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Curious chickens.

We've all heard the term "bird brain" and we KNOW what that means! For more than 100 years, biologists who studied comparative anatomy believed that animals without a layered cortex (such as chickens and other birds), could not possess intelligence. Until relatively recently, it was thought that bird brains must be dedicated primarily to instinctual behaviors, but researchers now have observed a complex array of bird behavior in areas from visual processing to mental analysis.

It is now known that chickens have the ability to interpret what they are seeing i.e., newly hatched chicks can recognize an object as a whole when it is partly hidden behind another object (a cognitive process called amodal completion). Human babies are unable to do this until they are four to seven months old. Also they are able to understand images made from an array of moving dots, as well as optical illusions and they can follow the gaze of a person or animal. They also are keenly aware if a human or other animal is looking at them.

Like humans, chickens communicate with INTENTION. Chickens make entirely different alarm calls to signal the approach of a predator overhead versus one on the ground. When recordings of these calls are played to a bird in the laboratory, it takes the appropriate evasive action (crouching if it hears the aerial alarm call, and standing up straight and vocalizing loudly if it hears the ground-predator alarm call, in an attempt to drive off or deter the predator). Experiments comparing the responses given by the chicken on seeing a predator when alone and when in the presence of another chicken yielded the important discovery that the chicken makes alarm calls with the intention of warning other members of its species, rather than simply doing so automatically (by instinct) whenever it sees a predator. The chicken will make alarm calls only when another chicken was present. When alone, it suppresses its alarm call to avoid drawing attention to itself. In other words, the bird calls only when there is another bird to protect. This is yet another positive characteristic of chickens...They won't talk if there's no one to listen. Also, roosters are not above utilizing trickery in communiation to draw the "fairer sex" in closer to his realm of influence. A rooster will give "food over here" calls, for instance, when there's no food nearby, in order to lure in an attractive hen.

Researchers in England showed that chickens have the ability to make a conscious choice to delay gratification in tests where chickens figured out that if they refuse some food now, they will get more food later. Chickens do not just live in the present but can anticipate the future.

Chickens have excellent memories. They can recognize more than 100 other chickens and remember them. Chickens removed from their flock and then returned weeks or even months later remember, and are remembered by their flock mates. Pretty facinating, huh? Below are some more interesting facts about chickens. Click to jump to interesting facts about eggs...

Hen on nestDo you need to have a rooster for hens to lay eggs?
What happens if I eat a fertile egg?
How often does a chicken lay an egg?
Is it cheaper to raise hens for your own eggs?
Can chickens fly?
Do chickens really come home to roost?
How noisy are chickens?
How big can chickens get?
Where did the term, Pecking Order come from?
Do chickens need to have baths?
How long do chickens live?
Do you allow visitors to your farm?
What does it mean when a rooster has a thumbprint?
What does mossy color refer to?

Do you need to have a rooster for hens to lay eggs?
Hens will lay eggs whether or not a rooster is around, although a rooster is required if you want fertilized eggs to hatch chicks.

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What happens if I eat a fertile egg?
The fact that a chicken egg has been fertilized has absolutely no affect on it's taste, and as long as the egg hasn't been brooded/incubated, there is no embryo growing in it, making it safe to eat even for vegetarians.

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How often does a chicken lay an egg?
This varies from breed to breed and depends on other factors such as age, temperature, number of daylight hours/lighting, etc, but a young hen can lay 5 eggs per week during peak laying season. It takes at least 25 hours for each egg to form, and you can expect an egg every 1-3 days from a very productive hen. Though a hen will continue to lay eggs as she ages, the first 1-4 years are the most productive, with the first and second years actually the most commercially viable.

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Is it cheaper to raise hens for your own eggs?
Unfortunately, the answer is NO. Feed is expensive and one has to take into consideration that chicks need to be brooded for several weeks, which takes electricity. It takes 5 months or more for a hen to begin laying after she has hatched, and then there will be times (when the hens moult) where she will temporarily stop production. We certainly will never get rich off of our egg sales, but hopefully we will break even on feed costs. There is also an intrinsic value for us in keeping chickens - caring for another living creature. Also chickens are great therapy! Hanging out with the "girls" and watching their antics has a relaxing effect. To us, that reason alone is PRICELESS!

