FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CHICKENS & EGGS

BASIC TERMS

POULTRY- Domesticated birds used for the production of meat & eggs (includes chickens, turkeys, geese ducks, etc). CHICKEN (species)- A bird domesticated for egg and meat production.Eggs are of various colors depending upon breed. HEN -A female chicken. ROOSTER/COCKEREL- a male chicken. CHICK- baby chicken (of either sex). PULLET- a young hen. CAPON- A castrated rooster.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BROWN EGGS AND WHITE EGGS?

The main difference is in the breed of chicken. Nutritionally, they can be the same. That depends on feeding and management. White eggs are usually the most popular commercially because the chickens (usually white leghorns)are smaller and more feed efficient. The large commercial operations are "battery" or cage operations with one or two birds to a small cage. In home flocks they may be treated much differently.98% of commercial operations are cage raised according to the United Poultry Producers.

HOW OFTEN DOES A CHICKEN LAY AN EGG?

Some references list the egg laying interval as 27 hours. However that number is across all breeds, all conditions, etc.(If this were true, in practice we would have to alter egg collection by 3 hours each day. This is just not so!) In general, a chicken lays an egg every 24 hours.

ARE CHICKENS VEGETARIANS?

No, not by choice but only as foisted on them by their human "keepers". A chicken free ranging in the yard/field will eat many insects, worms etc. I have even witnessed them eating mice that they encounter. That is like a fight over the last 'hot' christmas gift on Dec 24th or an active rugby game. Watching them fight over and run with the poor mouse in the beak is amazing. They will also eat their own eggs if cracked- all these are animal products.

IF I HAVE AN OLD EGG IN THE REFRIGERATOR, DO I HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT CONTAINING A DEVELOPING CHICK?


No.A chick will only develop from a fertilized egg. Secondly, if the egg were refrigerated, that would also prevent the development of a chick in a fertilized egg. Eggs must be incubated at about 93 degrees for 21 days to produce a chick.

DO YOU NEED A ROOSTER TO GET EGGS FROM A CHICKEN?

No. A rooster is only needed if you want fertilized eggs. Just imagine how you would get a rooster to service all those hens in battery cages! As usual very few male animals are needed except for meat puroses.

THE HEALTH FOOD STORES SAY FERTILIZED EGGS ARE BETTER FOR YOU. IS THIS TRUE?

Imagine that the size of a sperm is much less than a grain of salt. Would you expect a grain of salt to be able to flavor the whole egg? Could you tell the difference? I doubt it. Refrigeration slows development of the embryo and therefore there is no more than the difference of the grain of salt. Why pay any more for that miniscule a difference?

SOME PEOPLE CLAIM THEIR CHICKENS DIET IS FREE OF ALL ANIMAL PRODUCTS. HOW CAN THAT BE TRUE?

It is not something they can prove 100%! We divide matter up into 3 categories - animal, vegetable and mineral. Animal includes all critters that can move on their own- this includes oysters (we use oyster shell for grit and extra calcium), insects and other critters. If a chicken breaks an egg they usually will eat it. If they catch a mouse in their travels they will rarely pass it up as a meal! The more free range a hen is, the more likely she will have animal products in her diet! The Federal Govt. forbids PROTEIN PRODUCTS OF RUMINANTS (cow, sheep, goat) to be included in chicken feeds (not ALL animal byproducts)[title 21 CFR589.2000]

WHY WOULD A HEN LAY AN UNFERTILIZED EGG?

Beats me! It's just the way mother nature operates! It's probably because as the eggs develop, they are too large to remain inside the hen.

HOW DOES A HEN FERTILIZE AN EGG?

When a rooster mates with a hen, the semen is stored in the oviduct for later use. When she gets ready to lay the egg,a sperm fertilizes the egg before the shell surrounds it. The sperm is viable for about a month in the oviduct.

HOW OLD DOES A HEN HAVE TO BE TO START LAYING EGGS?

Generally speaking, about 20 to 26 weeks. However, there are other factors that may affect it- breed of chicken, weather, time of year, etc. I have had a spring chicken start as young as 16 weeks.

