DIY DIVA
DIY diva

No, You Don’t Need A Rooster To Have Fresh Eggs (And Other Things People Ask Me About Raising Chickens)

DIY diva

So listen, I’m still a novice chicken-raiser. Really novice. Like yesterday when we were supposed to get pummeled by storms and everyone was calling me, going “Oh my god, THE NUGGETS!” I seriously considered bringing them inside and letting them snuggle under the covers with me and the cat while the storm blew past.

I didn’t do it. But I thought about it for a minute.

Turns out it doesn’t matter how little you actually know about poultry, once you have a small flock running around your back yard, everyone thinks you’re a chicken whisperer. I am not the Master of All Things Chicken (yet) but I’m pretty good with google, actually, so here are the questions I get asked most often, and the truth behind my little feathered friends.

A Nugget By Any Other Name

Chickens, originally, did not scratch around in our domesticated backyards and really fricking fancy coops, but ran free though the jungle. That’s right. Jungle. Chickens are a domesticated species of the Red Junglefowl.

So, babies are chicks..

DSC_0244

This is pretty universal.

Females under a year (or until they start laying eggs) are called “pullets”

Males under a year are called “cockrels”

Mature females are called “hens”

Mature males are called “roosters” in the US, or “cocks” pretty much everywhere else in the world.

(Yeah, we all giggled at that because if you spend any time on this website at all, you know the maturity scale tops out at about the level of a twelve year old boy around here.)

The term “chickens” pretty much refers to the birds collectively (as does the term “yardbird” if you’re weird and from the South) and it’s not actually a technical term… apparently it’s just some derivative of the term “chick” that we use universally now.

So there you go.

 

The Rooster and The Egg

I can’t even tell you the number of variations I’ve had on this conversation over the last few months, but it’s surprisingly high.

Person or persons who shall remain nameless: So you don’t have a rooster?

Me: Nope.

Them: But you’ll still get eggs?

Me: Yeah. You don’t need a rooster to have eggs, you just need a rooster to have baby chicks.

Them: …

Them: I’m so confused.

My favorite add-on to that conversation (and this has happened more than once) is:

Me: So, how did you think an egg gets fertilized?

Them: I don’t know. I thought the chicken would lay an egg and then the Rooster would come along and… do something to it…

Me: …

Me: Just. Ah… I don’t even know… what? What exactly do you think they… No. Don’t tell me. That’s just… definitely not how it works.

And then, in lieu of having a conversation your parents or Health teacher should have head with you about cycles and the “birds and the bees” (a chicken is, in fact, a bird, which means this may be the only real-life application of that euphemism ever), I usually just shake my head and walk away.

But I’m about to buy two versions of this awesome poster from Amanda Visell at Switcheroo, and hang one in my office and one in my house, then I can just refer people to this:

I don’t know Amanda personally, but judging by her description of this poster, we could totally be BFF:

The reproductive cycle of the chicken OR why you don’t need a rooster to lay an egg. Yes, that is actually true, just like humans. Half of you just got more confused.

Just to be clear (and according to this poster) “if the rooster loves the hen very much, he gives her a big hug, the egg gets fertilized in the ovaduct and 21 days later a chicken hatches.”

So. Fifth grade science lesson complete. We clear?

Cool. Because I’m not going into any further explanation about chicken sex.

No Yolk: It’s Not Chick

I get this. I mean chicks are yellow, yolks are yellow, clearly a yolk must be an unformed chick. Okay 1.) gross. 2.) no.

The yolk– which is technically a “yolk sack” but I don’t find that adding the word “sack” as a descriptor makes anything seem more… edible– is actually the protein and vitamins that a chick embryo feeds off of while it’s developing in the egg. Like, when a human baby develops it gets nutrients when mom eats, but clearly an egg is self contained, so the nutrients need to come from somewhere else. Hence, yolk sack.

You may see a tiny white dot on the outside of the yolk. That’s the “germinal disk” and is the part of the cell that would become an embryo if fertilized. By chicken sperm.

Yep, I just said that. By the time this post is over, no one is going to eat eggs ever again.

But think of it this way, the yolk contains all the protein and nutrients to support new life, so it’s actually really good for you. I know we’ve been taught that egg yolks are the devil–ha ha–of cholesterol, but Harvard says you’re wrong about that. But whatevs, eat what you want.

 

Free Ranging

A less awkward question that people also ask often, is why the chickens don’t run away when I just let them roam freely around the yard.

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And by “yard” I mean “under the pine trees, on the front porch, side patio, and back deck.”

Obviously they don’t run away because they love me and couldn’t live without me. Or else because chickens, jungle-dwellers by nature, don’t actually like to wander around wide open spaces. I have no idea if this would work if I lived in a house set back in woods, but currently my house and pine trees are surrounded by a lot of area where there’s no place for chickens to do what they do best– duck and run for cover. So naturally they stay close, both to the house and to each other.

