Tag Archives: eggs

Wordless Wednesday: Killdeer Nest

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Wordless Wednesday: Bucky the Chick

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Spring Has Sprung

Springtime on the Ranch often means hormones. That often equates to babies (remember that kids!). We have a broody hen, she has insisted she needs to raise some chicks. We don’t have a rooster so that was going to be a problem for her, but she wasn’t taking no for an answer, in fact it was getting ugly. She was stealing the other hens eggs, when my Mom went to get those eggs, little hen would beat my Mom up (I wish I was kidding). I jumped on Craigslist and found a local farm that sells fertilized chicken eggs, Valley View Farm. We called and went out to select a dozen fertilized eggs.

Enid was very nice and showed us all around her place.

Enid was very nice and showed us all around her place.

Valley View Farm raises heritage chickens! They were beautiful!

Valley View Farm raises heritage chickens! They were beautiful!

I loved their hen houses! Perfect!

I loved their hen houses! Perfect!

My Mom and I had a great time meeting all of Valley View Farm’s chickens and deciding what type of eggs we wanted!

Look at the colors!

Look at the colors!

Since my Mom and this hen have some history and we are all afraid of her, we decided that my Mom needed some protective clothing.

Her weed-eating helmet and safety gloves.

Her weed-eating helmet and safety gloves.

My Mom very carefully placed the fertilized eggs under the broody hen. Of course the hen did her best to peck at Mom and generally be a brat, but we had success!

I have a video of this, but it contains too much cussing from both the hen and my Mom.

I have a video of this, but it contains too much cussing from both the hen and my Mom.

She has eggs now!

She has eggs now!

We left the hen alone for a few minutes and when we came back:

SUCCESS! She is setting! In 21 days we will know if our experiment worked!

SUCCESS! She is setting! In 21 days we will know if our experiment worked!

Some more good news! Our cowdog Ranchie is also expecting! This will be her second litter! The first produced Hoot and Jinx dog and you all know how proud we are of them! These are going to be some amazing   working dogs!

Ranchie is with puppies! We should have chicks and puppies around the same time!

Ranchie is with puppies! We should have chicks and puppies around the same time!

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Wordless Wednesday: Guardian Dog Nikki and Her Hens

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Guest Post: Oversight

The beautiful thing about social media is all of the wonderful people you will come across. If you pay attention these people will teach you all kinds of things. One of these people, who has taught me a lot, is Hal Kreher. When I need to know something about poultry, Hal is my go-to source. I asked him to guest post a couple months back, this is the finished product.

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The other day it was suggested to me that farms need more regulation and oversight.  In particular, large farms need more regulation (apparently small farms are of higher integrity just by being small).

I think that there is a knowledge gap that this person and many others fall into.   Not only is the knowledge missing but often a value judgment is made based on this poor knowledge. Many people do not have the first hand knowledge of the subject, have not questioned someone directly involved, yet have already formed an opinion based on what little knowledge can be gained from one or two inflammatory articles.  How unfortunate.

So I have decided to write what I hope to be an enlightening article on what really happens.

First a little background.  My family has what most would consider a fairly large egg business.  We have been fortunate and successful through a period of history where the number of egg producing companies in the US has decreased from 10,000 in the 1970’s to a few hundred left today. We achieved our success through perseverance, customer service, a great team of workers, luck, etc.  We did not achieve success by cutting corners, ignoring safety, breaking the rules, intimidation, etc (although the assumption that you are big because you are bad seems to be made sometimes).

Most people do not understand that to supply a grocery chain – you have to have a certain sized business.  Grocery chains do not want to have to deal with a different farm for each store.  They want one supplier that can handle the business.  Also it is not a good practice for one of your customers to be too large of a percentage of your sales because if something (like a bankruptcy) happens to that customer, you are in trouble.  This, the advances and mechanization and automation of poultry husbandry and economies of scale are what led to where we are today.

So, getting back to the regulations – the following only pertains to egg farms.  There are probably a whole bunch of other regulations that apply to broilers or pigs or dairy or beef or crops or vegetable/ fruit production.

Here is the list of audits that we have mostly on an annual basis:

FDA Food Facility Registration – registers our facility with the FDA so they know where we are, this was put into place by the Bioterrorism Act of 2002.