HOW MANY EGGS DOES A HEN LAY BEFORE SHE SITS ON THEM?

This is more complicated than it seems! There are usually only about one nest box for every 4-8 hens, they share nests. Hence, the eggs a hen sets on may not all be hers! If she is able to sit on a clutch of 8-10 eggs for any length of time, she may decide to "go broody" and try to hatch them. The process takes about 21 days during which she stops laying. Therefore we collect eggs as soon as possible, to prevent her from becoming broody, and going out of production.

WHAT IS MEANT BY GRADE AA AND GRADE A EGGS?

Egg quality is judged by the size of the air pocket at the top of the egg and the stiffness of the white of the egg. It is usually determined by candling (Passing a bright light through a small hole in the "candler" through the shell of the egg). White eggs are easily candled. Brown eggs are more difficult.The smaller the air pocket and the stiffer the white, the higher the quality. Because the shell is porous, the white can evaporate over time, increasing the size of the air pocket. Commercial eggs are usually sprayed with a fine mist of oil to prolong shelf life.

WHAT ARE THE WEIGHTS OF THE VARIOUS SIZES OF EGGS?

All eggs sold in the state of Maryland must be sold by the following weight classes as specified by USDA standards (The minimum weight of each class increases by 3 oz more than the one smaller than it):
EGG WEIGHTS
SIZE OZ/DOZ
Small18
Medium21
Large24
Extra Large27
Jumbo30

WHAT IS A FREE RANGE OR FREE ROAMING EGG?

The eggs are so active we have to cut off their legs to keep them in the carton. Just kidding! It's a matter of sloppy English. What is meant is that the hens are able to run around outside usually in a field or pen.It's the Chicken not the Egg that is free-range! The big question is, are the eggs laid in a nestbox or were they collected from whereever she laid them. If not laid in the nest boxes, then you have to guess how old they are. Another consideration is feed. Plenty of lush grass tends to fill up the hen with less nutritious food. A certain level of protein (16%) is required for good egg production. Pasture fed chickens must have a higher percentage feed than normal to produce similar quality eggs. Does a woman fill up on lettuce when nursing a child? No, she needs to watch her food intake to produce milk. There is always a balancing act. Current research at Penn State states that with optimum forage on pasture, yes, eggs can be higher in Vit E and Omega 3, however, optimum pasture is not a year round possibility with droughts and frozen grounds - it is a limited scenario.The report states:
"The researchers noted that the hens did not forage to the degree necessary to meet their requirements for energy and protein, when compared to the commercial birds. At the end of the experiment, pastured hens weighed 14 percent less and averaged 15 percent lower egg production than commercial birds.
"Pastured hens were lacking dietary protein and energy to match the intake of the commercial hens," Patterson explained. "We have since estimated that, at the level of voluntary forage consumption of hens in this study, pastured hens would require additional mash feed to sustain body weight and egg production equal to that of the commercial hens Supplementing the birds with additional mash, however, would likely result in reduced omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin A and E concentrations in their eggs," he added. "Further research is needed to identify how to optimize pastured poultry feed supplementation for optimum egg production, hen welfare and egg nutritional quality."

WHAT IS MEANT BY DEBEAKING AND WHY IS IT SO COMMON?

Debeaking is a misnomer. It should be called "blunting". It is done right after the chick is hatched by burning the tip of the beak electrically, preventing the development of the sharp point of the beak. At the time it causes less stress than cutting a baby's umbilical cord. Chickens tend to be bullies and pick on each other, hence , "pecking order".The result is that they destroy the feathers, mostly on the rear of the bird. If a chicken complains, it only excites the others to pick even more, ultimately resulting in death. This does not end it -they will pick the flesh off, until there is just bone left. Even with plenty of space available, this is a problem. Hence for their own protection, most producers blunt the beak for a healthier flock.

WHO ARE THE WORST PREDATORS OF CHICKENS?

Everybody loves chicken! Daytime, we have hawks, cats and dogs. most predators are nocturnal and include fox, opossum, skunk and raccoon. By far, my worst one is raccoon. They are persistent, clever, can climb or dig and their paws can manipulate. Any opening is a challenge,and they will keep at it until the whole flock is gone.

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