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Can chickens fly?
Yes, but flight isn't their strong suit. Bantam breeds - which are miniature versions of the "standard" breeds, but about 1/4 the size, can fly 25-50 feet and will roost in trees if allowed to. Heavier breeds have much more limited flight, mostly as an aid to jump out of the way of danger. Because chickens aren't such great flyers, we feel a great responsibility in helping to keep them safe from predators - both wild and domestic.

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Do chickens really come home to roost?
Yep. Chickens will come back to the same place to sleep every night - so chickens can roam during the day and when it gets dark they will return to their coop to catch up on their beauty rest. (A "roost" is a pole they perch on, which they much prefer to sleeping on the ground.)

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How noisy are chickens?
Hens are relatively quiet. They will cackle (sharp broken noise or cry) either immediately after or just before laying an egg, but otherwise they are pretty quiet. When we are visiting with the "girls" they will make a soft humming sound (which we find very pleasant). Roosters on the other hand, can be VERY noisy. Contrary to popular belief, they don't just crow in the morning. They crow all day long. Many people find bantam breed roosters to be even more annoying as far as their crowing than that of a standard size rooster. All chickens will squawk if they are frightened, so if you hear a commotion in the hen house, you better come running!

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How big can chickens get?
"Standard" chickens weigh 4-8 pounds depending on the breed and the sex (roosters weigh more than hens). "Bantam" chickens - which are the same as standard chickens, only smaller - weigh 1-2 pounds.

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Where did the term, Pecking Order come from?
All chicken flocks have a well-defined pecking order. It's their way of keeping order in the flock. The lucky lady at the top of the pecking order basically gets to push everyone around. She will discipline inappropriate behavior by delivering a sound peck on the perpetrator's noggin. If she doesn't like what anyone else is doing she has full pecking rights. She gets to tell any other chicken to bug off. The hen at the bottom of the pecking order is in the exact opposite situation: everyone in the flock can peck her, and she has last rights to food and other resources. The other chickens in a flock fall somewhere between these two extremes. The #2 chicken can only be bullied by the #1 chicken and can bully everyone else in turn, and so on and so on.

Pecking order is established at a very early age and usually remains unchallenged the remainder of that hen's life.

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Do chickens need to have baths?
Generally no. Chickens take dust baths that keep them clean and free of pests. However, if you plan on showing your chickens in a Poultry Show, you'll want your bird looking her best, so you can wash them with a gentle cleanser and blow them dry.

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How long do chickens live?
It's not uncommon to hear of a pet chicken living eight to ten years. We had a favorite hen live to the ripe old age of 13. Chickens raised in a commercial egg producing facility generally only live a maximum of 2 years as they are sold to commercial food processors for human or animal consumption when their productivity begins to drop. In large commercial hatcheries, the bulk of male chicks from a commercial laying breed are euthanized soon after hatch to be used in pet food or fertilizer. Birds raised for meat - depending on the breed and the goals of the farmer, are slaughtered anywhere from 1 to 4 months of age.

We are not opposed to using chickens for meat. This is part of the natural cycle of life. We do, however, believe that ALL animals, whether they are raised for food or not, are entitled to humane treatment and care. The Native American people deeply respected nature and thanked an animal for its sacrifice when harvested for food. We think that is a pretty decent attitude to have.

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Do you allow visitors to your farm?
On rare occasions and by appointment only, we may allow an occasional visitor.

The reason we are so very cautious is the fact that biosecurity is very important to us. Biosecurity means doing everything we can to protect our birds from disease. Keeping our birds healthy is a top priority. Birds can become sick or die from exposure to just a few unseen bacteria, viruses,or parasites. In a single day, these germs can multiply and infect the entire flock.

While following basic hygiene practices in our flock management routine is our daily practice, biosecurity also means limiting visitors to the premises. Visitors can unknowingly introduce germs or parasites when coming into contact with the flock. On the rare occasion we accept one or two visitors, we do insist on those visitors using hand sanitizer as well as wearing disposable shoe covers before coming in contact with areas where our chickens live.

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What does it mean when a rooster has a thumbprint?
Since chickens don't have 'thumbs', we have to look elsewhere. A 'thumbprint' is a disfiguring indentation in the side of a single comb.

Often a hen's comb isn't large enough (though some could be) to evidence this defect so it will be most evident on a cock/rooster. For everyday chickens that will never see the inside of a showroom, it's no big deal. But...it is a significant defect in a show bird and if you have a breeding flock you most definitely do NOT want to keep potential breeders that show this. It has nothing to do with function, but everything to do with 'pretty'.

