Sunday, July 4, 2010

Marjorie and Penny

It's really hard to appreciate how entertaining chickens are as pets until you get some and let them free range at your place.  Don't get us wrong, Mavis the blue collie is a laugh a minute and a favourite with kids, but put her together with our two chooks and it's far better than anything you'll ever see on the cartoon network.

We've had Marjorie and Penny for nearly a year now.  If I recall rightly, they were around 18 weeks old when we got them, and cost us less than $20 each, vaccinated and ready to go.  Within a few weeks of getting them they were producing two eggs a day each, and apart from the occasional broody patch, they've been flat out producing two eggs every day ever since.

Apart from entertaining the kids, entertaining the dog, and helping me weed the garden beds, they produce manure, aerate the soil, break pest cycles, accelerate compost and don't ask for much in return other than somewhere safe and warm to sleep, fresh water and the occasional bit of grain. And no matter where you are in the garden, they're never far away just in case you need a hard pulling out a weed or two.  They REALLY like human company, and are possibly more loyal than some dogs I've known.

There are some downsides of course - they like to explore and do their own thing, so don't be surprised if they go next door for a visit if your fences aren't up to scratch, poo on your verandah, or dig up any lawn or seedlings which aren't fully established yet.  Still, these are problems easily solved with a bit of temporary fencing, and are pretty small inconveniences in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, of course we've got spare eggs to give away.  Don't you?

One thing you might be prepared for is what to do with all the eggs.  14 eggs a week is a lot of eggs, which is great because you can use them and give them away to unsuspecting neighbours who don't realise how good it is to be the Joneses.  The problem of course is getting egg cartons.  If you don't buy eggs you don't get any cartons.  However this is simply solved, if you tell your friends and neighbours to bring around a half carton occasionally, you can send it back to them full of organic free range eggs.  I can't remember the last time we didn't have a spare half dozen waiting to be given away, which is always a great thing to do.

Or you can swap them.  Jack from my permaculture course was kind enough to give me a lemongrass plant in exchange for half a dozen free range eggs.  Bargain!  Bring on those Moscow Mule variations.

No Penny, that birdbath isn't for you!


  1. The girls clearly didn't like us talking about them on the blog - they stopped laying within 2 days of this post.

    Apparently this is normal in winter - as it gets colder, and there's less daylight they stop laying for a while and conserve their energy. Probably a good thing for us to have a break from our egg-heavy diet anyway. We'll post another report when they start laying again.

  2. So I just got back from having a look at my potato tyres, and something caught my eye where the chickens like to play. 16 eggs!

    I had been warned that free range chickens will try and hide their eggs from you, but hadn't really paid that much attention. So, if my calculations are correct, if both chickens are laying 1 per day, then for the last 8 days the've been using this new spot, which leaves around half a dozen eggs unaccounted for. So either, one of the girls is not laying every day, or they've hidden some more, or they had a really really short break. Our easter egg hunt has come early it seems. Last one found is a rotten egg!

    I had also been told that chickens need boundaries. We really like the idea of our chickens having a lot of room to run around (and these girls can and do run - sprinting across the yard if they realise you've snuck in), but there have been consequences - lost eggs, trashed seedlings, trashed garden beds, chicken poo on the verandah etc, but interestingly enough the girls like to spend most of their time in the most depleted part of our site - they're healing that patch of land for us, so perhaps nature knows best.

    But sorry girls, this is the final straw. You're getting fences... when we get around to it.

  3. Update. I just found the girls hanging around amongst some longer plants, and sure enough they'd made a new nest to hide some more eggs. I just collected another 6, which begged the question - are these the missing eggs from last time? Or new eggs? And how long had they been there? They've been laying one egg for each chook every day since the last update... does this mean they're laying more than one per day?

    Time flies at the Jones Estate, and it's hard to keep track, but luckily this blog and additional comments above helped us work backwards to deduce these 6 must be the missing 6 from about a month ago.

    So the next question - they're probably not fresh, but are they off? How long do eggs last?

    Well a quick search on the internet tells us that eggs are past their prime after around 2 weeks in the fridge, but will last around a month. And if they're off they'll float in water.

    Well these ones don't float, and a quick shake test sounds okay, so they should be okay, but to be safe I'm going to cook them very well to kill off any bad bacteria and Mavis the Blue Collie can have them as a special treat.

    Needless to say, we still haven't put those fences up yet.