2016 Photo Contest #1

cameraWe’re excited to announce our first photo contest of 2016!

For this contest, we are looking for photos of people working with their chickens — feeding and watering them, gathering eggs, moving portable coops on pasture, or similar things. Please include a good caption or description with your photo..

For this particular contest, we don’t want “cute” photos of chickens sitting on the back of the living room couch or playing with the cat or dog. The theme of this photo contest is normal, traditional interaction with your chickens and chores related to tending your chickens. To qualify, each photo should have one or more person(s) in it and one or more chickens or chicken eggs. You are welcome to submit multiple photos.

Please note that we reserve the right to disqualify any photos that do not fit the description above.

The contest will open on February 27, 2016, and we will give further instructions then as to how to upload your photos.. You will have two weeks to upload your photos, followed by a one-week rating period to select the finalists, followed by another rating period to select the winners.

Prizes will be announced when the contest opens. Look for updates and further details about the contest here on our blog.

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“Noah’s Ark Project” — An Update

Large Hoop Coops Noah's Ark

Housing for part of the Noah’s Ark Project

Background: As we’ve mentioned previously, in May of 2015, Murray McMurray Hatchery brought a truckload of 3,700 newly-hatched chicks to Joe Claborn’s farm in Texas for safekeeping as Avian Influenza was spreading in the U.S. and in Iowa. The project has informally come to be known as the “Noah’s Ark Project.” This interview with Joe Claborn, gives more information on the current state of this project.

Q: Can you give us an update on the Noah’s Ark Project?

We’re seven months into caring for these chickens now, and all of the breeds are laying. From fourteen of the breeds we’re collecting eggs daily, which we then ship to McMurray for hatching. We keep these fourteen breeds in our barn on deep bedding. The rest of the birds we keep in our two hoop houses.

Q: Have you’ve learned anything unexpected from this project?

Well, probably the most unexpected thing I’ve learned is just the experience of raising so many different breeds and learning their different characteristics. I’ve never raised so many breeds before, and being able to care for them side-by-side, you really get to see the differences.

White Cochin Hen

White Cochin

For example, White Cochins. They will go broody with no eggs under them. They are so broody — it’s amazing! Every day I go in to look for eggs, and there’ll be three to five broody hens, sitting there with no eggs under them. I’ll move them to look for eggs, and it turns out that they’re just “brooding” the dirt, like they think it’s going to hatch.

I’m thinking of taking eggs from some of my other breeds and putting them under the White Cochins just as an experiment to see what will happen because I think they’ll probably hatch them. And people say that a hen raised by a broody hen is more likely, herself, to go broody.

Speckled Sussex

Speckled Sussex

Another breed that really interests me is the Speckled Sussex. I’ve really grown to like these. Their natural speckling makes a good camoflauge, which I think is going to help make this a great homesteading bird, and they’re prolific egg layers. The downside is that they eat voraciously — they eat probably twice as much as any similarly-sized bird. (They get four scoops of feed a day instead of two — all my other pens get two.)

And then some of the breeds that I would have just thought of as “eye-candy,” like the Golden Polish …. It turns out that the Golden Polish are very good white egg layers. They’re still kind of unusual to raise because when you walk toward them, a lot of times they can’t see you coming — the feathers block their vision, particularly of things above and behind them. And when they realize that you’re standing right beside them, they get a little startled. So that makes them kind of interesting.

Golden Polish

Golden Polish

Another breed that surprised me is Buff Cochins. They lay like crazy. I’m probably getting more eggs out of their pen than any of the others. And the Buff Cochin hens … there are several that want to go broody. But they’re not like the White Cochins — when I move the Buff Cochins off their nest, then they stop being broody, so I don’t know that these would actually stick it out long enough to hatch out eggs.

Q: You mentioned earlier about using deep bedding. Can you explain that more?

About two months ago, we switched from cleaning the pens about once a week to using a deep litter (or deep bedding) system, and this has really helped. It cuts down on the work, and it also provides a very clean, healthy environment for the birds.

