by: B.A. Nilsson
Egg and I
doesn’t take a village to raise a chicken
Which came first? The chick-en. A flock of them, in fact,
that now provide more eggs than my family can use, despite
the appearance of quiches, soufflés, frittatas and flan on
the dinner table. The motivation: fresh eggs, untainted by
the salmonella threat that hovers over chicken-farm products,
where the hens are raised in horrific conditions.
Because we live on a former dairy farm, we have the yard space
and wouldn’t run afoul of local ordinances. And with chickens
a renewable resource, we could kill and dress our own antibiotic-free
All I’d have to do is build a coop, and that’s easy. My neighbor
Dave, who lives in a house that’s enviably off the NiMo grid,
showed me the portable coop in which his chickens roost: a
simple affair that required no carpentry degree, complete
with a flap that allowed access to the nests from the outside.
To force my hand, Dave met me at a local Agway last spring,
in time to choose from the chicks peeping away under the heat
lamps. “I’ll lend you my incubator,” Dave said. The critters
were kittenishly cute, roly-poly balls of fluff bumping into
one another as they hopped around with no seeming sense of
direction. As I would learn, this is as intelligent as they
ever will get. My 6-year-old daughter, going on the theory
that you can’t dine on an animal you’ve named, named one of
The incubator was a stout metal cage with a thermostatically
controlled heat lamp at one end. A meshwork floor allowed
the poop to pile on a removable tray. My eagerness to begin
this project overcame the nascent realization that somebody
frequently would have to clean this, and if that somebody
weren’t me, it would be a grumpy wife.
Still, it was exciting to have a cellar full of chicks. And
impressive to learn how far the squawks of 18 of them carried
through the house. And daunting to realize that, from the
day we brought them home, they grew. Which meant I’d have
to get that coop built soon.
Dave dropped off some books that offered guides. All I needed
was an enclosed structure with room enough for nest boxes,
which the hens would share. I needed egg-collecting access.
Most importantly, I needed to protect the birds from predators.
“Chicken seems to be the favorite dish of the carnivore kingdom,”
Dave told me. “I once saw where a raccoon got hold of chicken
right through the wire of the cage and dragged it, piece by
piece, through the holes in that wire.”
My yard teems with wildlife. Raccoons, of course, but also
coyote, foxes, skunks, owls—suddenly it seemed exceedingly
hostile out there. Only something safe and sturdy would do,
and I found plans for it on an agricultural college’s website.
What was supposed to have been a weekend project built from
found material blossomed into much more. We hauled in two-by-fours
and plywood. An experienced friend helped me frame the structure,
an 8-by-8-foot floor built on skids, rising to 8 feet at its
peak. I found some windows and a door and framed the openings
accordingly. We ran electricity to the coop. Dave stopped
by and viewed the structure with dismay. “What’s next?” he
asked. “A jacuzzi?”
Free-range chickens are ideal; pen them and they quickly exfoliate
the ground. But added to the list of nocturnal predators are
the day-roaming neighborhood dogs, untrained curs that would
regard the appearance of loose chickens as adding a drive-through
window to what’s already their favorite bathroom. So I built
a pen alongside the coop.
By the end of April, the stench from the cellar wafted through
the entire house. The birds had long since stopped being cute,
and stumbled like hunchbacks in the incubator. I hurried the
coop to an almost-finished state and moved them.
We were worried they might not survive the still-chilly nights;
we needn’t have worried. And they seemed to grow even more
quickly with all the room they now enjoyed. We had nine Rhode
Island Reds, considered a dual-use (eggs and meat) bird, and
nine White Leghorns, specially bred to be fat. Although chicken
sexing is something of a science, whoever signed off on our
chicks let a rooster get through. One of the Reds developed
the fancy coxcomb and the nasty disposition.
According to the books, chickens tend to keel over and die
for no apparent reason, and one of the Leghorns did just that.
“That wasn’t Fern,” my daughter declared. “Fern is a red one.”
We buried it with the kind of ceremony dead pets typically
get when there are kids involved, although, by the time the
next one died, the burial thing seemed tiresome. Without alerting
my daughter, I tossed the carcass into the woods for the coyotes
to feast on—and feast they did. Nothing was left the following
In September the first eggs appeared—little pullet eggs, slightly
larger than what quail produce. But within days there were
more and they were growing larger. By the following month,
we were averaging eight eggs a day, enough to start a small
side business selling them to friends.
The birds were eating a commercial mash from a local feed
store, but Dave pointed out that you can’t have organic eggs
coming out without organic stuff going in. A farmer near Cobleskill
produces organic mash, so Dave formed a consortium of area
chicken hobbyists to buy the stuff by the pallet. Although
it still meant paying $11 per 50 pounds, as opposed to the
$7 for the same amount of commercial stuff, we figured it
was worth the expense, which we (somewhat) defray through
At least that was the plan, but it was scuttled last winter
when the first of those frigid nights hit in January. I put
a heat lamp in the coop and the birds huddled near it; what
few eggs they produced usually were frozen by the time I got
to them. But the birds also ate far less during that period.
Not until mid-February did eggs begin to appear with regularity,
reaching the usual level of eight to 10 per day by April.
Each hen is supposed to produce about an egg per day during
summer, which means that a few of our birds don’t fully understand
the schedule. Egg-laying is tied in with daylight, and decreases
as the winter draws on. Some chicken farmers use artificial
light to fool the hens into increased production. We tried
it last fall, and it seemed to work, but the timer froze to
death in January.
Maintenance, now that the weather is reasonable, is fairly
easy. I top off their food and water, and every week or so
change the straw in the coop. We’ve got some pretty hot compost
brewing in a back field. And it’s worth sticking around when
the hens get back into the coop to inspect their newly thatched
nests. They act as if they’ve never seen the place before.
Compared to commercial birds, they’re living the life of Riley.
They have sunlight and plenty of space, and they even get
field trips outside their pen when I’m around to keep an eye
on them. Which is another bonus: They’re amusing to watch.
“Chicken television,” Dave calls it, and it’s got more intelligence
behind it than any broadcast reality show.
Each hen is a factory, and can lay up to 10 times her body
weight in eggs each year. You’re supposed to get about two
good years out of a bird, possibly up to four or five. With
our rooster busily doing his roosterly stuff, we’re looking
to isolate some eggs to hatch for inexpensive hen replacement.
Meanwhile, none of our hens has yet met the dinner plate.
It’s surprising to discover what visitors don’t know about
hen husbandry. Do you need a rooster to get eggs? No, you
only need the guy if you want fertilized eggs and a noisy
backyard. How does he fertilize the eggs? He doesn’t. He’s
not a fish. He fertilizes the hen, an amusing sight to behold.
And, as he matured, he decided I was an enemy and took to
attacking me whenever I’d enter the coop, forcing me to rig
special doors that I can operate from outside. I lure the
flock into their pen by tossing in the day’s table scraps,
then drop the doors, enter the coop and grab the eggs. And
still the rooster charges me when I get near the wire.
Because of my grumblings about him, my daughter feared for
his safety and took the only logical course: She named him.
“He’s called Cock,” she declared with a mixture of righteousness
and innocence. “So nobody around here is going to eat Cock.”
At least we have plenty of eggs.
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..