At the end of May, Garth was the lucky guy at a poorly attended equipment auction who got a fine deal on two sets of running gear. If you are at all like me, you don't know what running gear means. It is basically a metal frame with four wheels and a tongue at the front where a tractor can attach to it. The pair he bought were not fancy, but they were in useable condition. One of them has become the designated wagon for hauling things on the farm and the other is now the 'egg mobile'.
The goal was a chicken house on wheels. We have been using a rotational grazing system with the cows which concentrates their attention (and their manure) in small areas at a time. After we move the cows to a new pasture, we pull the chickens to where ever the cows have just been. In theory, the chickens reduce the fly and parasite population by scratching through the manure and eating the larvae therein. At dusk they hurry back to the egg mobile where they can safely roost all night. We keep fresh water and cracked grains available to them to supplement their diet. We have posted photos of the other pastured animal contraptions we have made in the past, but this one really does permit them to cover a lot of ground and let them have their choice of a wide range of forage.
There have been times when the piles of scrap metal around have felt like an ugly burden, but this was not one of them. When the project was complete Garth was happy to report that the only brand new materials he used were the hook and eye pieces that latch the doors closed. It brings a bit of vaudeville charm that wouldn't otherwise be gracing our pastures.
The chickens have been enjoying the freedom within their routine. Someone props open the door to their place in the morning after the cow chores and they are left alone until sundown when they are closed in for the night. I went to bring them some compost today and found 1/2 of the flock had joined the cows while the other half was pecking around in tall grass near the wagon.
The chicken with its leg lifted is the finest example of the Silver Penciled Plymouth Rock breed that we have. The black and white one in front was supposed to look like that, but is not true to type. The zebra striped one on the right is an extra that the hatchery threw in, most likely a Barred Rock. The two in the rear are Rose Comb Brown Leghorns.
So we have been calling it the egg mobile since its inception in anticipation of brighter days to come when the birds are actually mature enough to lay. We had not filled their nesting boxes with saw dust because we just did not think they were big enough yet. Then one day, about two weeks ago, before readying the barn for Ebon to arrive, I walked past this overturned water tank and noticed... our first egg! We filled their nesting boxes with saw dust in a hurry after that and have been collecting between 2 and 5 eggs a day ever since.
Like the eggs of most young hens, they are small, but they will get bigger as the birds mature. The deep color of their yolks reveal the vitamin rich forage in their diet. Chickens fix beta-carotene in both their yolks and their whites. We cracked 6 of our eggs and two from a dozen that I had bought at a farmers' market for comparison (they are the two with larger yolks). For the record, I have bought many eggs from local farmers that look a lot better than that pale one and we obviously did not know how pallid it was until we had cracked it. The other large one looks better, good even, but in any light, our eggs stand out.
It is very troubling to think of the millions of eggs being recalled at the moment due to salmonella contamination and the scores of sickened people. A revolting inversion of 'farming', concealed at most times, is again revealing its true form on a grand stage. I am sorry to be one of the few Americans thrilled by the prospect of eating eggs right now, but these eggs deserve to be celebrated. Chickens, carry on!