Friday, July 29, 2016

Running Out of Yellow

When my mom and I went to the Mother Earth News Fair at the beginning of the year, one of the most interesting workshops we attended by far was the session on poultry health. The presenters were very knowledgeable and I gained so much from their presentation, but the Q&A session was even more enlightening.

For example, I learned that keeping apple cider vinegar in your chicken's water all the time (which is sooooo trendy right now) is not necessarily a good thing; the ACV actually thins their blood, which causes their body temperature to be slightly lower. Good for summer, not so good in the winter. Right?

They couldn't say enough about providing your flock with ferments such as sauerkraut, too, because just like people chickens need that good bacteria and those bioavailable nutrients that just don't come from store-bought feed!

And I also learned that laying hens can actually run out of yellow. Whaaaaaat?

So when a chicken's body is forming the components of an egg, the color of the yolk is determined by the amount of beta-carotene and xanthophyll available at the time the yolk is forming. If a chicken's diet is rich in meat and plant products (aka bugs and leafy greens), the yolks will be dark orange. If, however, a chicken's diet consists mainly of grains, you get the pale yellow typical of many varieties of factory-farmed eggs.

But here's the thing: the chicken's body will still seek out the needed nutrients when the yolk is forming, and if the beta-carotene and xanthophyll aren't available from diet the chicken's body will pull them from the chicken's tissues! So the nutritionally-deficient chicken will begin to blanch as she forms her eggs, because the yolks will pull their color from the chickens' feet, beak, and comb/waddle.

To prevent this depletion, the chicken keeper simply needs to provide the chicken with access to what they would naturally seek out if given the opportunity: bugs and greens.

However as we all know, not every backyard flock can be afforded the opportunity to free-range it up and gather their own grub (and unfortunately mine fall in to that category at the moment). In that case one must provide what they need to form those coveted orange yolks.

Last year we had a bumper crop of carrots. We had so many I ended up lacto-fermenting at least half of them. Sadly no one in my family ended up liking the sour dilly punch of fermented carrots, so for a little over a year I've had 4 quarts of fermented carrots sitting in my fridge. Are you seeing where I'm going with this?

Guess where my chickens' yellow has been coming from?

Yup. Once a month I have been shredding about a pint of lacto-fermented red, orange, and yellow carrots and setting them out with their usual gathered greens (mostly lamb's quarters, of which we have a ton growing everywhere right now). They gobble them up, and I check two boxes on my chicken keeper to-do list: ferments and yellow.

Maybe by the time I run out of carrots, my dream-fence will be up and the girls can take the reins... until then, though, I'm just glad these carrots have found a use... and a good one at that!

Running out of yellow... who knew?

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