Down at the bottom of the bedding, we’ve now got several inches of pretty well-composted material, and the bedding on top is less composted. In the mornings, when I feed the birds, I go through and sprinkle some feed across the top of the bedding. This accomplishes two things. First, the roosters think that it’s their job to show the hens where the food is, and so they get all excited and start clucking and scratching. And all that scratching is mixing the litter up — aerating it for me. We still go in about once a week and aereate it by hand, too — we just take a pitch fork and fluff the bedding up a bit. This gives us a chance to make sure there are no undetected water leaks, and it adds more air to the bedding, which helps it compost. Basically, the deep litter is just a big compost pile, so it needs some aeration to stay active.

Q: What are the plans for this project?

For the next couple of months, we’re going to just keep maintaining the status quo. We’re here to supply eggs to McMurray hatchery, and we’re here to supply breeders if they run into any problems up there.

Longer term, I think we’ll be doing this for another year. Earlier, it looked like we might not have a bird flu season this year, but with that recent break in Indiana, we see that it just takes one break and 500,000 birds are gone. It doesn’t take but one break close by you, and you could be in danger. So, I think we’re going to continue for one more year down here, then we’ll re-evaluate about this time next year and decide what to do from there.

Posted in McMurray Hatchery | 15 Comments

How to Wash Chicken Eggs

Chicken eggs

Photo by Sharon Kristoff

What’s the best way to clean dirty eggs? Should they be washed when you first gather them, or is it better to wait and wash them just before use? Before we answer these questions, let’s go over some basics.

Bloom Protects the Contents

A nearly invisible waxy substance called “bloom,” or “cuticle,” covers the surface of each freshly laid egg. Egg shells are porous, each shell having thousands of tiny pores. Bloom seals up those pores, allowing the egg to breathe, which is important for eggs that are going to be hatched. Bloom also seals out contaminants and bacteria.

Washing an egg in water removes the bloom, which is the egg’s best defense against contamination. If you plan to use the eggs right away, washing them first is a good idea. But if you plan to store eggs for a few days and if they’re not excessively dirty, then it would be best to delay washing with water until just before you plan to use them.

Prevention Is Best Cure

The best way to have clean chicken eggs is to prevent them from getting dirty in the first place. That’s not always possible, but in another article, we give some tips on how to keep eggs clean.

“Dry Clean” the Eggs if Possible

For eggs that have only a little dirt or manure on the surface and that aren’t deeply soiled, you may be able to clean them without water by using a little sandpaper. 320 grit will work well. (Higher numbered grits, being smoother, tend to be harder to get the egg clean with, and lower numbered grits, being coarser, tend to be too aggressive and can easily scratch away the bloom.)

By gently sanding any dirty spots on the egg, you can remove dirt while leaving the bloom mostly intact.

Washing Your Eggs

Some eggs, however, are too dirty to “dry clean” with sandpaper. For those, you’ll need water and/or detergent. When washing eggs, it’s best to use water that is 10-20 degrees (F) warmer than the egg. The reason for this is that each egg contains a small air cell. When air is cooled, it shrinks, so if you were to wash the egg in water that’s colder than the egg, the air cell would start to shrink. As it shrank, it would create a bit of a vacuum inside the egg shell, and this vacuum could actually pull contaminants through the pores and into the egg.

Warm water reverses this, causing the air cell to expand, thus creating slight pressure inside the egg that helps to keep contaminants out.

For washing eggs, we offer several different products:

  • Egg Wipes — These are soft, biodegradable wet wipes made for cleaning eggs. Just pull an egg wipe out of the container and thoroughly wipe down the eggs. Each wipe is good for cleaning about a dozen eggs, depending on how dirty they are.
  • Egg Soap Concentrate — This is a concentrated powder that makes a chlorinated egg washing solution.
  • All Natural Egg Cleanser — This all natural, chlorine-free, concentrated cleanser removes dirt, manure and unwanted bacteria from the eggs. One bottle of concentrate makes more than 60 gallons of wash water.
  • Egg Washing Kit — If you’ve got a lot of eggs to wash, this egg washing kit will save you lots of time. It works together with an air compressor and can wash about 8 dozen eggs in 15 minutes or less.

Eggs Not to Eat

If you find an egg with a broken eggshell, it’s best to avoid using it for human consumption, since the crack can let in contaminants. If you have a dog or cat, you can cook up the egg and feed it to them instead. I would also recommend that you not eat eggs that have become so deeply soiled that the shell remains discolored even after the eggs have been washed thoroughly.

