Brown eggs are order of day on Henderson farm

Published 7:31 pm Friday, July 9, 2010

Ask Kellie Henderson which came first, the chicken or the egg and she’ll say without hesitation, “The chicken.”

Nothing could be closer to the truth, for at Henderson’s backyard chicken farm near Shellhorn, the chickens did come first.

Henderson got her flock as an after thought. She admits that she is first and foremost a cow-girl at heart. She and her husband, Richard, own part-interest in a herd of 126 head of beef cattle and she takes pride in that ownership. She also makes it her mission to know as much about cows and the beef market as she can. So, that’s how it was that she came away from the cow message board as the owner of a flock of chickens.

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“I was online with a cattleman in Montgomery and, in some of our discussions, he mentioned that he had chickens that he would like to get rid of, if he could catch them,” Henderson said. “His wife had mail ordered biddies and the company sent double what she had ordered. It would have cost the company more to have the biddies shipped back to them than they were worth so his wife was told to just keep the biddies.”

Naturally, biddies grow up to be chickens and there were more chickens at home on the range than the couple wanted.

Decorative items with chicken motifs are popular in households in urban areas as well as rural areas so the market is flooded with them. Having grown up on a farm, Henderson has always loved farm animals and her home has its share of decorative times with chickens and roosters.

She liked the idea of having a few live chicks on the farm so she agreed to relieve the Montgomery couple of the chickens they could catch and deliver.

Eight chickens found a new home at the coop that the Hendersons had built especially for them in a bright, sunny spot not too far from the house.

“It’s not the usual chicken coop but the chickens seem to like it,” Henderson said, laughing.

The coop was built for comfort and for safety. The nests are red plastic tubs that have been tailored for laying comfort and the ladder is not the usual rickety rungs that chickens have to traverse. It’s a real stepladder that’s easy on the legs and feet.

The safety of the chickens was a major concern for Henderson and her flock.

“We have no shortage of hawks out here and we have owls, too,” she said. “We covered the top of the coop with wire to keep out them out. And, I read that raccoons will team up to kill chickens. When a chicken is frightened, it will run to the corner of the pen. The raccoons will spread out to all corners and reach in and the chicken won’t have any chance of getting away. So, we put a string of hot wire around the bottom of the pen. It keeps dogs away, too.”

The Hendersons’ own dogs quickly realized that the chickens rule the roost so they leave the chickens to their coop and are content to control the yard.

Henderson is not sure exactly what breed her chickens are.

“I just call them a mixed breed,” she said. “All I know is that they are brown egg layers. Some chickens lay white eggs, others lay brown eggs.”

The schools of thought are that the color of the eggs is determined by the breed, the skin pigment or the food the chickens eat.

Henderson said she has been told that the color of a chicken’s ear lobe will tell what color its eggs will be.

“But I don’t know where a chicken’s ear lobe is,” she said, laughing. “All I know is that my chickens are brown egg layers. Some people say that brown eggs taste different – better – than white eggs but I don’t think that’s true.”

Henderson said it is true that “yard” eggs have a brighter, richer yoke.

“Chickens that eat grass and other vegetation lay eggs that have a richer color,” she said. “That rich color comes from the beta carotene that is found in the vegetation. But, whether, that improves the taste of the eggs … I don’t think so.”

However, Henderson said that freshness does made a difference in the taste.

“An egg, fresh from the farm, seems to have a better taste,” she said. “But, because of the readily available local supply of eggs, delivery is made to grocery stores in a day or two so most eggs are somewhat farm fresh.”

Henderson’s eggs aren’t grocery store bound. All of her eggs are free for the asking and she has a long line of family and friends “asking.”

“Chickens lay an egg about every 26 hours during their prime laying time, which is about a year or more,” Henderson said. “I lost one of the chickens so I get seven eggs a day. Most people don’t know much about chickens and eggs and I’ve had a lot to learn myself. But the question that I’m asked most often is how do chickens lay eggs without a rooster. They are surprised when I tell them that you don’t have to have a rooster for chickens to lay eggs.”

However, a chicken farmer does have to have a rooster to have biddies and Henderson does not want a rooster.

“I might take a few more chickens if my friends can catch more of theirs but I do not want a rooster,” Henderson said, laughing. “And, I don’t want to have to worry about a setting hen.”

However, one of Henderson’s girls has shown an inclination to set.

“You don’t want your hens to set because they won’t lay as long as they are setting,” she said. “I’ve heard stories about farmers who train their hens to set by putting a porcelain door knob in the nest. The hen thinks it’s an egg.”

Another story that Henderson likes to share is about a farmer who put golf balls in a hen’s nest.

“One night, he slipped some baby chicks under her,” Henderson said with a smile. “The next morning, she saw the biddies and thought she had hatched the golf balls.”

Since Henderson is not into raising chickens, she is content with her seven girls and encourages them to lay as often as possible in order to keep her family and friends supplied with farm fresh brown eggs.

“Right now, they have slowed production because the weather is so hot,” Henderson said.

“Chickens won’t lay at night so the longer the days, the more time they have to lay. I’ve read that some farmers put artificial lights in their hen houses to give them more laying time but I don’t have any plans to do that.”

And neither does she have any plans to pipe music into the chicken coop in hopes of encouraging increased production. Her girls are on their own.

At night, when the chickens are on the roost and the dogs have settled down, Kellie Henderson goes to sleep listening to the nighttime serenade of Mother Nature and knowing that all is well and good in the hen house.