The benefits of keeping chickens

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Here at the Moosbach Garden we are not only crazy about plants , we are also crazy about chickens. We keep 2 breeds of chicken here, namely Marans which originate from France and Polands which originate from Holland.

I remember as a young child of 10 years old collecting eggs from the barns of the Herdman’s farm in Herefordshire. They had bantam chickens that seemed to lay eggs everywhere, I was awestruck and hooked on keeping chickens from that moment onwards.

Fortunately for me I had an understanding mother and we lived on a farm.  At that point I didn’t really care what breed the chickens were, I just wanted chickens.  We acquired a hen with small chicks from a school friend of mine called “Girlie”, here real name was Maria but she was a bit of a tomboy.  I lost half of the chicks to the old farm cat who was called “Mr Snodgrass”, we then erected a much safer run for the mother hen and her remaining chicks, and all was well.

Herefordshire in the 1980’s was still a very rural community and the farms in the foothills of the Black Mountains even more so. You weren’t a local unless you had at least 3 generations you could trace back but Herefordians are good people and they make the best cider ever.  I eventually progressed from my crossbred bantam chickens to Marans, you see I had become obsessed with these chickens that reputedly laid chocolate brown eggs.

Maran chickens originate from the town of Marans near La Rochelle in France.  They come in an assortment of colours but the most popular seem to be the Cuckoo, the Copper Black and the Wheaten Marans.  Of these I believe that the Copper Black Marans lay the darkest eggs.  With Marans the colour of the egg shell is passed on by the Cockerell, so if a cockerell is hatched from a dark brown egg then this colour is passed onto the offspring.  So breeders always hatch chicks from the darkest brown eggs in the hope of continously improving the colour of the eggs.

There are many benefits of keeping your own chickens, the eggs from truly free range chickens cannot be beaten for flavour.  Let me clarify, the egg is made up of 2 parts, the white and the yolk, the Yolk is absorbed into the stomach of the chick when it hatches and is a protein rich food supply that lasts the chick for the first 24 hours after hatching.  It is incredibly delicous but the flavour is vastly improved when the chickens have access to fresh grass and herbs, it makes sense when you think about it. Chickens tend to hatch chicks in the spring and early summer when there is a surplus of fresh grass and herbs so that the chicks get the best possible start in life.  So even if you can’t keep your own chickens, it makes sense to only by eggs laid by hens that have access outside to grass and herbs.

It is also worth considering the differences between pure breed chickens and the egg machine sort.  Most pure breed chickens lay around 200 to 220 eggs per year and this is a natural process.  Egg machines are bred to lay around 350 eggs per year.  You might think that 350 is better than 220 but I disagree and this is why.  It takes quite a lot of energy, calcium and water to produce an egg, an egg is 60% water.  Most proprietary feeds should contain some calcium but if they don’t the calcium can be taken from the bones of the chickens which is not sustainable.  I belive that it is better to have 220 good quality eggs a year rather than 350 OK eggs.  They will probably cost you a bit more to buy but it is definately worth it. Our customers agree and we have no problem selling the eggs produced by the Moosbach hens.

Here are some chicken facts for you :-

  • Young hens are born with all of the immature eggs cells of all the eggs that they will lay as an adult
  • It takes roughly 26 weeks from hatching to laying the first egg
  • Chickens need a minimum of 14 hours daylight to stimulate egg production
  • Chickens lay most of their eggs in their first 2 years
  • Chickens  eggs remain fertile for 10 days after mating
  • Chickens can live up to 6 years
  • Chickens will lay eggs with or without a cockerell

There are various clubs for Marans and it is best to join one and then contact reputable breeders that you can buy your hens from.  I would not recommend buying hatching eggs online or buying chickens from a market, you have no idea what you are really buying.  It is always best to visit a breeder so that you can judge the quality of the Chickens and the conditions that they are kept in.  Also if you already have chickens and buy additional ones always keep them seperate for 3 weeks to ensure that they do not pass any diseases that they may have onto your flock.

There are many different breeds of chicken and it is worth researching online the different breeds of chicken to find the one that’s just right for you.

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Above Copper Black Maran eggs and one Green Aracauna egg for comparison.

On the left, the Now famous Herr Huber and on the right freshly hatched chicks in our incubator.

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