Other Tips on Cleaning Eggs

Do you have other tips on how to clean eggs? Or favorite approaches? Post a reply in the comments below this article.

Posted in Chicken Eggs | 13 Comments

Reduce Stress for a Healthier, More Productive Flock

Photo by Pamela Steppe

Photo by Pamela Steppe

Reducing or limiting stress is one of the best things you can do to keep your flock healthy and productive. Similar to how stress affects us as humans, in poultry it can lead to many problems. Reduced egg production, poor rate of growth and development, greater susceptibility to disease — all of these can result from stress.

According to Gail Damerow, author of The Chicken Health Handbook, chickens are always undergoing some level of stress. Our task is not to totally eliminate stress, which would be impossible, but instead to limit and reduce stress.

What Causes Chickens to Be Stressed?

Lots of things can cause stress to your flock, most of which are easy to correct or prevent. Some of the obvious causes of stress are inadequate nutrition, lack of water, poor hygiene and extreme conditions, but there are others, too. Let’s look in more detail at things that can cause chickens stress.

  1. Water problems. If your chickens ever run out of water, that will cause unnecessary stress. Poor quality water — water that’s not clean, or water that’s not very palatable (perhaps due to dissolved minerals or additives) — can cause stress. To reduce stress, give them a continual supply of clean, fresh water, and clean their watering equipment regularly. For more information, see our article on the importance of water for chickens.
  2. Inadequate nutrition. Chicken feeds are designed for specific applications and ages. Feeding the wrong type of feed can lead to inadequate nutrition, as can not supplying enough feed or letting feed get spoiled. For example, newly hatched chicks should receive a chick starter that supplies adequate levels of protein, not a lower protein ration intended for mature birds, such as layer ration.
  3. Excessive or Rough Handling. Handling chickens stresses them to some degree, particular rough handling. Sometimes children can unintentionally cause chickens a lot of stress simply because they haven’t been taught how to properly handle the birds. On the other hand, proper handling of your birds can actually reduce stress overall. If you rarely handle your chickens, they will not be used to human contact, and then when you do need to handle them, for example, to check for mites, it will stress them more than necessary. The solution is to handle them gently and frequently enough that they get used to it, but in moderation. Just spending some time in the coop or pen with them for a few minutes on a daily basis helps. (That’s why I prefer a coop or pen that is high enough to get into easily). Picking up a hen or rooster, holding it for a little while and then setting it down gently helps the chicken learn that you aren’t going to harm it, and with regular handling, they will get tamer (some breeds more than others). Tamer chickens will experience less stress when you do need to handle them.
  4. Fear of dogs or predators. If your chickens are being threatened by predators, of if dogs are able to run around the coop, they may frighten the chickens, which will obviously stress them. If things like this are a problem in your area, you may want to consider some kind of perimeter fencing that can keep animals like these well away from the coop. Electrified wire can help keep dogs and predators away.
  5. Overcrowding. Having too many chickens in too small of a space increases stress, exacerbates tendencies toward pecking one another, makes good hygiene more difficult and can increase the risk of diseases and parasites. Make sure your chickens have plenty of space.
  6. Parasites and disease. Diseases, internal parasites such as worms and external parasites such as mites place stress on chickens. Also, stress weakens chickens’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to disease.
  7. Extremes of Temperature. Heat stress is one of the most commonly discussed types of stress for chickens. In another article we discuss things you can do to help your chickens stay cool. Excessive cold can also be a problem. One thing to keep in mind is that chickens are typically much better insulated than we are, so what feels cold to us is not necessarily that cold for them. See also our recent article on caring for chickens in cold weather.


One of the best ways to recognize sources of stress and other problems is to spend time with your chickens and observe their behavior and their living conditions. (This is also a great way to notice not just problems, but things that are working well.) It’s easy to see when the living conditions aren’t clean enough. It’s not difficult to smell the harmful ammonia build-up that can result from inadequate ventilation. Beyond that, chickens’ behavior will change — not unlike how our own behavior changes — when they experience higher levels of stress. If you spend time with them and watch them enough to recognize what their normal behavior is like, then you’ll be able to more easily notice when their behavior has begun to change as a result of stress. Then once you’ve determined the cause, you’ll be able to make changes to fix the problem and reduce their stress levels. That will lead to a happier, healthier and more productive flock.

