Jun 24 • 8M

Backyard Chicken Egg Care Tips

Advice from an Urban Chicken Consultant (really!)

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A deeper dive into what was discussed in the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Podcast
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Urban Chicken Consultant, Cherie Sintes-Glover

On today’s newsletter podcast segment, Cherie Sintes-Glover, Urban Chicken Consultant and proprietor of the website ChickensForEggs.com, has egg care tips for backyard chicken flock hobbyists: should eggs be stored in the refrigerator or on the kitchen counter (it depends)? Should you wash the eggs, and what temperature should that water be? (It’s important!). Which eggs make the best hard boiled eggs? How can you determine if an egg is past its prime? How many eggs will a hen lay in its lifetime? How do you get your chickens to lay more eggs in the winter? And why you don’t want a heat lamp near your chickens.

More chicken care tips, including how to take care of your backyard flock during a summer heatwave, on the Get Growing with Farmer Fred podcast, Episode 204 .

Shade and dietary changes are necessary to protect chickens in the summer.

Also on Episode 204 of the Garden Basics podcast: why you might want this chicken breed as part of your flock:

Buff Orpington

For those who would rather read than listen, here is the transcript of the full conversation about backyard chicken care with Cherie Sintes-Glover on Episode 204 of the Garden Basics podcast. It includes information about thwarting avian flu, dietary supplements to use (and the ones to avoid) for your chickens in heat waves, and how chickens adjust their body temperature in the heat. You’ll still have to listen to the egg tips presented in the podcast at the top of the page. No transcript for that.

From Episode 204 of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast:

Farmer Fred

If you've been in a supermarket lately, you may have seen the prices of eggs you may have seen the prices of chickens, maybe some of you are thinking maybe it's time we get ourselves a chicken and have our own eggs. Well before you do that you want to hear what my next guest has to say. Cherie Sintes-Glover is an urban chicken consultant. She is a certified poultry health inspector as well, and runs a wonderful website, chickensforeggs.com. Plus she does seminars as well Zoom classes. Cherie, the rising prices of eggs and chicken. This isn't because of the war in Ukraine? I think it's the avian flu, isn't it?

Cherie Sintes-Glover   

That's a great question. I think it's a little bit of everything right? It's anytime there's an opportunity for prices to go up. They seem to be going up. But yeah, chicken, gosh, chicken eggs are going for? I think I've seen them as high as six or $7 a dozen in some stores. And it depends on which ones you get. If you get the quote unquote, “organic farm fresh raised eggs” versus the regular, just old-fashioned white ones from Costco. But yeah, the prices have just been skyrocketing.

Farmer Fred   

I have not seen $2 a dozen eggs in quite a while now.

Cherie Sintes-Glover  

No, no. And even the people on your average farm that are selling eggs at a roadside stand, they're raising their prices as well. I think it's because chicken feed costs have gone up a little bit. But anytime there's a rise, we have to kind of keep up with that. And right now, because of that, more people are actually thinking about raising their own chickens. And especially with the uncertainty  for a long time, we weren't sure what would be available in the stores or what would be running low. There's still times when I go into Costco and there's no paper towels. So people are trying to think outside of the box or maybe in the box if they haven't already taken that dive into backyard chicken-keeping, like during COVID times. Now they're really considering it, because of the expense and the cost. They want a backup plan. 

Farmer Fred 

And one nice thing too, when you raise your own chickens, is the quality of the eggs. They're colorful, they have a nice, deep, rich yellow yolk, and they're much more tasty than what you're gonna find at a grocery store.

Cherie Sintes-Glover   

They're very different. In fact, people are often just kind of shocked and surprised at how flavorful their eggs are. The ones that they have in their own backyard. Chickens that they've raised themselves compared to the ones that they can buy in the supermarket. And the reason for that is just really comes down to that chicken’s diet. So backyard chicken keepers, their flocks are typically searching around in the backyard for bugs and all those wonderful grass weed nuggets out there that they can grab. So because of that they're nutritionally increasing their diet with all of those great nutrients. And that's what makes that yolk just a bit more orange. But what's funny too, is that sometimes even the breeds will make a little bit of a difference. And there is for instance,  in our laying flock that we have, I’ll crack open three or four different types of eggs and each of those yolks will be a different color. So it lets me know who's maybe foraging more than the others, perhaps.

Farmer Fred 

Let's talk a little bit about avian flu. It is decimating flocks throughout the country. I know up in the northwest and back east, something like 35 million chickens have been culled, which, by the way is a euphemism, because of the avian flu.

