of laying eggs, normal or otherwise. The only thing I’m somewhat sure of is that it’s one of the Mandrell Sisters, due to the color of the egg, which is slightly different than a Barred Rock egg. Even then, this egg is an anomaly, so I don’t know that I can judge an egg by its color here. It seems like a situation where I can really only sit and wait for some other symptom to reveal itself to know if it’s something else. The odd rubber egg is not necessarily anything to worry about. Full time rubber egg production is more of a problem.

rubber egg

Not that kind of rubber egg.

Researching this issue led me to the discovery of an article about something called a “cock’s egg.” Every so often a hen will lay an egg that is much smaller than usual. It got the name “cock’s egg” because people back in the day thought a rooster must have laid it because it was so small and strange. So then you ask yourself, why would a rooster lay an egg? And if you were an old timey farmer person, the answer would obviously be because The Devil made him do it, because that was their answer for everything. Now, I’m not a man of the cloth, so I’m not entirely sure of what The Devil does or does not get up to, but really, The Devil? This is your vehicle of self-expression? “Spreading plague is a real drag sometimes, so maybe I’ll just go make that rooster lay a kind of small egg.” The classic cock’s egg is more or less normal, aside from the size, but any abnormal egg can be considered a cock’s egg, so The Devil’s been in my coop too, apparently. Now I know he’s really got time on his hands. Look, Devil, I appreciate a good practical joke now and then, but you really need to step up your game. I don’t want to go overboard on calcium-filled treats just to find out I’m being punked by the Old Deluder. Either fully delude me, or lay off the chickens. Don’t make me call a chicken exorcist, when I know deep down everyone lays a weird egg once in a while.

el diablo pollo

El Diablo Pollo


An earlier post with some video of one of my rubber eggs. 

 The article about “cock eggs,” sometimes known as “fart eggs.”

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The Chicken Days of Summer

Friday, August 16th, 2013

(Broadcast 8/16/2013)

Summer chickens, make me feel fine. Something’s blowing through the jasmine in my mind and it’s got a hint of chicken poop in it, but that’s o.k. The humidity has been down lately, and so the smells don’t linger like they used to. Plus, we all know chicken poop is good for everything, so let it rip, ladies. However, summer seems to be winding down, or at least what most people think of summer is. Maybe technically we still have a bunch of September, but you know that if you don’t make August count, it’s all over. I’ve tried to explain this to the chickens, but they have odd interpretations of this advice.

Read this. It will change your life.

Read this. It will change your life.

Before I had my own chickens, I visited some at the Franklin Park Zoo. Apparently, the chickens there like to stretch out in the sun so much that they put up a sign to tell you that yes, the chickens were o.k. I had kind of forgotten about that sign until this past weekend. I was trying to make the most of a waning summer weekend by doing stuff in the yard because I like to maximize my pain and suffering. Amazingly, my mother in law claims to like mowing the lawn. I have never heard of such a thing, but at least I don’t have to mow anymore. But that unfortunately frees up more time for tasks involving manual clippers. So I was out clipping stuff, and came upon one of the Mandrell Sisters lying on her side in the sun. Of course, my first instinct was to assume that we were at Woodstock and she had eaten the brown acid even though they said not to, until I remembered that it was not the 60s anymore. I wasn’t convinced something else wasn’t totally wrong, and then that lesson I learned at the zoo years ago came back to me. “Yes,” I said, “that chicken is o.k. They like to do that.” The chicken gave me look like I was an idiot for talking to myself, and went back to sunbathing. At least one of us was having a good time.

sleep on sides

I haven’t had much problems with broodiness and the Mandrell Sisters lately, at least not until our little talk about packing excitement into the end of summer. One of them went broody last Thursday, and so I put her into the isolation of the Miracle Broody Hen Cure, aka, my mom’s old bird cage. Usually this can blast the broodiness out of them in a day or two. Well, a day came and went, and there she was, still brooding. Two days went by. She had turned around in the cage, but was still puffed out and making the “I am broody” noise. Three days went by, and I was impressed with her commitment to this bit. After four days, I started to wonder how long she could be away from the others before I had to do an elaborate routine to introduce her back into the flock. On the 5th day I approached the cage, and upon putting my hand close to it and getting the broody noise in return, I had had enough. I figured I would put her back into the coop temporarily for a change of scenery, and if she was still broody that night, I’d bring her back inside. That way she’d also get reacquainted with the others, so I could hopefully avoid any reintroduction rituals. I picked her up out of the cage while she did her best pufferfish impersonation, and there, underneath her, was an egg. She was most definitely broody when I put her in, and I didn’t think broody birds laid eggs until the real or imaginary ones they were sitting on hatched. This would probably explain why she wasn’t snapping out of it, but how that egg got there is a mystery. I took her outside and put her into the run while I filled up the feeder. She puffed around a little, then hopped up on one of the roosts, and began a run of top volume clucking for about 5 minutes. This was at 5 in the morning, mind you. My cries of “shhh, chicken!” did nothing to silence her. So I grabbed her and put her inside the coop with the others while I finished up. They all eventually came back out, and she went right back up on the roost, but rather than continuing her earlier monologue, she produced the gigantic, nasty poop that is the general indicator that broodiness has left the building. My plan that I didn’t really even think was a plan had worked. I allowed myself to feel good about it, while stepping away from the massive stool.

chicken is o.k.