More could be said about stress, and perhaps we’ll cover that in future articles. For now, I’d like to hear back from you. Have you noticed signs of stress in your flock? What was the cause? And what worked best to reduce the stress?

Posted in Chickens | 9 Comments

What type of poultry feed should I use?

The nutritional requirements of chickens differ somewhat at different stages of growth. Also, broilers have different nutritional requirements than layers. When selecting a feed, it’s important to understand how the manufacturer intended the feed to be used, and make sure that its intended use matches your use.

Some broad categories of feed are:

  • Chick Starter is a feed that you would start to use when your chicks first hatch. Generally you would use it for some number of weeks (specified by the manufacturer) then switch to either a layer feed for pullets that you are raising to become layers or a broiler feed for meat birds. Chick starter feeds are available in medicated and non-medicated varieties.  The medicated variety is intended to help the chickens develop an immunity to Coccidiosis.  If, instead, you have chosen to have your chicks vaccinated for Coccidiosis, then you should use a non-medicated feed.
  • Chick Grower. Some manufacturers make a Grower feed and others do not.  Grower feed is used once the chicks are a few weeks old until they are ready to transition to a layer feed. The manufacturer will have specifications as to what age range the Grower feed is intended for. If you are raising layers and you use a brand of feed that is not supplied in a grower ration, then you would switch directly from starter feed to layer ration at the age specified by the feed manufacturer. Similarly, if you are raising broilers and a grower ration is not available, you would switch directly from chick starter to broiler ration or broiler finisher at the appropriate age.
  • Broiler Finisher is for feeding to your broilers until they are ready to  be processed. We sell an organic broiler finisher that is designed for use beginning at about 5 weeks of age.
  • Layer feed is formulated for hens as they approach laying age. Some layer feeds are designed to be used starting at 16-18 weeks, while others are designed for use beginning at 10 weeks. Some layer feeds are complete feeds, meaning that you do not need to supplement them. Other layer feeds are lower in calcium and need to be supplemented by giving your hens access to oyster shells in a separate feeder, free choice.

Feeds come in different forms, including:

  • Mash, which is a ground up feed,
  • Pellets, which consist of mash that has been processed to shape the feed into pellets, and
  • Crumbles, a feed which contains pellets that have been broken up into smaller pieces, making them easier to eat.

Pellets can help to reduce feed waste, but are not as easily digested as mash or crumbles.

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7 Ways to Get Cleaner Eggs from Your Chickens

Chicken eggs

Photo by Steve Taysom

Raising your own flock of layers is a great way to get fresh eggs, but particularly during wet, mucky weather, the chickens will tend to get their eggs dirty. Here are a few things you can do to minimize that:

1. Encourage hens to lay in the nest boxes

Put nest boxes in the coop before your hens start laying. This will give them time to explore the nest boxes and get comfortable with them being there.

Hens prefer to lay nest boxes that are dark and somewhat secluded, so place them away from the main paths of traffic through the coop and orient them so that sunlight does not shine directly toward the box’s opening.

Ceramic Nest Eggs

Ceramic Nest Eggs

If you have difficulty getting your hens to lay in the nest boxes, you can put in a few ceramic eggs to train them where to lay. The idea is that they’ll see the eggs and recognize the nest box as a safe place to lay eggs.

2. Discourage roosting in the nest boxes

Since chickens produce manure all night long while roosting, you’ll want to prevent them from roosting in the nest boxes. They’ll tend to roost in the highest places that they can get to, so place roosts higher than the nest boxes to encourage roosting on the roosts rather than in the nest boxes.

3. Gather eggs daily

Eggs are more likely to get dirty the longer they’re left in the nest box. Gather them once or even twice a day if possible.

4. Have plenty of bedding in nestboxes

If eggs get accidentally cracked in the nest box, it can be a real mess to clean up, and it soils the nest box, the bedding in the nest box and other eggs in the nest box. To reduce the chances of eggs being accidentally cracked keep plenty of soft bedding material in the nest boxes. Pine shavings work well for this.

5. Have plenty of nest boxes

Aim to have at least one nest box for every five to six hens. If you have too few, sometimes more than one hen will try to occupy the nest box at a time, and that can lead to broken eggs. Plus, with too few nest boxes you’ll have more eggs in a nest box, increasing the likelihood that eggs will get stepped on or jostled around and broken.