Cherie Sintes-Glover   

There are so many different types of avian flu, people typically don't realize that the one that's circulating right now is the highly pathogenic avian influenza, which is known as the HP A1. In this one, they actually feel it's the worst one since 2015. And back then, in 2015, they had about 50 million birds that were euthanized. So we're getting close to that number, but we're watching it closely because throughout the United States it is beginning to spread. It hasn't luckily, knock on wood, has not reached California. But it has gotten as close as Oregon and Washington. So we are keeping an eye on it. And people need to realize that this is mostly inhabiting wild fowl,  and we're talking about wild birds such as ducks and geese that are migrating out there. Although there have been cases within backyard flocks there. They've been minimal, but they are asking people to take certain precautions, especially if they happen to live by large waterways. So waterways or it's funny, the USDA on their website, it talks about lagoons. Luckily, I don't think we have a lot of lagoons here in Northern California. But as we know, the way that the Pacific Flyway goes, all of those migrating ducks and geese are going to be flowing down through California to get to Mexico (this fall). And I think that's what they're trying to be preemptive with. And they want to make sure that people are not only educated but just informed about the flu, this avian flu, and what they can do to protect their own backyard flocks.

Farmer Fred   

Well, give us some quick tips on protecting backyard flocks from avian flu. 

Cherie Sintes-Glover   

Oh, sure. So there's a couple of things that backyard chicken keepers can do. And one of them is just use really good biosecurity. And we've heard this before, right. It's things like limiting access to your property to where your chickens are, you want to make sure, too, that you don't have waterfowl, wild ducks and geese, that can actually get into where your coop is located. That's a big one. So having an enclosed coop is always a good thing. We had neighbors that had a duck flock out in their yard. And as it turned out, they have a little pond. Well guess what, one day they walked out and they actually had some wild ducks visit them. Something like that can be definitely a sensitive area and are in or risk for a lot of backyard chicken keepers as well. So doing things like keeping that biosecurity, maybe having a foot bath, limiting that access, those are going to be the key things that most will be able to do to keep their flock safe.

Farmer Fred 

Right . You mentioned foot bath and during the last avian flu outbreak, I remember the emphasis that was placed upon basically wiping off your shoes, cleaning your car tires, and not tracking any of the detritus from an infected flock to someplace else.

Cherie Sintes-Glover  

It's amazing how we as the human person, as the chicken keeper, can actually be the vector, which is basically the module of movement for viruses, we can track things into our own coop without even realizing it. So the easiest footbath to do is to get one of those basins from say, Home Depot, or one of those hardware stores. What you do is you take one of those rubber or plastic mats, you lay that on the bottom, and you basically do a bleach and water solution, it needs to just be super simple, it doesn't have to have a lot of bleach in it, I believe it's a tablespoon for every gallon. And then what you'll do is you can literally just put your shoes in, it doesn't even have to be that deep, you do a quick wipe of your shoes or your special chicken boots on that mat in the water. And that will do the trick. Another thing that's super easy is to basically have a chicken sprayer, or just a regular backyard garden sprayer, where you have the bleach solution. And you can use that sprayer to actually spray your shoes or your boots before you go in or out of your chicken area. And I would do the same thing with visitors. For instance, I had a delivery from our local feed store and that's what we did. I actually sprayed the delivery person's shoes and boots so that he could deliver the feed that we needed.

Farmer Fred   

All right. So this is important if you're thinking of starting up a little backyard chicken operation of your own to get some eggs, for example. Practice biosecurity when there is an avian flu outbreak, and it does happen every few years or so. And so you may want to invest in rubber boots.

Cherie Sintes-Glover

Yes. Basic rubber boots for work or shoes that you can easily clean. You know, for us our regular tennis shoes are just a little tougher to clean.  But something else that was interesting that I read was something we might not always think about: duck hunters, right? So duck season is coming up in the fall. And if you happen to have your own backyard flock and you go out on Saturday to go duck hunting, you're going to be in that environment with waterfowl. And the recommendation was actually to make sure that you don't walk with your hunting gear, your clothing, your boots that you were out in the duck fields and blind walking, don’t go into where your chicken coop is. And I wouldn't even have thought of that. Except that my son is a duck hunter. And so that means that if he happens to bring  some ducks back home, I need to make sure he doesn't walk through our chicken coop area.

Farmer Fred   

All right, well, that was a good scenic bypass. Now for those who are thinking of getting a backyard flock, how many chickens do they need? How big of a space do the chickens need? What are some of the basics when it comes to implementing a backyard chicken operation?

