Broken eggs a lesson in sustainability

By Tom Read

Disappointing aftermath: a broody hen who eats eggs instead of hatching them into chicks. We carry on; the wayward hen will become chicken stew.

Disappointing aftermath: a broody hen who eats eggs instead of hatching them into chicks. We carry on; the wayward hen will become chicken stew.

When we first contemplated keeping chickens here on Texada, we wanted to do it sustainably.  The two most critical elements of sustainable chicken-raising, it seemed to us, were breeding and feeding. Thus, instead of buying chicks “through the mail” we would keep a rooster and hens (Dark Cornish), and breed replacements for our flock right here at home. Further, although we would start out by feeding store-bought grain mixes, we hoped eventually to develop a chicken feed of our own, based on easy-to-grow comfrey, plus seaweed gathered from nearby Raven Bay, plus maybe some home-grown grains.

Status so far:  breeding is coming along well, albeit with a setback I’ll describe momentarily. Creating our own local chicken food is taking awhile longer. We hope to get it happening next year.

Meanwhile, with help from An, our mentor in all things chicken, we have successfully raised chickens using mother hens from her flock. With one exception, however, our own one-year-old hens failed to “go broody” this year. Very frustrating! So you can imagine the high expectations we placed on the lone hen who actually did start nest-sitting about a month ago. With this broody hen, at last we could complete the breeding cycle without external help, or so it seemed.

Alas, ‘twas not to be. Our broody hen started out well, with seven nicely-formed eggs under her in a comfortable, quiet and raccoon-proof nest box with ample food and water nearby. Then, about six days into her sitting, came the first warning that something wasn’t quite right: I found an egg lying outside the nest. It was still warm so I carefully put it back under her in hopes that it had merely fallen out when she rearranged her eggs. But the next day, and in days to follow, our would-be mother hen first expelled and then ate most of the eggs in that nest. Apparently, once they get a taste for raw egg, a chicken will continue to crack open and eat their own or other hens’ eggs.

Disappointing, but nothing goes to waste. Not too long from now she’ll make a nice chicken stew for us.

And I guess that’s why most people use electric incubators instead of natural mother hens for egg-hatching. Not us, however. Because we live off-grid, and rely chiefly on solar power in the summer, we don’t have the option of using an electric incubator. Thus, we are still quite determined to breed our own flock the old-fashioned way, grateful for yet another learning experience along the road to a sustainable way of life.


5 Responses to “Broken eggs a lesson in sustainability”

  1. 1 margaret September 7, 2009 at 15:05

    Hi Tom,

    Frustrating indeed but I wish you future success with your chicken breeding. I love reading about your life on Texada. You may not remember but my husband and I viewed a home you and your wife had listed about 2 years ago. Unfortunately Texada did not work out for us but we now live in Powell River and love it.


  2. 2 Tom Read September 8, 2009 at 17:04

    Hello Margaret,

    Thanks for your kind words. I don’t remember your visit here specifically, but I’m glad we could play a small part in helping you find a home. Even though I’m a bit biased in favour of Texada Island, I know that Powell River is, indeed, a fine place to live as well.

    Best wishes,


  3. 3 Freija Fritillary September 10, 2009 at 11:58

    We’ve had mixed success with broody hens as well. We did experiment with a zero electricity incubator, using hot water. We incubated in the early spring, while the wood stove was still going, so the hot water was a secondary product of heating and cooking. We used an old freezer, turned on it’s side, which worked great to hold the heat and humididty necessary. We were mildly successful using the clumsy method of simply changing buckets of hot water to keep the temp up, and covering with blankets over night, but it would always drop a bit by morning. I am sure that the same method would work great cycling the water through pipes, giving the consistent heat and humidity required, if anyone were up to taking on a project. I found that the water temp was best around 160-180F, to keep the freezer box at 95-100F, and the humidity stayed at 50-60%. Best part is that it converts to an excellent brooder, large enough to raise 1-2 dozen chicks.

    About the chicken feed, comfrey is an excellent fodder, we’ve had great success feeding it to our goats as well, and plan to grow a lot more. Have you considered growing legumes for the chickens? The dry pea varieties have much smaller seeds, small enough to be fed without cracking. And millet is also a short season grain, which doesn’t need milling at all, and can easily be harvested by hand since it grows in large seed heads.

    Just some thoughts… we’ve gotten to the point where chickens simply require too much grain through our cold winters, so the most sustainable chicken in our area is a duck! More fat and feathers for winter, and better at converting fodder such as comfrey and alfalfa.

  4. 4 Tom Read September 12, 2009 at 20:59

    Hello Freija,

    Ah, the voice of experience! Many thanks for sharing your thoughts on how to do sustainable poultry in our region. We’ll definitely have to take a closer look at ducks!



  5. 5 Freija Fritillary September 14, 2009 at 13:37

    Well, ducks certainly for our Zone 4, 7 month long winters. Your own comparatively mild winters aren’t too hard on hens, especially since you have longer access to forage crops to supplement the winter grain ration.

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