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Mossy Color refers to the appearance of one color (usually dark), bleeding through on the feathers other than the preferred color (often red, copper, gold, etc). It tends to make what should be bright, brilliant, crisp color appear somewhat dull.

Again, not important if birds are just producing eggs, but very important in breeding and show flocks

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chick with egg

Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs?
Do Farm Fresh eggs really taste better than store-bought eggs?
Can eggs be frozen?
Can eggs be successfully cooked in a microwave?
Can I use an egg with cracked shell?
How can you tell if an egg is raw or hard-cooked without cracking it open?
How long can hard-cooked eggs be kept?
How many eggs should I eat each week?
Is it safe to eat raw or soft-cooked eggs?
What causes the grey ring that sometimes appears around the yolk of hard-cooked eggs?
What is the dark red spot occasionally found in an egg?
Which part of the egg is more nutritious - the yolk or the white?
Will eating eggs increase my risk of heart disease?

Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs?
No. Shell color has absolutely NO bearing as far as the nutritional content of an egg. Some studies suggest, however, that it is the manner in which egg producing hens are kept that may have a bearing on the nutritional content. Also, in some tests, eggs laid by hens who receive the opportunity to dine on plants and insects in addition to their daily feed ration are:

  • lower in cholesterol
  • lower in saturated fat
  • contain more vitamin A
  • contain significantly more omega-3 fatty acids
  • contain significantly more vitamin E
  • contain 7 times more beta carotene

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Do Farm Fresh eggs really taste better than store-bought eggs?
Most folks, if asked to compare commercially produced eggs with local Farm Fresh eggs indicate Farm Fresh eggs taste richer and vote them superior to eggs produced commercially. The yolks of Farm Fesh eggs tend to be more golden/orange in color.

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Can eggs be frozen?
Yes, but they should not be frozen in the shell as the cold temperature may cause the contents of the egg to expand and crack the shell. To freeze eggs:

  • Lightly beat whole eggs just until blended. Pour into a freezer container. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Label the container with the number of eggs and the date. Three tablespoons of thawed whole eggs is equal to one large fresh egg.
  • Egg whites can be frozen separately. Pour into a freezer container. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Label the container with the number of egg whites and the date. Two tablespoons of thawed egg white is equal to one large fresh egg white.
  • Egg yolks will thicken or gel when frozen and therefore need special treatment. Beat the yolks with either 1/8 teaspoon salt or to 1 teaspoon sugar or corn syrup for each cup yolks (about 4 yolks). Pour into a freezer container. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Label the container with the number of egg yolks and the date and whether you added salt or sugar. One tablespoon thawed yolk equals one large fresh yolk.

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Can eggs be successfully cooked in a microwave?
Using the microwave is a quick and easy way to cook eggs:

  • Spray a small dish or mug with cooking spray or place teaspoon butter or margarine in the dish and heat in the microwave for a few seconds. Rotate the dish so the melted butter coats all sides.
  • Crack an egg into the dish. Pierce the yolk with a fork or toothpick. Cover the dish with plastic wrap, pulling back one corner to allow for venting.
  • Microwave on Medium-High (70% power) for 45 seconds to 1 minute. (NOTE: Cooking time and power level will very depending on the power of the microwave.) The egg should be undercooked slightly as it will continue to cook as it stands. Let stand for one minute before removing plastic wrap.
  • Eggs should only be microwaved in the shell when a container specifically designed for this purpose is used. Not doing so may cause them to burst open, creating a mess and possibly damaging your microwave or injuring you.

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Can I use an egg with a cracked shell?
If you find an egg with a broken shell, you can still use it with care. Use the egg as soon as possible in a dish that is cooked thoroughly such as a cake, cookies or a casserole. Do NOT use cracked eggs in drinks, meringues, uncooked sauces or icings. Do not use a cracked egg if the egg's contents are leaking through the shell or the egg is stuck to the carton.

NOTE: We always examine eggs when collecting and will not
sell eggs that we know are cracked or defective in any way.

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How can you tell if an egg is raw or hard-cooked without cracking it open?
Place the egg on its side and spin it around with your fingers. A hard-cooked egg will spin smoothly and rapidly. A raw egg will wobble and spin slowly because the liquid center will prevent the egg from building up momentum to keep it turning.

