Thursday, December 31, 2009

What is THAT?

Today on How Do Chickens Work: What is THAT weird part of the egg?

Here we have a bowlful of farm-fresh eggs. These eggs' shells had some irregularities that might have allowed bacteria inside the egg. So I'm about to make the world's most thoroughly-cooked scrambled eggs--any bacteria will surely die, but the eggs will have the consistency of cheap chewing gum after three hours of dedicated jawing. But the dogs think that's haute cuisine, so everybody wins.

Before I beat these eggs and cooked them down to jaw-aching rubber, I took their picture so I could ask this question: Can you tell which eggs are fertilized? You may think the answer looks so obvious that you suspect a trick. You'd be right.

Here's the answer (you can click to enlarge):

The pale little 'bull's eye' appears after the egg is fertilized. That is where the embryo would begin to develop, if it were going to. The much more obvious white globules are just an egg part; they are there whether the egg is fertilized or not.

How's that for egg facts?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A magical Christmas (no chickens involved)

What makes Christmas magical? Is it snow? Is it getting a Kong Wooba shaped like a fox? Well... those things are okay... but the most magical part of Christmas is receiving* and carefully consuming bags of Hanukkah gelt, without the use of opposable thumbs, right there on your in-laws' carpet.

Oh: this is all if you are a dog.

Molson was pleased to have the chance to apply his egg-eating skills to interfaith holiday chocolate. His procedure of cracking and discarding the inedible shell, while carefully and thoroughly consuming the delectable interior, works equally well with gelt as with eggs. Click the picture to get a good close look at how clean he got those wrappers. Way to diversify, yet maintain high standards of quality.

*Don't worry if someone else technically "received" it in their stocking. If you are left alone in a room with it, now you have received it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How to trick a chicken, part two

The chickens have a red lightbulb in their house that comes on at dusk--4:30 p.m.--and goes off again at 9:30 p.m. During those hours, lurid scarlet light spills from every window and splashes out across the snow. The chicken house looks like The Chicken House...OF HORROR!

The light tricks the hens into laying eggs during fall and winter's shorter days (...OF HORROR!). I kind of remember from a behavioral endocrinology seminar I took many, many years ago that the light actually penetrates through birds' thin little birdie skulls and does its tricking directly on some surface area of the brain. Meaning a bird's actual brain has some kind of light receptors. Could this be true??

1. Go look it up.
2. Forget about it.
3. Design an experiment on egg production using a control group of birds and a group of birds that has to wear a thick bonnet (...OF HORROR!). (also: Design a thick bonnet, of horror, for birds.)

I think I will ultimately choose option one. I will look it up in my old college textbook...OF ENDOCRINOLOGY!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

How to make a* egg

Once people come to think of it, they have a ton of questions about how chickens make eggs. Can hens make eggs if there is no rooster? Do they make like five eggs a day, or one per week?
these five eggs: did they all pop out from the same hen in one exhausting day?

The usual answer to the how-many-eggs question is something indigestible like: 2 hens will lay 3 eggs in 2 days. Something that, when you try to reduce it, leaves you with half a hen or half an egg.

It takes a hen about a day or day and a half to produce and lay an egg. That's the rule of thumb. The actual rate varies, depending on stuff like breed (some breeds were created to just become big and fat and have little energy to spare for eggs) and--ESPECIALLY--time of year.

"Time of year?", you say?

Yes! Eggs are naturally a seasonal food, like oysters and Mallomars. Hens are set up to lay eggs most strongly in the spring and summer. As the days get shorter through the fall, their laying drops off precipitously. These days we can trick a chicken--I'll tell you how next time--so that these days everyone just eats eggs year-round, and we all think it's as natural as pie.

Mmmmm, pie.

OK, I have to go eat some pie, so I'll just tell you quickly: if there are no roosters around, hens lay unfertilized eggs. These are the kind of eggs you get at the grocery store. Hens who lay grocery store eggs have probably never seen a rooster in their entire lives.

*I know, I know: AN egg. But this is how the chickens say it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to trick a chicken

Today on How Do Chickens Work?: How (and why) to trick a chicken.