Even with plenty of nest boxes, hens may develop a preference for a particular nest box, or often they will prefer laying in a box where there are already some eggs, even though there are other, empty nest boxes.

6. Have plenty of bedding on the coop floor

This helps in two ways. First, if the hens occasionally lay eggs on the floor, they will be cleaner when there’s plenty of fresh, clean bedding there. Second, it helps their feet to stay cleaner, reducing the amount of dirt and manure that they’ll track into the nest boxes and onto the eggs.

7. Washing eggs

Even with doing all the above, you will encounter some dirty eggs. Eggs that are lightly soiled can be cleaned carefully with sandpaper. Eggs that require a more thorough cleaning can be washed, as long as they’re not broken and not too deeply soiled. We offer several products for washing eggs, and we plan to go into more detail on how to wash eggs in a future article.

By following these steps, you can maximize the cleanliness of your eggs and minimize the amount of extra work you have to put in to cleaning them. Do you have additional ways to ensure that you get clean eggs from your flock? Please post your ideas in the comments below.

Posted in Chicken Eggs | 30 Comments

How to Start Your Flock

In this article, we’ll discuss several different ways to start your flock.

Buy Day Old Baby Chicks

new chicks from McMurray Hatchery

New day old baby chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery

Most of our customers buy day old baby chicks. They’re called “day old” because they’re shipped to you the day that they’re hatched. Amazingly, newly hatched chicks can survive for up to 72 hours on the nutrition gained from absorbing their yolk sacs.

Day old baby chicks can be shipped throughout most of the United States. Since the chicks depend on each other’s body heat for warmth during shipping, there is a minimum order size of 15 or 25 birds, depending on the time of year.

When the chicks arrive, they’ll need to go into a brooder, which is a place that will keep the chicks warm while they’re young, much like a mother hen would have done had she hatched them, only it’s done with heat lamps or heating elements. The chicks will need water right away and food. (If you’ve never raised day old baby chicks before, see our instructions on brooding day old baby chicks.) The chicks will need to stay in the brooder for several weeks as they grow and feather out. Once they no longer need supplemental heat, they’ll be ready to go into an outdoor coop.

Hatch Fertile Chicken Eggs



A second option is to start with fertile eggs and hatch them yourself in an incubator. Depending on the type of chickens you want to raise, you can buy hatching eggs or get them from a friend or neighbor and hatch them yourself. It takes about 21 days to hatch chicks from eggs, then once you hatch them, you’ll be starting with day old baby chicks just like above.

If you have access to an incubator and a good source for the kind of eggs that you want to hatch, hatching is a rewarding learning experience that requires a little more equipment (namely, the incubator) and a little more attention and care than starting with day old chicks, since the eggs will require fairly close attention during the 21 days that they’re in the incubator. If you’ve never raised chickens before, we recommend starting with day old baby chicks or one of other options below.

Buy Started Chicks

Barred Rock

Four week old Barred Rock

A third option is to buy started chicks — chicks that have been raised in  a brooder until they reach 4-9 weeks of age. When you buy started chicks, you’ll receive them at about the age when they’re ready to come out of the brooder and be placed into a chicken coop. If the weather is moderate, they’ll be ready to go directly into your chicken coop without the need for supplemental heat. Beginning with started chicks can save you the extra effort, attention and equipment needed to care for young chicks in a brooder, but the cost per bird will be higher because of the extra care, feed and equipment needed to raise them to this age, and shipping costs are higher for these larger chicks.

Buy Started Pullets

Started Delaware pullet

Started Delaware pullet

A fourth option is to buy started pullets. These are female chickens that are approaching laying age (18 weeks and up, typically). In most cases, they won’t have started laying yet, but they’ll be ready to lay soon. Started pullets are essentially young adult birds that are fully ready to be placed into an outdoor coop. If you’re looking to start getting eggs from your new flock quickly, this is a good way to start. Because of the additional care, feed and housing that it takes to raise the birds to this age, started pullets cost more per bird than started chicks, and because of their larger weight and size, shipping costs are higher.

Posted in Chickens | 5 Comments

Keeping Eggs Fresh

Chicken EggsObviously, the freshest eggs are the ones that come straight from your chickens without being stored at all. But often, you do need to store eggs for a few days, or even a few weeks. So, what’s the best way to store them so that they’ll stay fresh the longest? Should they be put in the refrigerator or left out on the counter?

