THERE’S nothing like baking or cooking with eggs laid fresh by your own hens.
That’s what prompted us to keep hens and, as a keen baker, my delights were made all the more special knowing our girls had played a special little part in them.
With it being Pancake Day last Tuesday, I carefully selected the eggs for our crepes and began to think about just how versatile eggs are and how easily they can be taken for granted.
When our hens were off lay recently, it pained me to pick up a box of eggs in the supermarket!
There’s just something special about your own, and friends and family love to receive boxes filled with all shapes, colours and sizes of eggs – especially the bantam eggs!
While reading through Frances Bassom’s Mini Encyclopedia of Chicken Breeds and Care, I discovered an eggshell is made up of 94% calcium. High levels of calcium are needed to ensure the shells are strong.
Soft-shelled eggs can be a shock at first!
They look like normal eggs but when you pick them up you find that there is no shell surrounding them, just a transparent membrane.
If hens are producing soft-shelled eggs, make sure they are getting enough dietary calcium.
You can buy calcium and mineral supplements from your local farm shop and these help to improve the quality of shells.
Shells are covered with pores – up to 17,000 of them, which allow oxygen, carbon dioxide and water to pass in and out of the egg.
Eggs also have a natural protection that keeps germs out. However, if you wash an egg to removed dirt, this protection can be lost.
You should keep nest boxes clean and collect eggs as soon as possible.
If you do have to wash eggs, use water that is warmer than them to help stop bacteria entering the shell.
Eggs come in different colours, depending on the breed of the bird. I love the large, dark brown speckled eggs laid by our Welsummers.
There are two genes which determine colour – blue and brown. But, if both of these genes are missing, the colour will be white.
Different breeds have been crossed over the years to create a vast array of egg colours.
The Araucana is a blue egg layer with the colouring running right the way through the shell.
In all other breeds, the colour is only the top coating and can be scratched off.
Shell colour pigment will depend on the quality of the bird. Older hens can lay paler eggs than younger ones and colour can also be affected if there are internal or external parasites or illness.
When the days become shorter, there is a notable drop in egg production. Our chickens tend to begin laying again in January after a few fried egg free months in our house.
Their brains contain light-sensitive cells called extra-retinal photoreceptors. These control the laying process.
The increasing daylight hours in spring bring hens into lay while the shorter days in winter cause a slow down in production.
Birds require around 15 hours of light regularly to continue laying – either natural or a combination of natural and artificial light.
To keep birds healthy, it is vital that they take a break from laying. A hen that is provided with near permanent light will not live to be an old age.