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to trick a chicken, I recommend getting specially-produced fake eggs. I ordered some a few days ago, and today they came. Yesss. Step one of my tricky plan: complete.

This afternoon I used the eggs to seed some nest boxes that I would LOVE for the chickens to use, but that the chickens are not currently using. Some chickens are instead putting their eggs in crazy places, like on the ledge, or under the chicken house, or in the stone wall on the other side of the fence: all places where I cannot reach.

But here's what happens when the hens see a collection of wooden eggs in the nest boxes: "Oh," they think. "What a great place for a nest! Some wooden hen has accumulated a lot of eggs here already; this spot must be very safe. I think I'll put one in, too." And then they start laying their eggs in the nest boxes. Which is far more convenient for me, and saves Amy, with her healthy knees, from having to climb over the fence and back with eggs all the time.

And, hold onto your hat... ready to get your word-nerd socks blown off? These fake eggs are NEST EGGS. Then the hens will add to them. That's where "nest egg" comes from!

I have high hopes for these fake eggs. I used to try and trick the chickens with golf balls, but the chickens were not totally fooled. Instead of "Wow, what a perfect nesting site!", they seemed to think "Wow, these people are really bad at golf! This seems like a dangerous place to lay eggs."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How do chickens work?

Answer: A chicken is a food tube. Everyone knows that: 1. Food goes into the chicken. 2. Food comes out of the chicken. 3. The chicken itself is also food. It seems almost magic! Some of this Green Technology money should probably be spent studying chickens.

Yet, this answer is also puzzling. Are chickens the solution to the problem of a Perpetual Motion machine, which has tantalized scientists and thinkers for centuries? Also, how exactly do chickens make these eggs--do they need roosters? How can you tell which eggs are going to hatch into chicks, and which eggs are for eating? Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs? Do the chickens have personalities? Why are there different types of chickens? And those chickens that lay green eggs: am I making them up?

With the exception of the first and last ones, these are the most common questions people ask me when, after a lifetime on the planet, they suddenly begin to consider chickens. (The last question they just wonder privately, giving me a suspicious look.) As a public service and for my own amusement, I will answer these questions. AND I will deliver additional information so surprising you would never had thought to ask. Here's a taste: Chicken babies? They love to stand on their moms.
They love it!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Snow good?

Or, as chickens think: 's no good.

About 5 inches of sleet and snow came down overnight, and when the chickens woke up this morning they couldn't believe how much the world sucked. We've all had mornings like that, so it stirred in me a rush of fellow-feeling. Poor horrified chickens. I tell you from experience: it will get better. It's ok. Maybe next time don't drink so much. ...wait, what was I talking about?

On normal mornings, these chickens have flown into my head in their rush to get outside. This morning, they were all, "shut the door!"

These dudes: "I said shut it!"

This little white roosty boy was the only one walking around in the snow. He is one of the three patience-testing Stupid Babies ("stupid babies!!"), so I suppose this is in character.
"Ugh, how did I get out here? Why is the world cold, and wet, and sticking to my feet? Where are my Stupid Baby friends? Ugh. This is awful. Ugh."

Sunday, December 06, 2009


Green egg! Green egg! Green egg!

Ever since this year's crop of young 'uns started producing their first eggs, I have been waiting on tenterhooks--TENTERHOOKS!--for the Ameraucanas' first pastel eggs. I have been checking, like, five times a day. Finally, today, hooray!! One of the Ameraucana hens has become a woman! (er, a hen woman...who makes eggs...)

Green egg!!

Friday, December 04, 2009

But what happens when you find an egg with a crack in it?

Dog heaven.

Molson has a 7-step procedure he follows to the letter when he is offered an egg:

1. Take egg!
2. Find perfect place to lie down with egg.
3. Gingerly allow egg to roll from mouth. (Not too far!!!)
4. Using front teeth only: gently, gently, gently crack egg.
5. Now, quickly! Lap the goodness from inside.
6. Shell = gross. Leave the shell for some other sucker to clean up.

7. Point belly to the sky. Bask.