First, let’s look at refrigeration. In America, any eggs you buy at the supermarket will already have been refrigerated. The reason for this is that these eggs have already been washed in order to meet U.S. health requirements, and washing eggs removes the protective outer coating known as “bloom” or “cuticle” from the egg shell. Egg shells are porous, which allows them to “breathe,” and bloom is a waxy substance that covers the egg shell to seal out contaminants.

When you gather eggs from your own chickens you can choose to leave them out at room temperature or refrigerate them. If you plan to store them for a long time, it’s better to refrigerate them, because they’ll stay fresh longer that way. But if you plan to eat the eggs soon, within a week or so, you can refrigerate them or store them out on the counter, as long as you haven’t washed them yet. Once you’ve washed them, you should either go ahead and use them or store them in the refrigerator. (We’ll go into more detail in a separate article about how to wash eggs.)

When refrigerating eggs you should aim for a temperature between about 36 degrees (F) and 40 degrees (F). Much colder than that, and the eggs and other food in your refrigerator are liable to freeze. Much warmer than that, and they’ll spoil faster.

Since eggs can absorb strong odors from other foods in the refrigerator (like onions) it’s best to keep eggs in an egg carton rather than store them in the open-topped egg tray that came with or was built into your refrigerator. It’s also best to store them on one of the shelves, where they’ll stay at a more constant temperature than if you were to store them in the refrigerator door. Eggs have an air cell at the large end, so store eggs in the carton with the large end up.

If you’d like to learn more about long term storage of eggs — what works and what doesn’t — read the following informative article from Mother Earth News: How to Store Fresh Eggs. It goes into a number of different “old time” methods for preserving eggs. Having experimented with a large number of eggs to test the effectiveness of these methods, they concluded, among other things, that:

The very best way we’ve found to stash eggs away for long-term storage is in a sealed container at a temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Their whites may become somewhat runny over a period of time, but even after seven months [the eggs] … stored in this manner smell good, taste good, have a good texture, and — in short — seem “almost fresh”.

Posted in Chicken Eggs | 12 Comments

How to Tell if an Egg is Fresh

Photo by Swen Bos

Photo by Swen Bos

When your chickens are laying well, sometimes you can start to get more eggs than you’re able to use. When you go to use the eggs in your recipes, it’s good to be able to tell which ones are getting old and which ones are still fresh.

Although it’s not obvious to the eye, eggshells are porous. Each egg has thousands of tiny pores in its shell. This allows the egg to “breathe,” letting out carbon dioxide and moisture and taking in air. When you consider that the role of an eggshell to protect and help provide a nurturing environment for a developing baby chick, then it’s easy to understand why eggshells are porous: a developing chick needs to be able to breathe.

When you get eggs from your chickens or from the grocery store for eating, ideally, you will store the eggs in such a way as to keep them fresh. A fresh egg that has just been laid has either a very small air cell or none at all. But as it first cools and then ages, an air cell will form and increase in size. The size of the air cell gives a good indication as to the age and freshness of the egg. A smaller air cell indicates a younger, fresher egg.

This makes it easy for you to test how fresh an egg is. Take a chicken egg and place it into a bowl of slightly warm water. If the egg is very fresh, it will sink and lie on its side at the bottom of the bowl.

An egg that sinks but doesn’t lie flat on the bottom isn’t as fresh, but it will still be okay to eat. Actually, eggs at this stage are ideal for cooking as hard boiled eggs (but not ideal for use as poached eggs). It’s hard to cleanly peel off the shell on a very fresh egg that’s been hard boiled, but if you let your eggs age a little, then hard boil them, they will be much easier to peel.

If the egg floats in the bowl of water, discard it. It’s unlikely that it will float on top of the water, but even if it just floats up toward the top of the bowl, it’s not very fresh, and you shouldn’t use it.

As a second test and a safeguard against ruining your recipe, if you’re getting ready to make something that calls for eggs and you come across an egg that’s questionable, crack it into a small, separate container, then look at it and smell it. If it smells rotten, discard it. If it smells okay, and if the yolk is holding together and the whites aren’t too runny, it should be fine to use. Egg whites that are cloudy are not at all a cause for concern — on the contrary, they indicate that the egg is very fresh. The egg whites become more clear as the egg ages.