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How long can hard-cooked eggs be kept?
Hard-cooked eggs, in the shell or peeled, will keep for one week in a covered container in the refrigerator.

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How many eggs should I eat each week?
As long as you eat eggs as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet and lifestyle, there is no limit to the number of eggs you can eat in a week. (If you have high blood cholesterol, speak to a dietitian or your doctor for diet advice.) Eggs are part of the Proteins Food Group of the USDA's "Choose My Plate" program and are considered a nutritious choice.

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Is it safe to eat raw or soft-cooked eggs?
Raw or soft-cooked eggs can be eaten as long as the eggs are handled properly:

  • Purchase fresh, clean eggs that have been kept refrigerated.
  • Inspect each egg to ensure that the egg is clean and the shell is not cracked.
  • Wash your hands, cooking surface and utensils immediately before and after preparation.
  • Prepare only enough food for one meal or sitting. Do not keep leftovers.
  • Serve all egg-rich products imediately after preparing or store them in the refrigerator.

The risk of bacterial contamination from a raw or under-cooked egg is very minimal. Very young children, the elderly, those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women should be extra cautious and not eat raw or soft-cooked eggs.

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What causes the gray ring that sometimes appears around the yolk of hard-cooked eggs?
This discoloration is the result of a reaction between the sulfur and iron naturally found in eggs. It occurs when eggs are overcooked, or when there is a high level of iron in the cooking water. Although the color isn't very attractive, the eggs are safe to eat and will still be nutritious and flavorful. An appropriate cooking time and rapid cooling of the eggs after they are cooked will prevent the formation of this grey ring. Click here for tips on Cooking the Perfect Hard Boiled Egg and other tasty recipes.

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What is the dark red spot occasionally found in an egg?
The dark red spot that can occasionally be found in an egg is referred to as a blood spot or "meat" spot. It is caused by the rupture of a blood vessel in the hen when the egg is forming. An egg with a blood spot is safe to eat, and you can cook and bake with it in the usual ways. If you wish, you can remove the spot with the tip of a knife before you cook the egg. A blood or meat spot does NOT indicate a fertile egg and is definitely not an unformed chick embryo!

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Which part of the egg is more nutritious - the yolk or the white?
Together, the yolk and the white make a nutrient-rich food as both "parts" contain different nutrients.

  • The yolk has many essential nutrients including phosphorous, iron, zinc, vitamins A, B6 and B12, folic acid, pantothenic acid, choline, and thiamin, as well as almost half of the protein and riboflavin in the whole egg. In addition, egg yolks are among the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. Finally, the egg yolk contains 190 mg of cholesterol and 5 g of fat, less than a third of which is saturated fat, and no trans fat.
  • The white contains more than half of the egg's total protein and riboflavin.

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Will eating eggs increase my risk of heart disease?
A study* by the Harvard School of Public Health found no link between eating eggs and developing cardiovascular disease in healthy individuals. In fact, limiting dietary cholesterol (by avoiding eggs, for example) could lead to an unbalanced intake of nutrients, which increases the risk for other health problems. Saturated and trans fats, typically found in baked goods, pastries, processed foods and whipped toppings, tend to raise blood cholesterol levels. Eggs contain very little saturated fats and no trans fats.

* Hu et al. JAMA 1999; 281:1387-1394

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Easter Egger wearing spectacles

Chickens are a special part of our life and they never cease to amaze us whether they are egg layers, meat producers, show birds, or just pets. Please feel free to access the following articles to find out even more about these amazing creatures. If you have a question for us not addressed in any of the information sources we offer on this website, feel free to contact us with your questions!

 

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Below are some links that are beneficial for the information they offer. We have personally accessed the sites listed; however we cannot guarantee the continuity of the quality of the information as time goes on. Therefore even though we ourselves enjoy accessing these sites our disclaimer remains: visit these sites at your own risk.

Please notify us if information found on any of these sites troubles you or in the event any link listed here is broken.

All websites linked from this page will open in a new browser window.

Chicken Crossing.org Backyard Chickens.com FeatherSite.com
Poultry One - Poultry Community Forum Keeping Chickens Newsletter My Pet Chicken.com
Poultry Hub.com American Poultry Association American Bantam Association
Chickens 101
Backyard Poultry Magazine

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