Cherie Sintes-Glover 

So I'm so glad you asked this because this is one of the top questions I get when I teach the chicken classes. People  want to know how many chickens do I need,  what are the best breeds to have if I want to have fresh eggs every morning. So we're really fortunate that we have a lot to choose from when it comes to the breeds. And there are so many different hatcheries available. There's so many different breeds of chickens available. So first thing you have to really decide, though, is how many you need. And really that depends on how many eggs you eat per week. So your normal average chicken will lay about half a dozen eggs per week. So that's about six per week. So you figure if you eat a dozen eggs a week, which actually sounds like quite a few, that will factor into how many chickens you have. The other factor, especially if you live in an urban environment, happens to be: do you have neighbors? If you have neighbors, I would actually get another chicken just to supply your neighbor with some fresh eggs, too. And that just helps them buy into the idea that you might have some backyard hens for fresh eggs. Who's going to turn down fresh eggs? So plan on figuring out how many eggs you eat per week. How many do you want, and then figure one chicken for every half dozen? That's the easiest way to think about it. So as far as breeds go, the breed of the chicken.  First thing is size. Luckily we have we have so many different ones to choose from. So we have both standard size chickens which are your typical chicken size, or you have Bantam. And Bantam refers to it's kind of like a miniature chicken, so they don't always have the same breeds or varieties between the bantams and the standard size. But that'll at least tell you what you have to choose from. Now bantams do lay a smaller egg and typically Bantam size birds will have usually one to two to three eggs equal one of the standards. So two or three Bantam eggs will equal one standard sized chicken egg, so just bear that in mind. But from the standard breeds versus the Bantam breeds, you can get everything from feather-footed which means they have feathers on their legs to all different colors and varieties. Some of the breeds are good dual breeds, which means that they not only lay great eggs, but you can also, if you're interested, harvest them for your freezer, for chicken dinner, you can do that. But you really have a variety to choose from, especially if you order from a hatchery, that's what's going to give you probably the best options. But you don't always have to raise chickens from the baby chicks stage. If you really don't want to raise baby chicks and be that Mama hen until they they get fully feathered, an option is to look at your local feed stores, maybe even look at local chicken breeders, and see if they have maybe young pullets that you can purchase where they're already past that stage where they need like warmth or a brooder.

Farmer Fred   

I'm looking at an article on the website, Successful Farming, and actually the website is called agriculture.com. But they had an article about “10 Chicken Breeds for your Farm”. And I was just amazed at the descriptions about the personalities of these chickens. And that some sound like they're very aggressive, while others sound like they're they would be very good in cold climates. And others are very docile.

Cherie Sintes-Glover   

See. that's what's interesting. You really can pick the kind of chicken that's going to suit your lifestyle, or maybe even where you live. Really, your chickens are always going to be able to survive the colder months especially if you live in areas like mine here in the San Joaquin valley where we really don't get much of a winter. We have pretty mild winters. The chickens are mostly going to be affected by actual heat, they are more likely to suffer heat stress. But when it comes to their personalities, and I'll actually say that even though they're a chicken, they will have personalities and different temperaments. One of the most popular chickens, at least chicken breeds, back in the day, used to be one called a Rhode Island Red, and everybody had Rhode Island Reds, that was just what you had, if you wanted eggs, they all look the same. They were kind of that brick red kind of color. They had like a lighter under color for their feathering. But they were kind of mean, right? They were the ones that would chase you even if they were hens and they were just more likely to just not be as friendly. And so what's kind of cool is that these days you can choose some of the breeds that are a little more colorful, that are a  little more friendly as far as human interaction goes. So one of my all time favorites is actually called the Red Star.

Red Star Hen (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

And it's a breed that one of the hatcheries produces and what's so awesome about the Red Stars is that they're actually a cross between the White Leghorn and the Rhode Island reds. And they are the most fabulous chicken  for just hanging around with you in the yard. They're the one that when I've raised them in the past if I'm out in the yard working on something or working out in the garden, first thing I'm going to do is, I'm going to feel something watching me. And then I turn to look and it's always the Red Star. They just for whatever reason they are just a very friendly, personable, very relaxed, easygoing chickens. So if you're looking for eggs, they lay a nice bright orange, red kind of colored egg, nice and large. And if you have kids, they're a great chicken because they'll easily get used to being handled  by children. So Red Stars always kind of my favorite.

Silver Lace Wyandotte Rooster (Photo: Creative Commons)

Another really great one is the Silver Lace Wyandotte, and then also the Buff Orpingtons. They tend to be the heavier breeds and they're just so much fun. I don't know if you remember the movie “Chicken Run” but  those chickens are the ones that remind me of “chicken run”, it's just their way that their body is shaped and their plumage, but that's the cool thing about chickens: is that if you get a chance to visit a chicken show or you know poultry show, you’ll get to see all the different types of chickens that are female. Oh my gosh, all of them lay eggs. So have fun with it. Choose a chicken breed that you're interested in and that you'll enjoy.