FDA Shell Egg Producer Registration – similar to above but particular to shell egg facilities (as opposed to Egg Breaking facilities)

FDA inspection – this is where they come out and walk through your facility and look through your paperwork (a two day visit per farm, minimum).  What they are looking for here is that we are following the FDA Egg Safety Rule – this means that we have a Salmonella Program – we buy chicks that come from Salmonella free breeders, test the growing and laying houses at the appropriate times for Salmonella, have a biosecurity program (which includes limiting visitors – we are required by law to limit visitors!), and have an effective pest control system and are keeping the eggs properly refrigerated (at 45 deg).  There is a lot of paperwork and training of personnel involved. This is a new program that started in 2010 for farms with over 50,000 and in 2012 will extend to farms with 3,000 or more hens (there are some exceptions, for farms that sell all their eggs directly to the consumer for example.)

You can find out the results of the inspections of all the egg farms in the US if you know where to look.  All three of our farms passed with no problems.

NYSEQAP – this is the NY State Egg Quality Assurance Plan (we haven’t had an audit in a couple of years but are still following this program) – another paperwork audit to make sure you are following the program.  Very similar to the FDA inspection and will probably be replaced by it.  This voluntary program has been in place since the ‘90’s.  Several states have similar programs.  This program and a preceding HAACP program that we needed in order to supply McDonald’s (we were a supplier to them in the 1980’2 and 90’s) helped us to have very high quality standards in respect to production and packaging.  One of the key things that happened on our farms during this was the elimination of rodents on the farm.

Eggland’s Best – a thorough facility inspection.  Eggland’s Best has a very high expectation that the farms producing product for them produce the best quality possible.  In addition to following the FDA Salmonella program, EB requires additional salmonella testing of incoming baby chicks and at the end of the flocks cycle.  The inspector for EB is one of the pickiest persons that I know.  He has a very critical eye and we really try to make it so that he doesn’t find anything to report.  Our poultry care attendants and packing room folks work very hard to keep things in good shape and as clean as possible.

Kosher Certification – a visit by the Rabbi to make sure you are following those rules.  Inspection is not very rigorous as eggs are basically Kosher, you just have to use the proper soap when washing them.  He does not bless your eggs.  Only certain labels pay to have this on their label.

UEP Animal Care – a paperwork audit (which means a review of the records kept in respect to daily inspection and monitoring of the hens) They also inspect buildings to make sure the cages have the correct number of hens.  This program also requires animal care training.  Hens are housed at 67 sq inches per hen.  The cages contain 5 – 7 hens depending on the size and shape.  The chickens are much calmer than you usually see on videos – bright lights and strangers can trigger the flight response – to view live video on a California farm go to   HYPERLINK “http://www.jswest.com” www.jswest.com and view the “hens live tab”.

NYS Dept. of Ag & Markets (animal ID) – to make sure we properly report our chickens so the state knows who has chickens and where they are sourced and where they eventually end up.

American Humane Certification – of our organic farm – to make sure we follow their program.  This is an incredibly detailed program that requires proper space allowance, drinker, feeder and nest space.  There is an incredible amount of detail that has to be documented daily.

SQF – Safe Quality Foods – egg packing plant food quality program inspection.  This extremely comprehensive program was billed as the audit that was supposed to replace all others.  Well, it hasn’t done that (obviously) but it is an extremely detailed food safety program and inspection by a third party auditor.  This inspection covers the packing plant, warehouse, and egg cooler, inside and out.

2 customer audits – inspection of our egg packing operations by QA people from the customer office.  They do this to make sure that we are doing things properly to minimize their exposure to a food safety problem.

Quickfire Reg. # – Our SQF registration where we interact with the certification body and SQF.

iCiX (International Compliance Information Exchange) –  a repository for audit reports and other certification documents where suppliers can obtain all your information from one secure spot.  Auditing bodies post their results here so that we are not posting our own audit report (to prevent falsification of documents).

Organic Certification – Crops – one day paperwork and field inspections to make sure we are following the National Organic Program rules on our crop farm.  There is a stack of paperwork about 8 inches deep because we have 2,800 acres in the program and most of the fields are not very large (I would say an average size field would be in the 20 – 30 acre range).

