I didn’t think I was a feather fancier…I, Iike many other it seems, was a bit freaked out by the flightiness of birds that I had encountered in the past. It turns out that chickens are actually really sweet when they are used to daily human contact. I’ve had some of my best cuddles with our Rhode Island Reds (which I have determined to be the cuddliest of the four breeds that we acquired last year for our laying flock).
We wanted chickens on our farm for two reasons: One was to have farm fresh eggs for ourselves and for our customers and two was to generate some fertility on our vegetable fields by rotationally grazing chickens on our future growing areas.
It turns out that fresh eggs are just out of this world…so amazing I don’t think I could eat the ones from the grocery store again. Eggs have a stellar shelf life, so the ones that you get at the store can be about 6 weeks old….not that there is anything wrong with that, but at that point, they taste different and have a different texture that ones that come fresh from the chickens bum 🙂
It remains to be seen how well the chickens have fertilized our fields, but we’re excited to grow on those areas where the chickens grazed last year to see if we notice a difference in veggie production.
Anyways, our jump into the small scale egg market in Ontario, admittedly may have been slightly under researched. We started in March by purchasing 100 day-old laying hens, which is the maximum amount of birds that you can have in Ontario without owning quota through the supply managed system.
This limit is quite a bit less than some other provinces (for example in BC, you can have 399 laying hens annually), but none-the-less 100 birds = a crap ton of eggs. At their peak these birds were laying 7 – 8 dozen eggs a day..really they are just amazing little food producers. Such abundance sounds great right? Unfortunately we learned that our plans to sell these eggs at the farmers market (which we had seen happen in BC with relative ease) was not so easy. It turns out that in order to sell your eggs at the farmers market in Ontario they must be graded at a licensed grading facility. The grading process checks for cracks/deformities in eggs as well as sizes eggs according to weight, washes and packs eggs all for a cool $1.90/dozen. Sounds good? Well sort of except for that the closest grading facility to us is over an hour away and requires a trip to drop the eggs off, and a trip to pick them back up which is maybe or maybe not justifiable for a small amount of eggs, but certainly difficult to do in the height of the season with everything else that is going on. That and the cost of the grading for a small scale producer either really cuts into relatively small margins or gets passed on to customers, which is why you often will pay upwards of $7/doz for a dozen free-range eggs at the farmers market from a small scale producer (rest assured that it’s not the farmer trying to gouge you!)
With these barriers in place have we been turned off from small-scale egg production? No, not really…in fact we are much more enthusiastic about chickens now that we know how lovely they are. We are trying to be a bit smarter about how we produce and sell eggs by selling egg-shares through the CSA, and we are considering trying out weekly or bi-weekly trips to the grader (side note: perhaps we need to work on an egg carpool with another producer or work to get a grading facility closer to us eventually). We have culled part of our first flock down to about 35 birds for the winter in order to not have too many eggs, and to have some really tasty soup hens, and have ordered some new birds that are set to arrive in spring. Part of why I wanted to write this blog post is because I am super excited about the breeds that we are getting!
We’ve ordered some standard Red Sex Links, ready to lay hens (i.e. approx 16 week old) that will be coming around April. In addition to that, we’ve ordered some day-old Silver and Golden Laced Wynadottes:
A gorgeous Golden Laced Wynandotte roo:
And last…but not least…we have some Ameraucana chickens coming in April too
Which means our egg stash is going to look something like this!
Ameraucana chickens lay green/blue eggs, so we’ll actually be producing green eggs…and ham this year at Sideroad Natural Farm!
As you can probably tell from my attitude in this post that for us, having a laying flock can’t just be all about the money (although it would be nice if we weren’t out of pocket on them this year), it’s about the happiness they bring us and to other people, it’s about having a source of fresh, healthy food from animals who get to be outside and about rounding out our farm by creating a system where we generate soil fertility on-site.