What Makes a Brown Egg BROWN?

Ever wonder why your eggs are brown? Some people mistakenly assume brown eggs are healthier or more natural (this is false.) The truth is: brown eggs come from brown chickens!

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But what MAKES them brown?

Eggs actually come in two colors: white and BLUE! All of the color variations are a result of the chicken’s ability to lay down a coat of pigment on the eggshell when she lays it. Brown eggs are actually white with a coating of brown pigment. When a hen first begins to lay eggs the pigment will be darker in color. As the season progresses the pigment starts to run low, resulting in lighter colored eggs. When she goes into her molting period she runs out of pigment altogether and will lay white eggs. We have a few girls going through a full molt right now and you can see one of their eggs in the photo above. Notice that the eggs range in color intensity?

Once her molt is finished and she has grown new feathers she will get a new ‘ink cartridge’ and lay nice dark brown eggs again! This applies to birds who lay other colors as well. Once our Fancy Flock is mature enough to lay eggs, we hope to feature all of the beautiful colors below!

Photo credit: Illiashauna Chavez via BackYardChickens.com

Photo credit: Illiashauna Chavez via BackYardChickens.com

The eggs above represent several heritage breeds of chickens. The very darkest egg comes from a French Marans, prized for their deep dark colored eggs. The olive colored eggs come from an ‘olive egger’ hen, created by crossing a Marans hen with a blue-egged breed rooster.

Pro-Tip: If you look at a chicken’s earlobes you can usually tell what color egg they will lay, with a few exceptions. Hens with red or brown earlobes will usually lay brown eggs. Chickens with white earlobes will usually lay white eggs. Our girls are Red Sex-linked chickens with red earlobes and they lay brown eggs.

Broth That Soaks Into Your Bones

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We eat a lot of chicken (surprise!) As a result, we constantly have a pot of broth simmering on the stove. Chicken stock is a staple that most people purchase from the store for use in making soups, stews and simmering meat dishes. But that stuff in the tetra pack is NOTHING compared to a home-made stock simmered low and long. We use the whole chicken carcass, including the feet.

The feet are packed with protein, calcium, cartilage and collagen which are easily absorbed by the body. Consuming bone broth is great for joint health and arthritis. The longer you simmer your bone broth, the more of these nutrients become available. (I have simmered as long as 8 days)

Once I have taken all of the meat off my bird, I put the feet and carcass into my stock pot and fill it with hot water. Sometimes I will also add onions, broccoli stalks and other unusable vegetable parts (I save those in the freezer for this purpose.)  It’s not necessary to do this to get really flavorful broth, but it does add even more nutrition.
Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to visible, but low simmer and cover. I simmer my stock for a minimum of 3 days, but most often 5-7 days! It becomes very rich and flavorful! Be sure to lift the lid and check once/day and see if you need to add water. 

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When I decide the broth is done (or I need that burner), I strain it through a metal strainer and freeze it in containers in 1cup, 2cup and 4cup quantities for cooking with or making soup. You can also fill ice cube trays and use a cube of broth in place of a bouillon cube in recipes.

After straining the broth, I’m left with a pile of bones. We have three dogs who show GREAT interest when those bones come out of the stockpot! Normally it is a big no-no to give dogs chicken bones because they can perforate their bowels. However, after simmering for several days the bones are so soft that I can literally crush them between my fingers with ease. I use a fork or a food processor and mush them down and put them in our dogs food. Please note: if you have added onions or garlic to your stock, please be sure to pull those items out before serving to your dogs. Onions and garlic are toxic to dogs.

Go make some soup! It’s a great time of year for that!

Cheers,

Jennifer and Brian

Moving Day(s)

Here’s the thing about raising animals with rotational grazing methods… you have to keep MOVING everyone!

All the time!

So, yesterday was moving day for the layers and the piggies. Everyone is always so happy to have new pastures - turns out the grass really IS greener on the other side!

We are trying something new with the broiler chickens. They are in mobile “tractors” that we move every morning, giving them fresh grass to eat and bugs to catch. This is the standard method for pastured broiler chickens. But we’ve been thinking that maybe they could graze on a larger paddock and go into their tractors at night, similar to our laying hens. So Brian set up electric net around the tractors and we opened up the doors and let them out. Reviews are still mixed. Many of them came out and wandered around delighted with the extra space and sunshine. Others are perfectly happy to stay in their familiar surroundings, thank you very much. Stockholm syndrome comes to mind - they’ve been in those tractors for a month now. Bringing their feed troughs outside encouraged the hold-outs to venture forth.

We did find that mixing birds of different ages was a no-no. The one tractor of 15-week birds was doing some serious bullying of the younger birds. So we rounded up the bullies and put them back into their tractor. No pasture for them! Come back…. uh never…. it’s well past time for them to go to freezer camp truthfully!