Organic certification – Egg Production – combined with handler – paperwork and egg farm inspection to make sure the chickens are being taken care of in accordance with NOP rules.  This includes documenting ALL inputs.

Organic certification – Handler – paperwork inspection and check of our egg packing operation

CAFO – DEC – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation – check of our environmental monitoring system to make sure our manure and waste water are being handled properly.  This includes accounting for all manure (we sell 2/3 of our manure and use the other 1/3 on our crop operation).  Required for farms with over 37,500 laying hens if using a dry manure handling system.  A farm is a large CAFO if it has over 80,000 laying hens.

Petroleum Bulk Storage – we have some fuel stored on the farm and this is an audit of the tanks where they make sure we are inspecting them and watching for leakage/spills.  Any spill over 5 gallons must be reported to the DEC.  I don’t know when the last time we had a spill like that on our home farm, if we have ever had one.

This is just a portion of the regulations that we fall under.  For instance there is a lot of regulation with respect to grading of the eggs that I did not get into (both state and federal).  We produce fertilizer so we have recently had to get a fertilizer blender license (if it was just the product we make from our own manure we would be exempt but we bring in some other ingredients to supply blends that our customers want).  There are trucking regulations on our delivery and grain trucks.  There are regulations on employing other people (tons of rules! And a lot of reporting/tax filing). Regulations on grain storage, purchasing, etc.  Regulations on our Feed Mill.  OSHA Regultions.   I wonder what I am leaving out…

So, still think we are under- regulated??

You can e-mail Hal at hkreher@aol.com

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The Super Secret Ranch Egg Perfect Peel Method

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One of the many perks to country living, I think, is fresh eggs. My Mom usually maintains a flock of chickens here on the Ranch. When I was little, great lengths were gone to get hens that laid blue eggs (I believe it was a reward for good grades). Brown, blue, white eggs and various shades in between were normal to me, it was Easter all the time!

The color differences in eggs are simply from the breed of the hens they come from, there is no nutritional difference.

At one point, my Mom was selling eggs to a local health food store, that at the time wouldn’t even sell meat for ethical reasons, but they decided they wanted to sell only fertilized eggs (This sounded weird even to an 9 year old me). Our rooster had just had an “unfortunate” accident, so we were unable to sell eggs to this particular market any longer.

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One chore I did a lot of going up, was chicken tending. This meant feeding them, changing their water and gathering the eggs. It was an epic chore, with great trials and tribulations that were to be triumphed. First there was a 50/50 chance that a mouse was going to be in the chicken feed sack, and if you weren’t paying attention you would reach down expecting to find the feed scoop but instead, you would grab a mouse! Even worse, sometimes they would climb up your little arm to get out of the feed sack!!! The second trial was way worse; once in while, not that often, but often enough to be freaked out by it, there would be a snake in the egg room. Usually just a harmless bull snake, but still, it always seemed like a rattlesnake to an 9 year old.20120405-195132.jpgFinally, the greatest trial. Mr. Rooster. At the time, Mr. Rooster was about my size (I was a petite child), and had spurs that were about 3 inches long. Mr. Rooster didn’t like me. The hens and I didn’t like him either, he would attack me every chance he got. Mr. Rooster was almost a little too good at his job. Most of the hens had bloody combs or necks, from his incessant “attention”.

No one would believe me about how mean Mr. Rooster was. He’d never attack me when my Mom or Dad would watch me or when my Mom would do the chicken chores, oh no, he was a crafty rooster. I finally came to the conclusion that in order to do my chore without being taken out by Mr. Rooster, I had to arm myself. I wasn’t a violent or mean kid so this was a fairly drastic measure on my behalf. Protecting myself with my egg collecting basket just wasn’t cutting it, plus, I’d get in trouble if I broke all the eggs defending myself.

I found a nice stout “walking stick” that I started packing with me pretty much everywhere on the Ranch. This “walking stick” was the perfect size for Mr. Rooster whacking. Once Mr. Rooster got whacked a couple times, we came to an understanding. As long as I had that stick, he wouldn’t attack me. And if he didn’t attack me, I wouldn’t whack him. Turns out, Mr. Rooster did not like his own medicine. This “walking stick” was also highly effective on mean turkeys and rattlesnakes.