The best description I’ve read of how the flock operates is in this article about guinea hens from Mark Bowden:

[The flock has] four modes: eating, sleeping, chattering, and screaming in terror. Here’s what you need to know about a flock: it has no idea what is happening, it is scared of everything, it makes noise constantly, and its long-term memory is about five seconds. You may note a resemblance here to how news disseminates on the Internet and cable TV.

Communication among flock members is very simple. In English, it would go something like this:

“I’m okay.”

“Me, too.”

“Good over here.”

“I’m okay too.”

“Wait!”

“What was that?”

“Oh, my God!”

“Oh, my God!”

“Oh, my God!”

“Look out!”

“Look out!

“Run!”

“Run!”

At which point they flee and flutter pell-mell. Unbridled terror lasts for just a few seconds, which is as long as it takes them to forget whatever it was that prompted the stampede. The behavior repeats.

My girls are not quite that bad. Mostly. But that whole saying of “birds of a feather, flock together” totally true, with the exception of the cat who they also try to flock with sometimes. He tolerates this admirably.

The Nuggets also head back into the coop on their own around dusk, and tuck themselves in up on the roost. They do this every single day, without fail.

Untitled

It cracks me up every time.

So really, all I have to do is close the coop up at night, and let them out in the morning. Eventually I’ll have a specific area fenced off for them to range in so that my hostas are protected from their destruction, and– more importantly– so they’re better protected from the racoons and coyotes around here.

And that, right now, is what I know about chickens. I’ll tell you what though, these nuggets teach me something new every single day.

Like, you know, how best to clean chicken poop off a door mat. And also how to really enjoy the hell out of farm life.

DIY diva

    Comments

  • Kit's Mom


    Hahahahaha! I love the Nuggets!

  • Mary


    (Insert “The More You Know” music here)

    I am in complete chicken envy here. I nearly wet myself at your NSA-inspired eavesdropping/translation of the nuggets’ conversation.

  • David


    Gotta get some chicken nuggets!

  • Tara


    My Uncle actually got it wrong, but the other way. He wanted to develop a little flock. So dutifully constructed a coop, got some chickens. Got lots of eggs, but none hatched. He couldn’t understand why not until someone asked if his rooster was…um…up to the job. “What rooster? I don’t have a rooster. Why do I need a rooster?”.

    This from a man with 2 kids…

    • Kit


      Oh my god, that’s hilarious!

  • Amanda


    Some of the doctors I work with weren’t grasping the concept of getting eggs without a rooster. I changed tactics and said “I lay an egg every month with or without a man; they do it daily.” The questions ceased.

    • Sarah In Illinois


      Ha!

    • jennifer


      That is a GREAT answer!

    • Laura @ Clydesdale Ranch


      EXCELLENT analogy!

  • laerke


    so i just wanted to inform you guys that chickens are actually a lot more intelligent than we think, this is leaned from a english tv show where student trains chickens to regonize shapes and so lean where to go for food :)
    just wanted to say since i was really surprised and amazed when i saw this…

  • Ben @ The House of Lists


    I’m a little jealous that you can let your chicks free range. We have had so many decimated by predators here it’s like we running more of a raccoon & coyote all you can eat buffet than an egg laying / chicken operation.

  • Sarah In Illinois


    Hhhmmmmm… So much I didn’t know about chickens!

    I have wanted to raise chickens. My boyfriend said no because he won’t eat brown eggs (don’t even get me started on how ridiculous that is). From what I understand, the color of the eggs is determined by the type of chicken that lays them. What type of chicken lays white eggs and are the readily available to an individual? And correct me if I am way off base with that…

    • Kit


      No, you’re right. Check this out: http://www.backyardchickens.com/products/category/chicken-breeds?

      You can make selections on the side about type of chicken, and it describes the color of egg etc. I think the leghorns may be common white egg layers but I’m not sure.

      • Janeothejungle


        Indeed. White Leghorns lay big fat white eggs. I went for the multipack. 2 white egg layers and 3 brown egg layers. Everyone wins.

  • Ashley


    best description of chicken behaviour ever.

  • Elin


    Humans have yolk sacks too, but with a slightly different function :)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yolk_sac

  • Mis


    You are the best! I need some nuggets. How do you know if an egg has been fertilized? Wait. I can look that up on google.

  • Mis


    You have to hold the egg up to a candle and look for blood spots!?! Yeesh. Good to know.

  • hjc


    Um, we hatched chickens in second grade science class. I still remember the egg cycle charts we made to illustrate the concept. But I still call eggs embryotic chickens just to gross out my kids. Some cultures DO eat fertilized eggs – blargh!

  • Mike


    There’s a step missing on that infographic…

    Right after the “the egg is layed” step there’s a very important part that’s been left out.

    The egg song.