Posted in Chicken Eggs | Tagged | 25 Comments

An Interview with Joe Claborn, Part 3

Joe ClabornBackground: Joe Claborn has worked with McMurray Hatchery for many years and currently raises started chicks and started pullets for McMurray. Joe is also involved with a project that Bud Wood, president of McMurray Hatchery, initiated to start backup flocks for many of McMurray’s rare breeds during the current Avian Flu outbreak.

This is part 3 of a three-part interview (see part 1 and part 2 of the interview).

Q: What prompted you to start raising birds on this scale?

McMurray's sebsite circa 1997

McMurray’s one-page website in 1997
(from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine)

Joe Claborn: Part of it is that I’ve had a long and very fruitful relationship with McMurray Hatchery. Years ago, when we first started to look into raising chickens, my dad and my sons had built a coop in our little backyard, and we looked online to try to find a place to buy chickens. At the time, McMurray Hatchery had a little one page website.

I was working for a small internet company at the time and I said to my manager, “We should build them a new website. If you can sell chicks online you can sell anything.” So we did. We built them their first e-commerce website, and I’ve been working with them ever since.

Filling watererBut eventually, I got to the place to where I wanted to do more than work at a computer all day. I really wanted to be able to do something where I could express care — not only care for the chickens, but also care for the people that would receive the chickens. And I wanted to do something that involved more of my family so that I could express more care into their lives, and transfer my passion for care into them, teaching them to care.

I was talking to Bud Wood, the owner of Murray McMurray Hatchery, and found out that there was an opportunity to raise three breeds of started pullets, and I said, “We’ll do that.” So we learned — we cut our teeth on that. Then people began to want younger birds, and they wanted smaller orders. During much of the year, to ship day-old birds, you need at least 25 birds in a box to keep them warm enough during shipping (there are times in summer you can ship 15). But many people that want chickens live in the city, and they only want to order 5 birds. The U.S. Postal service will ship day old baby chicks, and they will also ship birds that are 4 weeks old or older.

By the time the birds are 4 weeks old in most parts of the country you don’t need any auxiliary heat to ship them during the warmer months of April through July. In the far North, in the earlier part of the year, you’d probably still need a heating pad for a while. So we just kind of started with these three breeds (White Leghorns, Red Stars and Black Stars) and then we just saw a need and started moving to meet that need, and the business has just kind of grown.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about doing this?

Well, it’s very satisfying when the day after you ship, you get a text message from someone that says “We just picked up our birds. They look great. We love them. We’ve already picked out names.” That gives you a good feeling.

While we’re shipping each week, my wife makes a big breakfast. When we’re done shipping, we all come sit down and eat together. That’s a feeling that’s very hard to beat.

And when you spend the morning cleaning out brooders, that’s not the most pleasant task, but then when you look back afterwards, and everything’s clean and well cared for — that, too, is a feeling that’s pretty hard to beat.

Q: What was one of the most unexpected things you’ve learned while raising chickens?

{Laughs}. I think one of the most unexpected things I’ve learned is that taking care of birds is a lot different than computer programming. Working with computers, if you make a mistake, you can just press Control-Z (Undo) and try again. It’s easy to get into a rut of just trying something, testing it, and if it doesn’t work, just press Control-Z and try something else. There’s not really any long-term consequences to your mistakes. There’s no real consequences to a trial and error approach. You’re just thinking about problems, testing theories and trying things out until you come up with something that works. Because there are no real consequences to your failures, you don’t really learn or grow.

But when you’re taking care of birds, and you think to yourself “Oh, I checked them four hours ago — they don’t really need to be checked again before I go to bed,” and then you get up the next morning and find out that a skunk got into them because you didn’t check to make sure everything was locked up tight, you realize right away that there are consequences to my failure. Any time when I fail to care, it has consequences.

For me, coming from a technical background, being faced with the fact that there are consequences to not caring, and that these consequences come home to roost pretty quickly, that’s been really good for me. I feel that has affected all areas of my life as I’ve learned how to care more, and to care more consistently. It gets me up and moving in the morning, and it keeps me moving until bedtime, because if you don’t care, then problems are going to happen.

That, for me, has been an unexpected lesson, an unexpected change in my perspective in life.

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