Free Range Eggs and Free Range Chickens FAQ’s

We keep hens and bantams of various breeds which all run free range. Eggs are sold from our ‘Honesty Shop’ which is basically a small shed where people can help themselves and leave their money in a tin. We get the same questions asked regularly so here is my list of FAQ’s and our answers.

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What is a Bantam?

Bantams are a small version of a chicken and come in most of the same breeds of the full sized hens. They lay smaller eggs but the yolk itself is almost the size of a hens egg. You get a larger yolk to white ratio so these eggs are brilliant for cooking anything custard based e.g. quiches, sauces, ice-cream. They are wonderful for children who love their own ‘little eggs’ boiled and not many adults would turn their nose up at a 4 fried bantam egg sandwich, full of lovely golden yolks. Bantams are great to keep if you are limited with space as you can double up the numbers. Room for 3 hens? Then you have room for 6 bantams!

Where should I store my eggs?

This always causes a heated debate! Do you keep eggs in the fridge or not? To me it is your personal choice but I think it is not necessary. If you do insist on using the fridge then do not use the plastic egg holder. This makes the eggs jiggle about every time the fridge door is opened and can cause the shells to develop hairline cracks and fractures which will shorten their shelf life. Keep them in the cardboard egg box. The holders supplied with the fridge are designed for the American market as they have pasteurised eggs and we don’t. For cooking eggs need to be at room temp to do their job, especially for baking. Do you really want to take them out of the fridge an hour before you want to cook them? I store mine in a wire basket but a bowl or one of those pottery hens is just as good.

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How long will they keep?

Sorry to be vague but my answer is several weeks. If you buy direct from the hen/farm then the egg is probably only a couple of days old. Your supermarket egg will be at least a week or two old before you get it home. As eggs get older they absorb air in through the shell. This is how you can test eggs for freshness in a bowl of water. The more they rise to the surface the more air they have in them and the older they are. This still doesn’t mean they are unusable. If you want to hard boil eggs then they need to be at least a week old, the shell will not come off clean on a really fresh egg. The best test is look and smell. If you crack an egg and the yolk has lost it’s shape (not just broken when you cracked it) then it is going off. If you can smell anything then it has gone bad. The most important food safety advice is never use/serve raw egg to the elderly, pregnant , invalids or very young children. Sorry but this cuts out some lovely chocolate mousse recipes.

How many eggs does a hen lay?

Most pure breeds will lay an egg every day in their first year, with a break between November to January. The second year this will drop to maybe 4 to 5 eggs a week,the third year an egg every other day and so on. As the bird gets older the eggs will get larger and often more irregular shapes. The warren hens, a breed created for farmed eggs will lay throughout the year. Farmers keep their hens under electric light in the winter months to keep up the supply of eggs. It is the daylight hours that the hens need to keep laying. We don’t do this as we keep our girls to old age and don’t need to squeeze all their eggs out in the first 2 years of their lives.

Why are egg shells different colours?

It’s genetic! We have an Araucana who lays a pale blue egg. Our Exchequer Leghorn lays a white egg. Most of the warren hens lay various shades of brown eggs. Diet may have a small effect but the egg colours have been developed over many years of breeding.

Do the hens escape and I am worried I will run one over?

The hens will usually stay with sight of their hen house and feeders. Ours free range everywhere and will stroll around cars and under them if looking for shade or shelter. Providing you drive slow and steady they will get out of the way even if they look like they are not going to move. They will jump into your car if you leave the door open and peck your feet if you have painted toenails.

What do the hens eat?

Anything they like! They are brutal and I have seen a hen kill and eat a field mouse. They eat spiders, bugs, flies, moths, aphids, slug eggs, beetles and fruit, berries, blossom, leaves and flowers. We feed mainly mixed corn with some layers mash and crushed maize. The maize helps to give the yolks a good golden colour. We also feed stale bread and cakes from our local bakery. The hens love a custard tart or a jam doughnut.

How long do they live?

Again this varies but our average is 4 – 6 years. Some will live longer and make it to double figures. Our eldest are around 8 years atm but with rescued and donated birds we are not always sure of their age.

Do you need a Cockerel to get eggs from the hens?

No. You only need a cockerel to get chicks from the eggs! We keep a cockerel because he keeps an eye on the flock. He will warn them of apparent danger and lead the way to safety. If you live where a ‘cock-a-doodle’ early in the morning and throughout the day would not be welcome then just keep hens. Some cockerel can be aggressive. They are only doing their job but have to be watched around small children as they can do some serious damage. We only ever keep bantam cockerels for this reason. If they play up then they are easier to control. A watering can over the head usually stops any aggressive behaviour. Sadly the only way to stop a cockerel from crowing is to stretch his neck.

I want to buy some eggs, what do I do?

Help yourself and leave the money in the tin. Please bring back your egg boxes. Simple but amazing how many people aren’t sure what to do. These days we are so used to everything being done/chosen for us that it seems strange to be given trust and responsibility. Customers comment on how trusting we are but we explain if we couldn’t do things this way then we wouldn’t do it at all. We have only been robbed once of a £9.00 float in 3 years of our system so things work pretty well as they are.

We also use our little shed to sell any surplus plants and vegetables. I hope to expand this more when I have the polytunnel up and running. I would love to sell bunches of cottage garden cut flowers in the future. It is a useful place to display village event notices and our customers love having this little shop on their doorstep.

 

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