    Immediately after laying, the hen sings a song that, if we understood the chicken language, would sound something like this:

    “HEY”
    “HEY”
    “HEEEEEYYYYY”
    “IJUSTLAIDTHEAWESOMESTEGGINTHEWORLDOMGCOMEOVERHEREANDADMIREITWITHMEISNTITTHEBESTEGGYOUVEEVERSEENINYOURENTIRELIFEWHYDOESMYBUTTHURTSOMUCH”
    “OWWWWWWSERIOUSLYMYBUTTREALLYHURTS”
    “HEY”
    “DIDIMENTIONHOWAWESOMEMYEGGIS?”

    There’s about 20 minutes of that before “the princess starts all over again”.

  • Patty


    Awesome description of chicken life, lol! I have 9 hens and two roos (one sweet and one real pita – literally, if I turn my back on him he attacks me, but I digress). I’ve had the whole ‘you don’t have to have a rooster to get eggs’ conversation with my coworkers too – I also resorted to the same as Amanda, lol. Mike absolutely got the egg laid song perfectly – has he been listening to my girls? People without chickens don’t understand the true joys of (apologies to Trisha Yearwood) watching chickens peck the dirt. You know you’re over the edge when you put flashlights on the ground to attract bugs … and wake the girls up … and watch them go after the bugs. Not that my husband and I have ever done that ;-)

  • Laura @ Clydesdale Ranch


    I was listening to a conversation between a ranch manager and the ranch caretaker. The ranch caretaker wanted to get chickens for egg-laying. The ranch manager said, “You’ll have to get at least one rooster or the hens won’t be able to lay eggs.” This from a man in his late 50s who has been a rancher all his life! There were people around so I didn’t correct him, but later told the caretaker he doesn’t need a rooster unless he wants fertilized eggs that will produce chicks. There are some significant misconceptions out there. Chickens like to stick close to “home” too, and they want to go in to roost around dusk. Basically they are smarter than we think, and have good instinct. Hey, horses do that “OMG, what’s that?? Let’s spook!!” thing also. I think most prey animals do it. It’s instinctual.

  • Alexa F.


    We have two ducks in a suburban lot. We get weird duck-related questions from neighbors, friends and family when they come over.

    Although, I work at a wildlife refuge with the primary animal being waterfowl, so I can answer most of the questions without quick Google queries first.

  • joools


    This is hilarious.

    Also, seriously? How can people not grasp the idea that you don’t need a rooster to have eggs?

    I am finding it hard to reconcile the chickens I knew growing up — the leghorns on my uncle’s farm — with your adorable nuggets.

    I think leghorns are the bitchy nasty evil aunties of the chicken world.

  • Carla


    Always entertained by both Kit and the comments. This blog is eggxactly what I needed to read tonight.

  • LE


    Please tell me you’ve heard the Cibo Matto song titled “Know Your Chicken”. It’s been in my head ever since reading your post.

  • Carrie Lea


    My friend and I refer to eggs as chicken periods.
    Because we are classy like that.

  • Kathleen


    Kit,
    Seriously, you are hysterical, and I mean that in a good way. I so envy your farm life. I grew up on a farm and I miss it. Love your posts and the great stories about the nuggets – hell about everything – you’re just funny. Thanks for the laughs as I sit here at my boring desk job! :)

  • remodgeek


    Chicken Tech Tip:

    If you ever get chicken lice, and need to dust the birds, mix a little carpenters chalk into the dusting powder. Dusting powder is white and the chalk will help you figure out whose been dusted and who hasn’t. Save you hours chasing chickens especially if they are white.

  • Stephanie


    Just saw this and thought of you – your lucky little nuggets should be up on this post too!!
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/peggy/positively-dreamy-chicken-coops

  • Liekele


    Exactly what I was looking for. Thank you for the info!
    Btw, love your blog!!

  • Kristine


    So you don’t have to worry about aerial predators for your chickens? I was under the impression that I would need to construct some sort of large overhead net/screen in the free range area around the coop…
    How about bugs (ie. ticks)?

    I have raised quail before, but in California so we didn’t have as much “nature” to worry about :)

  • Amanda


    We’ve had chickens for a lot of years, and this is pretty good and funny….I want one of those posters for the city folk in my life to help explain how a chicken can lay an egg without a rooster! I could laminate and hang it on the door of the coop. Just a word of caution on roosters, my mom recently was severly attacked by one of her more wild boy chickens and managed to get two puncture wounds that required tetnus shots, antibiotics, and pain medicine. When the roosters get sassy, they can get pretty crazy-some breeds are naturally more agressive. So watch your roosters, especially if you have little children who help on the farm.

  • Hannah


    OMG THAT WAS THE FUNNIEST THING EVER!!!!!!!!!!! :P Love the Nuggets, although they aren’t really nuggets anymore… lol

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