Monday, May 31, 2010

Egg Spots

Several folks have mentioned that they occasionally see a spot of blood in an egg. Now I just assumed that this was because our hens run with roosters, but I've done a little research and this is not the case. Here are the main points I found.

Eggs with a visible blood spot occur in less than 1% of all eggs laid, and are safe for consumption. The spot is caused by the rupture of a blood vessel during the formation of the egg, and can be removed with the tip of a knife. In industrial situations, all eggs are candled and those with spots culled. Interestingly, blood spots are more likely to occur with hens laying brown eggs. Not only does the color of the shell make candling more difficult, the genetics of these birds predisposes them to lay eggs containing spots.

Each yolk begins within the hen's ovary, and is enclosed in a sack containing blood vessels facilitating its development. Normally, when the yolk is mature it is released from the "stigma" or "suture" line, which is the only area of the yolk sack free of blood vessels. When on occasion the yolk ruptures at another point, the small blood vessels supplying the yolk with nutrients rupture, thus causing a spot of blood to appear on the yolk or in the white.

Importantly, this spot fades over time, and so a bright blood spot indicates a very fresh egg! This is because, as an egg ages the yolk takes water from the albumen and dilutes the color of the spot, making it unnoticeable. Once I learned this I realized that the people reporting such spots were, in fact, receiving eggs laid that same day.

Eggs that you buy in the store are, on average, two weeks old before they reach the grocer's shelf, let alone your fridge and belly. Until now there have been times when I am a few eggs short on a given day's order, and will go out to the nesting coop to get a few. These are the eggs that, more than likely, contain the spots. Since learning this, I've begun to let eggs sit for a day or two before distribution. (Just FYI: Ecotone eggs are always less than a week old; in fact, we sell all the eggs we have every two or three days.)

So, in short, these spots indicate an extraordinarily fresh egg and, aside from aesthetics, are completely safe to consume and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sire for Hire

A few days ago Rambo embarked on his new career as porcine stud. A new farmer friend from Chapmansboro came down with a trailer and some goat's milk to see if Rambo might be interested in taking a ride to meet her Duroc sow, Mackenzie. With patience at first and then a firm shove, sure enough Rambo was interested. Here are some photos Dani sent of him taking a breather after the trip, and of his new mate. We're hoping to get some good hybrid vigor off of this pairing, which given her looks seems likely.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Piglets 2

I noticed yesterday that Sadie didn't eat her breakfast, and sure enough by sunset she farrowed 11 piglets! This morning I found one dead, though not apparently laid upon, and couldn't find yet another. Jen went out a little bit later and found a piglet shivering by the hay bale outside the hut. I must have walked right by it. But that makes 10 healthy piglets in Sadie's first litter.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Last night Ruby became a sow, farrowing 8 piglets by dawn, with 7 6 still living! Though I haven't counted exactly, they look to be mostly males, which would confirm an old saying that early litters are large and mostly female, while late litters (as this one seemed to be) are small and mostly male. Here's a video and some photos Jen got this morning.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fruits of Our Labors

This is now the view from my bedroom window, a nice showcase to three of our recently completed projects.

First, the strawberries. Since we don't yet have a deer-proof fence, I had to scratch my head a bit to find a place I could grow these sweet treats without all the rabbits, deer, chipmunks, you-name-it nibbling away all the good stuff. Eureka, the roof! This gently sloping metal roof gets plenty of sunlight, but is 15 feet off the ground. So I constructed this little shelf to hold the containers, and now whenever I need to water the plants I just open my bedroom window and tiptoe out to them. As you can see, a few little red beauties are already ripening.

Beyond the roof (actually down on the ground below) is our new clothesline. For about a year I've been hanging clothes on the clothesline I installed, which has been slowly sagging and leaning ever closer to the ground. So C.J. erected this awesome new clothesline, pictured here supporting three full washer loads.
To the right of the clothesline you can see a wooden structure, our brand-new dove aviary! If you look close enough, you can even see three white doves perched inside. They seem very happy in there, cooing softly on warm spring evenings, with plenty of room to spread their wings, fly around, and test out all the different places to perch and preen.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Pig Shots 2

Here are some recent photos of Ruby and Sadie, which are due to farrow any day now, and Rambo, who is now available as a sire for hire. Ruby (Reg. # 1833):

Sadie (Reg. #1834), with a photo of the new farrowing huts:
And Rambo (Reg. #1869):

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Egg Count 5

The egg count for April is 243 dozen, down from 259 dozen in March. There are perhaps several explanations for this, the most obvious of which might seem the weather; but some of the highest counts fell on days with thunderstorms and heavy rains. Everyone at Ecotone did manage the storms and floods alright, with the worst being some wet chickens and smelly coops. So along with the improved quality of air up on the Highland Rim, I add being some 700 feet above the Cumberland River floodplain.
Another consideration is the experiment I conducted as the hens ran along the perimeter of the pasture. I would open the fences to the woods and watch as the ladies poured out far and wide, coming back at dusk to roost. This practice - while deeply satisfying to watch - seems to have encouraged them to jump the fence even when I didn't want them to - duh! - and we lost two hens to some critter who found them roosting outside the fences. So the number of hens laying at this point stands at 137. But one thing is for sure: when there are trees available, the chickens clearly prefer to scratch around, eat, and rest under their branches, which may indicate better food, better security, or both. And while this may seem obvious, it only points to the peculiarity of our penchant to run them on pasture.

As a whole, though, this little experiment demonstrated why we can't simply move the coops through the pasture without the electric fences: because chickens range quickly through an area, radiating out from their coop, eating the best grubs first, while only later, and if necessary, coming back for the less desirable forages and what not. The result of this is a huge potential range, and in just a few days the hens were pressing against our neighbor's 30 year old cultivated patch of Morel mushrooms, which were just then due to fruit.

Another potential explanation of the drop lies in at least two species of egg eaters. While hanging out in the laying coop trying to catch the former species in the act - one of which is pictured above awaiting its transformation into dinner - I glimpsed the tip of the tail of the latter. This morning I scooped this black rat snake up into a feed bucket, and given its overall size, and the girth of its neck in particular, it seems we've been losing eggs to this critter, too. But, hey, we all gotta eat!

Monday, May 3, 2010


On April 25th, Christina VanRegenmortar and I installed two beehives here at Ecotone. Our weekends for the month or so previous had been consumed with preparations, especially the construction of all the supers and frames. See, when you order bee equipment through the mail, it arrives as hundreds of little pieces of wood and several bags of nails. "Some assembly required."

But now, with that work behind us and both hives successfully introduced to their new homes, the work of the colony is finally getting underway. The queens have emerged from their candy-gated queen cages (more on this later) and the workers are busily collecting nectar and pollen from so many flowers scattered throughout our pasture and beyond.

Today we checked for brood, but no sign of that yet. Hopefully we will see brood developing over the coming days/ weeks.