Q. Dear Twig: About those backyard chickens: Don't you need a rooster if you want them to lay eggs?
A. No. A chicken will lay eggs anyway if it's old enough (at least four to five months old) and gets enough light (at least about 14 hours a day). You need a rooster only if you want the eggs to be fertile — to be able to grow a chick inside. Which, if the eggs are only for eating, they don't have to be. The zoning laws in lots of cities don't let you have roosters anyway — too noisy.
Q. Dear Twig: How many eggs do you get from a chicken?
A. Normally around 250 to 270 a year but sometimes up to 300 a year, say fact sheets from Ohio State University and the University of Illinois. A lot depends on the age, breed and health of the chicken.
Q. Dear Twig: Do the chickens have large talons?
A. If by "talons" you mean "the claws of a bird of prey," no. Chickens aren't birds of prey. And their claws aren't long and pointy like a hawk's are. But roosters have a thing called a spur on each leg. It's sharp and hard and looks like a dagger. The rooster can use it as a weapon. So watch out for a rooster's spurs. Also its bo staff. I don't understand a word I just said.
P.S. See a cool X-ray of a rooster's spur here: http://ohioline.osu.edu/vme-fact/0014.html.
Incubation and Embyronic Development by Ohio State University Extension has detailed egg-production info. Find it online at http://ohioline.osu.edu/b633/index.html.
OSU Extension's "The Making of an Egg" has short, sweet, step-by-step details and also labeled photographs (of the inside of an egg and of the parts of a chicken that make the eggs): http://ohioline.osu.edu/vme-fact/0021.html.
"Incubation and Embryonic Development," University of Illinois Extension, offers egg-based activities for grades K-3, 4-6, 7-8 and 9-12: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/eggs/about.html.
Actually, roosters aren't good with a bo staff.
"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick" is a weekly feature for children (ages 9+; 4th grade reading level) about science, nature, farming and the environment. Online at http://extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.
Brought to you by your scientific friends at The Ohio State University — specifically, at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) (http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu) and with Ohio State University Extension (http://extension.osu.edu). OARDC and OSU Extension are the research and outreach arms, respectively, of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Written by Kurt Knebusch of OARDC and OSU Extension. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt at CommTech, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691; firstname.lastname@example.org; (330) 263-3776.