May 2009

Grocery Store Chickens: The Cornish X

I had never really thought about grocery store chickens until I started raising my own.  The chickens you buy at the grocery store are universally the Cornish X (Cornish Cross) breed.  This breed was developed by crossing the Cornish and Plymouth Rock breeds, with the goal of a chicken that will put on a lot of muscle very quickly.  In fact, most of the whole chickens you find at the store are between six and nine weeks old.

It is possible to buy industrial strains of Cornish X chicks to raise at home, and many people do.  April, who writes the Coal Creek Farm blog, recently went through the slaughter process with her Cornish X chickens.  She also blogged periodically about them as she was raising them - they ate a phenomenal amount of feed!  Although she purchased 20 chicks, she only ended up with 17 edible carcasses.  Two of the chicks died early on, and a third was sick at butchering time.

Chickens: Double Yolk Eggs

I've read that 1 in 1,000 eggs has double yolks, so it is likely that you could encounter this even with a small backyard flock of chickens.  To go back to the car wash analogy in my previous post, a double yolk egg can occur one of two ways:

1.     More than one "grape" (ovum) drops into the oviduct at once.  This often happens with young pullets, whose reproductive system is still working on getting properly synchronized.  It can also be hereditary in some cases - a few people have reported that their hens (usually heavy breeds) always lay double yolk eggs.

In the car wash analogy, this is as if two cars went through bumper-to-bumper, rather than individually with plenty of space between them.

2.    Ovum #1 gets hung up in the line, until ovum #2 comes along and knocks it loose.  The two ova then travel down the rest of the oviduct together.  Imagine one car gets hung up in the car wash, and the next car bumps into it.  They then move through the rest of the car wash in lock step.

Chickens: Weird Eggs

I recently ran across several threads on the Backyard Chickens forum about weird eggs laid by hens.  It turns out that these are not terribly uncommon, which is a good thing to know ahead of time!

First, some chicken biology on how an egg is formed.  A chicken's ovary is like a cluster of grapes hanging over a funnel.  When one of the "grapes"(follicles) matures into an ovum, it falls off the ovary and drops into the funnel.  From there it travels down a long tube (the oviduct). 

The "grape" (ovum) is the center of the egg, which becomes the yolk as the egg develops.  As it travels down the oviduct, the other layers of the egg are laid around it.  Imagine a car moving through an automatic car wash.  Instead of getting a rinse, a soap and a wax, the yolk gets the egg white, then the membranes, and finally the shell. 

Odd things can happen along the way.  Most of us never see the results of these mis-steps, because we buy our eggs from the store.  It's not like Lucerne is going to stick these weird eggs into your 12-pack!

Chicken Tractor Considerations

I've been doing a lot of work and research on my chicken tractor in the last month.  I've done far more reading up on construction and carpentry topics than I ever thought I would!  My chickens will be living in their chicken tractor full-time, but most of these items apply just as much to a proper coop.

Predator Proofing

 Read enough predator-related message threads on the chicken forums, and you will start to see raccoons around every corner.  Which isn't far from the case, honestly!  Even in the city, chickens face attacks by transient hawks, raccoons, and free-range dogs and cats.

One common lament I've read over and over is, "The [raccoon, dog, cat, whatever] went right through the chicken wire!"  It's often said that chicken wire is only good for keeping chickens in - it does little to keep other animals out.  Hardware cloth, which is made of welded wire in a square grid, is the only predator-proof option.  Neither PVC plastic hardware cloth nor chicken wire will keep predators at bay.