An egg today is better than a hen to-morrow.Benjamin Franklin
Seasonal weather for NE Ohio returned this week with an unexpected snow storm on Sunday morning. While we only received 2- to 3-inches of snowfall during the event, the initial rate at which it came down surprised a lot of NE Ohioans. Winter storm warnings and adverse road condition alerts cautioned thousands to not venture out unless absolutely necessary.
That was no problem for us. We never mind spending a day at home. It made for a good day to walk around the homestead and check on the animals reaction to the sudden snow accumulations.
Sunday’s weather was a stark contrast from the near 60 degree temperatures and rain of the previous week though, as can be seen in two similar views from our SE field.
Leading up to this week, we took time to protect one of our own homestead investments: our laying flock.
If you haven’t heard, eggs are at an all-time high right now in the grocery store. Prices are up over 130% from this time last year. Locally we’re seeing about $3.49 to $5.98 per dozen currently. And that’s for store bought eggs! We’ve also seen the far superior local, farm-fresh eggs increase as well. Where a dozen eggs locally went for about $3.00 just a year ago, we’ve seen a lot of locals raise their prices to between $4.00 and $5.00 per dozen. Currently we’re asking $4.00 for a dozen of ours, but our production is way down thanks to the shorter winter days and our not introducing artificial light in the coop this time of year.
So why are eggs so expensive right now? There are three primary reasons. Two of them get a lot of attention in the media and in homesteader chats. The Third one should make you angry that it doesn’t recieve more attention.
First, there is an ongoing, persistent outbreak of avian influenza that has plagued chicken owners since spring of 2022. Whether small scale farmers and homesteaders, or the industrial sized egg production giants, the continued spread of the H5N1 has decimated chicken houses across the country. Outbreaks result in the culling of entire flocks to stop the spread. For a homesteader or small scale farmer that can be emotionally devastating. For the larger producers, that may mean euthanizing nearly a million birds and significant impacts to the fiscal bottom line.
Second, increased fuel costs aren’t doing any of us any favors. The impacts are far reaching as fertilizers are directly married to the petroleum industry. Farmers and producers are seeing increased costs in every area from the cost to grow grain all the way to the final end-point delivery costs of getting eggs to market. The cost of a barrel of oil impacts everything in our transportation dependent system, including the price of eggs and foods derived from eggs.
The last one is simply corporate greed. While the first two are unfortunate, but understandable, the third reason is truly unforgivable. Egg prices impact everyone, but most acutely those struggling just to put food on the table. And yet in this crisis where we’re frequently told the first two reasons why egg prices are so high, we hear very little about how egg industry giants are reporting massive profit increases during this time.
Want proof? Cal-Maine Foods, the largest egg producer and distributor of eggs in the country, reported profit increases up 65% from last year at this time. Just a paltry $198 million on the backs of the American consumer.
Look at that as you will, but it sickens us. But it also increases our desire to live more closely with the land and more independently from the established paradigm of how we source food. Living a healthier and more nature based existence is one of the many things that led us to homesteading in the first place.
Fortunately, we have our own laying flock. We can’t get any more local and less dependent on mass-produced industry eggs than that. And so we take steps to protect our investment. Including a recent renovation of the substrate in the chicken run that we squeezed in during last week’s warmer days.
While January has been on average warmer and with far less snow than is typical, it has been relatively wet. That can be a problem for chicken flocks as the mud and water can harbor bacteria harmful to the flock. Especially if muddy conditions persist in areas where the chickens frequent, such as the chicken run.
Our run was looking a little muddy. Unfortunately during high rainfall events we can get sheet flows that come off our main driveway and down through the run area. Periodically, especially in spring after the last of the winter snow melt, we need to beef up the run with additional layers of mulch.
We started with adding old straw bedding from the goats. The straw will break down over time, adding more carbon to the soil and building up the run floor. This also gives the chickens something interesting to scratch through in the run.
On top of the straw we piled layers of woodchips. We were fortunate to receive over 8 yards of woodchips for free last year through a service called ChipDrop. ChipDrop partners arborists with woodchips and logs to dispose of with gardeners looking for those goods. Signing up doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a drop when you need it, but in our case it worked out great. You can check out more about the ChipDrop service at https://getchipdrop.com/.
In the end we ended up with a much drier surface for the chickens in their run. No more puddling of water or mud for them to wade through. We even discovered a few worms in the newly added mulch which served as an excellent treat for the flock.
The dry run is important to protect our investment in the laying flock. Happy and healthy chickens are egg laying chickens. By reducing disease vectors, such as unhealthy bacteria in the soil that can cause diseases such as Bumblefoot in chickens, we’re taking care of our flock and reducing our reliance on outside sources for eggs.
That, and planning for the future, is what we’ve been up to this week on the homestead.
Thanks for checking in with us! Please feel free to share your thoughts – and what you’re up to on your homestead – in the comments below.