So we will continue to monitor this experiment and see how it works!

Cheers,

Jennifer and Brian

Reflections at Harvest Time

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This past weekend was a busy one: it was processing weekend for our second batch of pastured broiler chickens. For 11 weeks we cared for 120 birds, raising them from day-old chicks. Truthfully, we don’t love processing weekend. It’s hard on us, emotionally and physically, to transform all of those beautiful healthy chickens into what you put on your table for dinner. We make sure that our birds have an honorable, peaceful end, and that takes a lot of effort. Our first attempt, back in August, was just the two of us, which we quickly discovered was a crazy-pants idea. Unless of course, we wanted to spend an entire WEEK processing chickens! Since we don’t often find ourselves running out of things to do, that’s not an option! So, we recruited friends and family to help us finish batch #1, which was wonderful! We enjoyed sharing the experience with them and they found a new respect for the intimate details involved in bringing food to their table. GREAT we thought, this is the way to go, we will feed our friends, share in the fellowship of the harvest and give them free birds to take home. But truthfully, it’s hard to find people who have a full day to dedicate to processing chickens, and it’s even harder to find the SAME people to commit to doing it once/month during the growing season. Which means losing a lot of time training up new volunteers every time we process. So we started thinking about our options, which got us thinking about the history of small farms and old traditions.

a community effort

Many years ago, when it came time to harvest farms had a ready-made labor source: family. Multiple generations all pitched in and made the harvest happen. It’s part of what traditionally made farming work. Often, several farms would pool their labor at harvest time and help each other out: think Amish Barn-Raising. We marvel at what a strong sense of community that partnership and sharing of resources must have fostered.

the high cost of low prices

Mechanization and mega-farming mostly broke that bond. Today many farms are enormous operations that run on cheap migrant labor, often paid by volume, not by the hour. The hard work and poverty-level living conditions of migrant workers affords cheaper food prices for the rest of us. Migrant workers are the living embodiment of the saying “someone pays somewhere.”

We don’t agree with this practice, nor will we ever use it here at WPFF, but when we put figures on paper for what it will cost us to hire people at minimum wage to come to our farm and process chickens with us, it got us thinking about how this practice came to be. There is tremendous pressure from consumers for cheap food prices. Many crops are subsidized by the government to keep prices low, which we find ironic, because we pay for those subsidies through tax dollars, why not just pay the real cost of a gallon of milk or carton of eggs?! Farmers don’t take a salary, we “profit-share”, which is a neat little term for, we get what’s left over after feed costs, housing costs, and other expenses related to raising crops or animals. For small farmers, there isn’t an accounting for labor that is reflected in the price of a tomato, a dozen eggs or a steak. Faced with pressure to compete with large industrialized farms and CAFO feed-lots, small farmers who are raising crops or animals in a responsible, humane way are regularly driven out of business.

This begs the question: “Why don’t we value good food?” We are a society of consumers, spending lots of money on all manner of things that we don’t truly need. Don’t get us wrong here, Jennifer’s been known to horde some terrific quantities of really fine yarn, and loves a nice pair of shoes (or 20), so we aren’t saying we should all forgo the niceties in life. But food is essential to our health, anchors our social occasions and celebrations, comforts us in times of trouble and satisfies us in ways that nothing else does. Food is the most important thing we buy. The nutritional quality of our food is directly related to the way that it is raised.

Not only do we need food, we LOVE food! So why, when we step into a grocery store, do we become so cost-conscious? Why aren’t we questioning the REASON this carton of eggs is so much cheaper than that one? What is the difference between the two? Does one come from chickens in a factory-style automated barn that never see daylight; while the other comes from chickens raised on rotational pasture? Are we making a conscious choice when we pick up a carton of eggs in the grocery store, or are we strictly reacting to price? In an age where cancer, autism, fibromyalgia and a myriad of other diseases are becoming more common, why don’t we ask questions about how our food is produced? Why aren’t we willing to pay our farmers what it truly costs to produce good responsibly raised food that heals the land, honors the animal and is free of toxic pesticides?

what is the answer?

How can we change the system? How can we all become consumers that shake the hand that feeds us?

We don’t know! We’re interested in your thoughts!

Cheers,

Brian and Jennifer

So What is Regenerative Farming Anyway?!