That chicken is o.k. Both physically and existentially.

Clearly my standards for what constitutes making the most of the rest of summer have changed. But I suppose chickens will change a person. I’d like to be able to just hang out in the yard with the chickens without doing any sort of manual labor, but our yard seems unwilling to compromise. I suppose if I do have to be out there doing work, at least I have chickens around to keep it entertaining.

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Brooklyn Chickens

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

In spite of how often I seem to find ways to make mistakes, I sometimes feel like I have it easy with this whole chicken thing. We’ve got a ton of space to let them run around. We live 5 minutes from a feed store, so whenever I need anything, I can just nip over for it. No one lives in the house closest to us, so they can’t be bothered by noise. It could be a lot worse. If I find myself thinking some chicken-related task is a drag, I remind myself that I could be doing this in the city, and it would be a lot harder there. Then I think, “Well, how do people do this in the city, then?” My friend Scott lives in Brooklyn and has chickens, so I decided to ask him about it. Is that city enough for you? You got a problem with Brooklyn?


Life in the city.

The big thing I was curious about was predators in the city. I’m a little obsessed with making sure nothing can get into our coop besides chickens. That’s probably a good thing, since so many things that like to eat chickens live where we are. When I think about times I’ve lived in cities, though, I start to think about rats, and how I am so much happier worrying about fisher cats and possums and raccoons than rats. Rats can pretty much get into whatever they want to, no matter what you do to stop them. I was once on a kick where I read a bunch of books about various types of vermin, and the rat one really kind of scarred me. I know what they’re capable of. So I asked Scott what predators he had to worry about. His answer kind of surprised me. Rats aren’t really the issue. Feral cats are. I had completely forgotten how many feral cats are kicking around Brooklyn, even though we have one as a pet, which we rescued when she was a kitten. Because of this feral cat situation, Scott has made the wise decision to not let his chickens out to free range in the yard. There are some rodents around, but the cats are probably the ones to watch. His own cat even once snuck into the coop and experienced a brief moment of what Scott described as being in the Thunderdome before beating a hasty retreat. I think street cats might not back down so easily. His coop setup is quite nice, and the chickens have plenty of room to run. They’re happy and safe inside.

Scott's coop

Scott’s coop

It’s been a while since I lived in Brooklyn, but I never remembered seeing any feed stores around in my travels. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were there, since you can pretty much find whatever you need if you look hard enough, but I asked how Scott handled the feed issue. He said they used to just track down an Agway any time they left town, but they’ve recently found a guy who raises his own chickens and sells feed out of his garage right in the city. Of course, his garage is protected by security cameras, barbed wire, and a gate with a buzzer, so you might think he’s selling something other than chicken food. Maybe he is, but you have to applaud his industriousness for finding new markets. It’s certainly easier than having to go out of town any time you need to stock up on feed, intimidating though it may seem.


No buzzer here.

I suppose Scott could just get chicken bedding from this guy also, but why bother when the New York Times is printed with soy ink? He just shreds some copies of the Grey Lady, tosses it in the coop, and that’s all there is to it. Food for the mind, bedding for the other end. It’s compostable, and maybe the chickens will learn something. It almost makes me want to subscribe just to do this too. I really like this idea. He keeps the paper on a good rotation, and so there are few problems with smells.


Good reading, and other things.

The question I was a little afraid to ask had to do with the ultimate fate of these birds. Not everyone is a weirdo chicken-hugging vegetarian like me, so I had prepared myself for a less than storybook ending (depending on what sorts of storybooks you read). He did say that once they stop laying eggs they will have outgrown their usefulness to him, as he is not running a chicken retirement home. However, he has a cousin in Vermont with a fruit tree that is a magnet for a certain type of bug, and these bugs are considered highly delicious by chickens. So when the time is right, they will be sent out to the Green Mountains to retire in bug eating bliss. It’s the rare case where sending your pet off to a farm in the country isn’t actually a euphemism.

Future bug eaters. (Probably current bug eaters, also).

Future bug eaters. (Probably current bug eaters, also).

There are a million stories in the chicken city, and this is just one of them. What I love about raising chickens is that there’s room for everyone to do things their own way, and so they do. Loads of people in New York have chickens now, and I bet plenty of them do things entirely differently from Scott. If I hear about others, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll think about how my own coop could probably qualify as a highly expensive studio apartment in a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood, and remind my chickens how good they have it.

(All photos from Scott’s Facebook page.)

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