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Eggucation: Weird, wild stuff, man!

Before I started raising my own eggs, I didn't really understand what a fresh egg was like. I grew up in "the burbs" and ate food exclusively from a grocery store and our local farmer-owned dairy. (Of course, in the 70s and 80s a lot of the food in our local grocery store came from the local farms, which is no longer the case --- but that's a different blog). So, when I grew up and I saw a carton labeled "fresh eggs" I thought that meant "fresh." Nope. Grocery store eggs can be 2 months old and still be "fresh" according to USDA standards.

I also thought chickens laid eggs that all looked the same, had the same shape and same color. Nope. Well, there's a qualifier there. If you have all the same breed, they are all the same age, you feed them a kibble that is a homogeneous manufactured mix, have them all in the exact same environment, and restrict free choice of food and forage, then you will have a fairly standard looking egg.

But there will be more on that subject in a different EGGUCATION blog.

Our eggs have variations in color and shape, because the hens have free choice of where they go and what they eat. For instance, there is a chicken in the following photo. Can you find it?

Our hens are different breeds and each has different habits which we allow. But, sometimes there are egg oddities that have nothing to do with any of that. For today's entertainment, we are providing some egg anomaly pictures to test your general eggucation. Try to guess if the anomaly is: A. fairly common, B. relatively rare, or C. One in a million. Scroll down for the answers.

Egg Anomaly #1: Before cracking -- an egg shaped like a pencil!

Egg Anomaly #1: AFTER cracking -- whites only with a tiny bit of yellow

Egg Anomaly #2: Double yolk

Egg Anomaly #3: Huge egg, cracked to reveal little bit of yolk with another egg inside the original egg

Egg Anomaly #4: Double-yolk goose egg (see the quarter for size reference, that is NOT a small skillet, it's a medium)

Egg Anomaly #5: White stringy matter attached to yolk

Egg Anomaly #6: Large chicken egg after cracking -- see what it yielded in next photo

Egg Anomoly #6: A TRIPLE YOLK. See the 2 intact yolks, and the broken 3rd yolk that I snagged on the side of the egg when dumping it into the sausage mix (that's homemade beef sausage I'm making from Rocky Hill Beef -- but that's for a different blog).

Egg Anomaly #7: An egg that has a yolk nearly as large as the egg itself

Egg Anomaly #7: Same thing, but a different breed of chicken

And now, drum roll, please..... the answers you have been awaiting with baited breath:

1. B. Relatively rare. This is a result of a hen who has just started laying. Without getting too graphic, think of how the first baby a lady births often has a VERY pointed head. Normally, when hens first start laying, the eggs are just very, very small for those less than pleasant reasons. It takes about 2 months for their eggs to get to size.

This egg, however, is a result of 2 things: probably, a piece of tissue, instead of an acutal ovum from the ovary, entered the egg canal. The chicken's natural reaction is to create an egg around whatever enters the canal, so it came out as an egg. Because she was new to laying, it was not only empty, but also bullet shaped and also the size of a medium-sized bullet. (Though I didn't calculate its calibre ;-).

In olden days this was called a "witch's egg" because it was essentially empty (and if double-yolks are good luck, then an empty egg must be evil).

2. This is a trick question. For a regular flock, the answer would be B. Relatively rare. The odds of a chicken laying a double-yolk is generally accepted to be 1 in 1,000 according to poultry studies. The laying of double-yolks is not uncommon at the beginning of a chicken's laying as it is a glitch in the reproductive start-up process when two eggs are released from the ovary at the exact same time and coated in one egg. This usually ends after the first month or two.

However, we have chickens who have continued to lay double yolks past maturity. You may feel like you're getting double-yolks more often from your Jolly Folly Farm eggs than you do with other farm eggs, and that seems to be the case. So for the case of your Jolly Folly Farm eggs, the answer would be A. Fairly common.

Researchers know that the laying of double-yolks also has a genetic issue. So, if a handful of our chickens all came from the same breeding line, and their mother was prone to double-yolks, they will be more likely to lay double yolks. We think we may have gotten a group that has that genetic tendency.

3. C. One in a million. This is super rare, though well documented. This occurs when one egg is partially formed and another ovum is released. The egg canal envelopes the partially formed egg AND the ovum and creates an egg that then travels properly through the rest of the egg canal process. This happens at the beginning of laying. It has only ever happened once in our flock.

4. B. Relatively rare. A layer chicken will lay about 340 eggs a year (depending on breed, nutrition, etc.). A our breed of goose will lay about 60 eggs a year (though we think we're getting more like 100 eggs a year). The odds of getting a double-goose egg are still the same as getting a double-chicken egg (about 1 in 1000), but it takes A LOT longer to get 1,000 goose eggs -- 10-15 years!.

5. A. Fairly common. In fact, in fresh eggs, VERY common. That white string is the chalazae -- the little sling that holds the yolk in place inside the egg (so it doesn't rest against the shell, but stays in the middle of the white). It dissolves over time. That's why you don't usually see it as clearly in your grocery store eggs and why it's almost always visible in your fresh eggs and more pronounced. It's invisible when the egg is cooked. Ignore it and it's a sign of a VERY fresh egg.

6. C. One in a million (actually rarer than that). A triple yolk is almost unheard of. The odds of getting a triple-yolker is estimated by the poultry industry at 1 in 25 million. Too bad the Jolly Folly Farmers don't buy lottery tickets!!! In England in 2010, national media covered the story of a pensioner (retiree) who cracked a quadruple yolk. She was featured in the news with photos of the egg in her skillet. Of course, it was Durham....

7. This is another trick question. In general, when buying eggs from the grocery or many farms, the answer would be B. relatively rare. However, although egg size remains constant, we have been finding increasingly large yolks in our eggs. So at Jolly Folly Farm, it's: A. Fairly Common. We have queried with our local extension agent and online sources and think it might be due to the hens exceptional nourishment being passed into the egg (the yolk is the part that would provide food for a baby chick were the egg to be fertilized). The hens love the sprouted food (although a few weirdos still enjoy the organic kibble, too).

We think the studies about sprouting releasing extra nutrition for use in body processes are proving themselves in our flock. Theoretically, because the hens are super-nourished (but not fat) the eggs they produce are able provide more nutrition within the egg in the event it had been allowed to create a chick. It's a survival of the fittest, and the fittest chicken can provide the most nutrients for its offspring. Theoretically this would mean that those Jolly Folly Farm eggs would be more nutritious than other eggs, but we don't have the science to back that up (though we are looking for a lab that could actually test our eggs against others so we can get more data for this experiment we call "life and farming.")

Oh, and for the chicken in the picture, here's a zoomed in shot. While "free range" has no meaning anymore in the chicken/egg world -- there are no words to describe how freakishly free some of our chickens choose to live. And we wouldn't have it any other way.

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