One day, my Mom decided to do the chicken tending (meaning I whined so much about being scared of Mr. Rooster, it wasn’t worth the battle). Freeing my afternoon up for a some Breyer Horse play time. Suddenly, I heard my Mom screaming! Horrible, blood curdling fear screams!!! Convinced my Mom was being murdered in cold blood, I ran outside with my whacking stick, ready to come to her aid, and save her from whoever was murdering her! By the time I made it outside, I could hear my Mom screaming “get my gun! Get my gun!” My little imagination was racing! I was imagining all kinds of horrible things, my poor Mom was in danger and possibly hurt!! I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me, found her shotgun in it’s secret place, and rushed to her rescue, convincing myself I was ready to shoot to kill whoever was hurting my Mommy! Mr. Rooster had an bad accident that day (vindication!). I also found out my Mom was an awesome shot. Doing my chicken chores was fun again!

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The only drawback to having fresh eggs is you cannot peal them when hard boiled. Seriously you can’t. We’ve tried everything, from the infomercial egg de-sheller to aging Ranch eggs in the refrigerator for a month (the old egg thing worked the best thus far). However, I finally found a method that works on eggs fresh out of the chicken’s butt! Take a push-pin and pierce the bottom the egg.

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Your goal here is to only pierce the shell at the bottom of the egg, but not the membrane that holds the white. There is an air cell there and removing the air allows water to get between the shell and the membrane – the key to a pretty egg.

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After I pierce the egg, I place it in a saucepan filled with cold water. Once the water comes to a boil, I cover the pan and turn off the heat. Let that sit there for 17 minutes, then immediately place the eggs in an ice bath. Let them cool and peel!

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I noticed that letting the cooked and cracked eggs sit in the cold water bath longer helps with the de-shelling process. I let these sit for about 6 hours and all but one came out the shell easily.

If you let your egg water cool, it can be re-used on your garden or houseplants! I was told that the calcium that leeches out from the shells can be beneficial to plants. Plus it feel extra green when I do that, lol.

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The Incredible Edible Egg?

When I was a senior in college I was chosen for an internship with our local Cooperative Extension. My intention at the time was to intern for our Ranch, but thankfully I had a wonderful advisor that pointed out how much experience I would gain if I spread my wings and tried something new. I ended up working for the Cooperative Extension, part-time, for a couple years. I’m so grateful for that opportunity.

For those of you not familiar with the Cooperative Extension – it offers agricultural education and information to farmers, ranchers and the general public from land grant based universities. There are many different facets to the Cooperative Extension including 4-H, master gardeners, and nutrition programs. My internship allowed me to work with the 4-H program, the Farm Advisors and to dabble in the nutrition program. It was mind blowing.

The topics that I gained the most knowledge in during my employment with the Farm Advisors were olives, almonds and chickens. We’ve always had chickens on the Ranch, but my knowledge until that point was pretty elementary. I mean I knew I had a strong aversion to big, mean roosters that would attack me as I gathered eggs, but my poultry science knowledge was weak, at best. Of course, my first assignment for my internship was to create comprehensive chicken handout for the public. *Facepalm*

I got through it. I researched, read and learned. My chicken handout was deemed worthy! I got paid to learn (pretty much my most favoritist thing ever). I was able to take the skills and knowledge I acquired from the Farm Advisors and use it on the Ranch! This comes in handy when something weird happens.

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Occasionally we get an egg with an issue. This time is was a shell-less egg, an egg in only a membrane. This can be caused by several factors including immature or defective shell glad, disturbances to the hen that cause her to lay her egg before it is calcified, poor nutrition or a disease. Most likely this was a freak thing, its wintertime and has been raining, the light (or lack of) probably affected the hen’s cycles. We’ll know today when she lays another egg.

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A fun egg/chicken fact for you is a chicken’s earlobe is an indication of what color the chicken’s egg will be? Eggs can come in a multitude of colors including white, brown, blue, and green. The nutritional content has nothing to do with the color of the egg, but a lot to do with the chicken’s diet.

On a side note here, I’d like to thank my Mom for taking these pictures! Thanks Mom!

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