Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Eggs Galore...."Ooh, Aah"

There are eggs galore here in Irish Grove.

"Ooh, aah."

With some forethought and a little luck o' the Irish, we timed our replacement pullets rather well this year. Since the hens take a much-needed break from egg laying in the late fall, we have a really tough time filling our regular egg orders. Let me tell ya, it can be mighty frustrating to have a barn full of chickens and find 2 or maybe 3 eggs in the nests each day.

And I always wonder if our egg customers believe me when I explain to them that the hens just aren't laying right now. Egg production is seasonal. The hens need lots of light stimulation on their pituitary gland in order to lay regularly. The short winter days just don't provide enough light to keep them going. We keep a light on in the barn to help counter that, but like everything else, artificial just can't compete with the natural.

Can I repeat that?

Artificial can't compete with natural.


Anyways, spring is the season for high egg production. Which is why we color eggs for Easter and not Thanksgiving.

We mucked through a month or so of little to no eggs as best we could, and I got to wondering if maybe the pullets (young hens) were gonna hold off until spring to start laying. But then, all of a sudden, we started finding little mini eggs here and there. Yeehaw, the pullets are laying!

Now, unless you've raised laying hens sometime in your life, you probably didn't realize that you can tell the age of the chicken by the size of their egg. Yeah, nature is all neat and tidy like that.


Pullet eggs are tiny. So tiny, in fact, that when I found an aqua-blue pullet egg (from an americana hen that lays greenish blue eggs), Madelina argued with me that a Robin must have layed an egg in the chicken barn. I tried to explain to her that Robins don't lay eggs in the winter, and that most of them migrate South.

She wouldn't buy my explanation for one second. Stinker.

Pullet eggs will often have a little splash of blood on them as well. Mothers, I'm sure you will readily confirm that that first one is a tough one. (Sorry, guys.)

More seasoned hens lay nice large eggs. The size of egg you ideally buy from a local farmer, or at the store. These eggs are by far the most common egg we find in the nests. And it doesn't take long for a pullet to close the gap, size-wise, with her eggs. Maybe 2 weeks, tops.

But the old hens? The ones you should cull and sell as stew birds, but can't because you believe they've earned their retirement? The ones that are losing money beak over claw? Yeah, these old ladies lay an egg maybe once a week, if you're lucky. Even during egg season. But when they do lay an egg, they are huge, honker eggs. Huge-mongous eggs. The eggs that make it hard to close the carton eggs. Jumbo eggs.

And once in awhile......and I mean these ladies must be sitting on their eggs for a month or so.....they'll lay a super DUPER doozer of an egg--a double-yolker. And we call these eggs, courtesy of my Gramma Alice, "Ooh-Aah" eggs.

Why, you may ask? Please, you've just gotta ask me why, 'cause I can't wait to tell you.

Gramma Alica calls the double-yolked eggs "Ooh-Aah" eggs because when the hen is pushing the egg out she says, "OOOooooooooh", and when the egg is finally out she says, "AAAaaaaaaah".

Ha, ha ha ha, hoo hoo, ha!

I think that's pretty funny.

Here are some photos of eggs, progressing in size from pullet eggs to an "Ooh-Aah" egg. The photos don't do this subject justice, but I haven't added photos in awhile, so here they are:

The pullet egg:

The regular egg:

The "Ooh-Aah" egg:

As you can see, I am cooking platanos con huevos fritos for breakfast. In Panamanian that means fried plaintains with fried eggs. Yu-u-mmy!

My (delicious) breakfast is providing the perfect opportunity to prove to you skeptics out there (and don't think I don't know about you) that yes indeed, some eggs have two yolks.

Watch. And. Learn.

Here I go, cracking that "Ooh-Aah" egg you saw above:

There you have it, people. A double-yolked egg. An "Ooh-Aah" egg in the flesh, or pan, as it were. Ok, so I did break one yolk when I cracked the egg shell. But you can obviously see that the two yolks came from the same egg....just look at the egg white.

You better believe that with a breakfast like this one, I'll be muttering a few oohs and aahs myself.

Let's just hope there's no accompanying egg.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mumble Grumble

Blogging hasn't been high priority lately, obviously. But this fall has kicked my butt and I hate to write negative posts. I prefer my witty, delightful posts about how picture perfect everything is, or the ones about how I solved some huge problem by the sheer force of my intelligence and charm.

Wait...?? Who's blog is this?? Sorry....I confused myself with someone else.

Reality is I'm a farmer now, and I'll be damned if farmers don't bitch and moan every once in awhile. So here it goes...

This year's corn harvest dogged me for weeks. It went anything but smoothly, and I was grumpy through the whole dang process.

The weather didn't cooperate at all, raining every other day for basically a month or so. Now I know talking about the weather isn't that exciting for most people, but weather is to a farmer what a moody boss is to the low-level worker. You gotta follow their lead, but you never know what they're gonna throw at you, and most of the time you don't like it.

This harvest season, the weather tossed us a nice mix of rain, mist, cold, some more rain and mist, and suprisingly little wind. Which means we were harvesting wet corn off of wet ground on cold, dark, and yes, wet days.

So what's the problem?

Well, wet corn means that we have to pay exhorbitant charges at the local grain elevator to dry the corn down to 15% moisture. 15% moisture is the level at which corn can be shipped and/or stored without risk of sprouting or fermenting. (Although fermented corn doesn't sound so bad...ahem.)

Thanks to the wet fall, our corn didn't dry down in the field like it could have. We were harvesting our corn at about 23% moisture. Shall we do the math?

The elevator charges $0.07/bushel to dry corn one half of one percent. (Yes, you read that right.) So that means $0.07 to dry it to 22.5%, another $0.07 to dry it to 22%, etc. etc. When you add it all up, we paid $1.12/bushel to dry the corn down to 15%.

I understand that they have to recoup their energy costs, but to the tune of $1.12/bu? Youch. When you're making $4-5.00/bu on the corn, that's 25% of your profit right there. Today's corn prices are at $2.95 or so. Take a smooth buck off of that and we're talking a 35-40% loss.

Wet land means that the oh-so-heavy equipment like the combine, grain wagons, tractors and semi trucks are driving around our farmland and compacting the crap out of our soil. Soil compaction is horrible for the health of the crops, prohibiting the flow of nutrients and water and causing all sorts of terrible problems with run-off, weeds, etc. In a no-till system like ours, soil compaction is your number one enemy. We don't have the option to moldboard plow the land to break through the hardpan, as they call it.

We had a semi truck and a tractor get stuck in the mud. That's how bad it was. And there are huge ruts everywhere, which I can't look at without getting agitated.

Wet, unpredictable weather causes one more major problem....you never know when you're going to be able to harvest. For three weeks, I could go nowhere, do nothing, see no-one. I'd have my boss at Atwood take me off the schedule because I thought we'd be working. Then it'd rain. I'd put myself back on the schedule, and Mark would show up to work the combine for a few hours.

Sometimes I'd think, "The ground's way too wet to harvest today", so I'd go to my exercise class or run to the store. Upon return, I'd find that Mark had been working for over an hour, the wagons were all full, and I still had to connect the tractor to the auger, lift the top off the bin, etc. The constant set-up, catch up, take down, set-up again was exceedingly frustrating.

Needless to say, I was swearing like a sailor by the time we got it all finished. But finish we did. Thank God for that.

Yeah, farmers complain a lot. We do. But if your schedule and your success was dictated by and determined by something as unforgiving and unpredictable as the weather, you'd complain too.

We're a sorry lot, we farmers. You'll just have to forgive and excuse us when you can. And when you can't?

Deal with it.