Farmer Fred   

What about roosters? Do you need roosters? Do you need a rooster in order to get eggs?

Cherie Sintes-Glover   

No, you do not. It's funny how many people still think that you have to have a rooster in order to have good egg production. And the truth is you really don’t. Your female hens are going to lay eggs whether there's a rooster there or not. And they're going to lay them consistently. So no, there is no rooster needed. And what's kind of interesting is that a lot of the city ordinances for people that are in an urban environment, the city ordinances will typically outline that no roosters are allowed. So  the good thing is that you can still have your chickens, your hens, without having to have a rooster. 

Farmer Fred   

You do a lot of classes, in person classes and consulting, of course, and Zoom classes on raising chickens. I know that where you are near Lodi, California, you've got some classes coming up in June and July. We'll have some links to that information at our website,  gardenbasics.net , and on the show notes as well. You can find the info at chickensforeggs.com. And you do have some great information there on your homepage about keeping your chickens cool. And with summer on the way, those are some good points there to consider for those who currently have chickens.

Cherie Sintes-Glover 

Oh my gosh, yes. And you know, it's funny because we tend to worry about our chickens in the winter, right? We think  it's gonna be freezing, the poor chickens. But the truth is, chickens are like any any bird, right? You think of all the wild birds that are out in the trees and that are there, you know, surviving cold winter, they're doing just fine, your chickens will do just fine. And we always warn: do not use heat lamps, do not use heaters in your chicken coops in the winter. They truly do not need them. And they cause more fires and more damage than you can imagine. But when it comes to summer heat, that's what affects chickens more than anything. And that's because of a couple things. The first one is that chickens actually have a higher body temperature. So for them, when  it gets to be in the 70s, that's probably  the absolute perfect temperature range for them. That's when they're the happiest. The daylight hours are enough for them to generate those eggs, and they're doing great. But once that temperature begins to rise and increase, and especially here in the Central valley of California, we get temperatures over 100 to 110, sometimes even 115, if you're up near the Chico area. And that is brutal. That's when you're actually going to have a chicken death on your hands. So the best way to prevent heat stress in chickens is you can do a couple things. Number one is avoid feeding treats like chicken scratch, that means like corn, scratch, anything like that. And those carbohydrates are going to actually increase that chicken’s body temperature. So I have a strict rule in my backyard flock, which is no scratch, new corn scratch, during the summer months, when it's basically over 85 degrees. Then another thing you can do is have good airflow. You want there to be good ventilation. And chickens tend to reset their body temperature at night when the temperature is lower. So I actually have large box fans that are set up on a timer. And what that does is they switch on and off during the cooler hours of the early morning. And that allows that chicken to kind of reset and be able to handle it, especially if we go into day after day after day with those 100 degrees or more temperatures outside. You also want to make sure your chickens have good, fresh, cold water and use electrolytes. They actually have  basically its powder Gatorade for your chickens, that are called poultry electrolytes. You can find them at any poultry store or even on Amazon, and pick those up. Add those to the water but don't wait until it's 100 degrees. What you're going to do is be able to add in a few days before. So watch your weather reports. When you know that a heatwave is coming, don't wait . Go ahead and start the birds on the electrolytes before that. You just add them to the water, which makes it super simple. And one last trick and actually I learned this from someone who used to show rabbits. What you do is you take a two liter bottle or any kind of plastic bottle. You fill it up with water and you freeze it. Then what you can do is place those frozen water bottles inside your chicken coop. What's cool about that: not only will it provide a little bit of coolness when it evaporates and starts to melt, but you'll find that your chickens will snuggle up next to that frozen two liter water bottle just to help them cool off during the hottest parts of the day. And what's super great is that it doesn't create a mess. A lot of people want to go with misters, but I find that those end up creating pools of water that really aren't healthy for the birds to drink out of and they tend to clog up right there more more work than they're worth so those will be my my biggest tips when it comes to eliminating or at least help preventing heat stress in your chicken.

Farmer Fred   

Probably some shade too. 

Cherie Sintes-Glover   

Oh yes. I forgot about the shade. It's funny because to me I'm like shade is automatic and that's partly for me as the chicken keeper because I would not want to work with my chickens in the hot sun but oh my gosh yes make sure they have a good shaded area to go to. It still gets really hot, even in the shade but at least that will provide them some protection from the sun. So a nice tree, a shade cloth you can set that up, anything you can do to help those chickens, especially in the late afternoon sun.

Links:

ChickensforEggs.com

10 Chicken Breeds For Your Farm

Chicken Eggshell Cleaning Brushes

Electrolytes and Vitamin Supplements for Chickens

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Fred Hoffman is also a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener in Sacramento County.