Regenerative Agriculture is the application of farming and grazing practices that rebuild soil organic matter and restore degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in increased carbon sequestration and improved water infiltration.  Too much science?  Basically: we grow soil!  We are always looking at what we can do to build healthy soil using methods that mimic nature.  A few ways that we do this include:

  • avoiding synthetic fertilizers and using compost instead (we generate a LOT of that!)
  • seeding in deep-rooted forage plants for our pastures - deep roots build deep soils rich in organic matter that are able to soak in and retain a lot of moisture.  This helps with drought tolerance and it prevents runoff and erosion problems.
  • using rotational grazing practices to avoid over-grazing and maintain healthy pastures
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So, why is healthy soil so important? Soil is actually a living thing.  It is teeming with millions of little micro-organisms and fungi that are all interconnected.  They increase the nutrition of our food in ways that we can't even begin to understand yet.  When soil is healthy and can support all of these little critters, it is able to draw vast amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and lock it up in the soil.  This is a big deal for fighting climate change.  

Image courtesy of the Carbon Cycle Institute

Image courtesy of the Carbon Cycle Institute

In the U.S. there are millions of acres of farm land right now that are NOT managed with regenerative practices.  Most conventional farmers don't allow their fields a fallow (rest) period with a cover crop to protect the soil and rejuvenate it with organic matter and nutrients.  They farm cash crop after cash crop, robbing the soil of nutrients without replenishing them.  Left with infertile soil, they turn to cheaper synthetic fertilizers in order to grow their crops.  Often these fertilizers are high in salts, which are deposited in the soil, causing further harm to soil health.  Additionally, many conventional farmers use herbicide-resistant GMO crops which allow them to spray herbicide on the crop which kills weeds, but not the crop.  This kills off the beneficial organisms in the soil as well, disrupting its ability to naturally keep harmful pests and diseases in check.  Conventional farmers are stuck in the endless feedback loop of applying pesticides to kill off weeds, insects and disease, which also kills off the good organisms naturally found in soil.  The end result:  poor soil health that is unable to draw down that carbon from the atmosphere and lock it up.  Additionally, most of our conventional food is loaded with glyphosate, which is a known carcinogen and just all-around not good idea to eat!  I mean, have you ever considered putting RoundUp on your Cheerios?!  

We all have the opportunity to vote three times a day with our fork!  

Eating is a moral act.  What kind of world do you want your food dollars to support?  You decide how food should be raised every time you put something in your shopping cart. Shop at your local farmers market. Talk to the farmers there about how they grow their product; most are happy to engage with the public and talk to you about their work. 

We are working hard to implement regenerative farming techniques here at Where Pigs Fly Farm!  We think our food tastes great, and our pastures look beautiful!  They are teeming with foxes, birds, insects, frogs, lizards and snakes!  We love watching it all at work!

Cheers,

Brian & Jennifer

Welcome to our Farm!

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Brian and I are very excited to launch our website and blog!  It's been a long spring and summer of hard work getting infrastructure in place to bring broiler chickens and pigs onto the farm.  I never realized when I decided to become a farmer, that I was really signing up to be a construction worker!  So many times, as weird, interesting and amazing things happen around this farm, we have said to each other: "we really ought to have a blog!"  And then we would laugh because, as every farmer knows, all 24 hours of each day are currently spoken for!  But, the universe always provides, and yesterday I sat my fanny down and 7 hours later: a website was born!  Let me introduce you to the team:

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Where Pigs Fly is home to 4 Ossabaw Island Hogs: Dixie, Peaches, Penelope and Lucille.  They are 7 months old, and when they are old enough, we will breed them and raise their piglets for meat.  

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We have 200 Red Sexlink laying hens, which provide delicious brown eggs!  Red Sexlink chickens are known to be very reliable layers, averaging one egg per day.  

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Our Fancy Flock of 27 young hens and 2 roosters contains several different breeds, including Ameraucanas, Orpingtons, French Marans, Olive Eggers, Easter Eggers, Brahmas and Crested Cream Legbars.  They are all beautiful birds and we are waiting patiently for them to start laying a rainbow of colored eggs!  

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Currently, 248 broiler chickens are grazing out on pasture and another 124 chicks are cheep-cheep-cheeping in our brooder.  We raise our broiler chickens from day-old chicks until they are 11-12 weeks old.  By that age they are 4 -6 lbs and ready to become roaster chickens.  We process our chickens here on the farm, not in a scary factory.  They have a good life here, and we make sure their last five minutes are as free from trauma and pain as possible.  

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Where Pigs Fly Farm is also home to the Eco-Goats (google them, they're famous!)  Our herd is made up of 13 Nubians, 1 Boer, 1 Pygmy and her 3 Pygmy-Nubian kids (we are still in amazement over how that could happen!)  When they're not out on the road, they keep the invasive vegetation under control here on the farm.

We hope you will enjoy reading about our farm and the life we are building here.  Most of all, we hope you will learn new things about where your food comes from, and gain an appreciation for local regeneratively farmed food!  Please join us for the ride!

Cheers,

Jennifer