Thursday, February 14, 2008

The hens are laying now and it is driving my crazy.

About 2 weeks ago we noticed that some of our hens were acting a little strange. After the cold of December and January passed (well, not really all that cold, but colder than the last 2 weeks) and with the days getting longer, our young hens are starting to come into their egg cycles for the first time. I have mentioned in previous posts, etc. that our chickens are very closely related to the wilder jungle fowl that are the ancestors of all modern chickens and they have habits that more closely relate to a wild creature.

For example, they are masters (mistresses?) of concealment. The other day, I reached under a shelf in one of the sheds to get something and got peckedby a hen laying in the top basket on the stack that is stored there. In the same area, there are some other baskets that we use to keep odds and ends and which are stacked on the other wall of that same shed. One of the hens is laying her eggs in there. Another hen is laying in the rosemary bush and another in a bramble thicket. I have been doing some outside work recently and sat some of my work tools, including a black trash bag, in a box on the front porch and there were 4 eggs in the box the when I went out to finish my project.

So far, we have gathered about 2 dozen eggs, some of which we have had for breakfast or used in some other recipe. While this may sound pretty cool - and in some ways it is very cool - the problem is that we have 12 laying hens right now and I have only located the preferred nests of 4 or 5 of them. Where the heck are the other ones laying their eggs?

Most of them are probably laying under our giant boxwoods, under the garage or some place similarly discreet and will never be found. The biggest clue to where they are laying is watching the roosters pace around the nest site like an expectant father in a waiting room or to listen for the cackles the hens make when they have laid an egg. The roosters patrol around the hens while the laying is taking place and the hens make a huge fuss when they are done. Maybe they are just excited or maybe they are letting their babydaddy's know they are doing a good job! Unfortunately, who has time for all that watching and listening when there are potential nesting sites spread over 30 acres?

Skunks, snakes and other varmints will find many of these nests at night and will have a feast and later I will find piles of broken shells. The hens will keep laying on the same nest site for a couple of days or even a week or more but will give up eventually and move to a new nest site. I just hope that the critters find all of the errant eggs and that I don't have to find them this summer when they have been sitting in the 90 degree heat for weeks...that is not a pretty situation but one that I have encountered on more than one occaision. Did I say YUCK!!!!?

These little hens we have now are our "pet" chickens that I write about frequently. They are a little too wild to be considered productive farm poultry but their enjoyment factor is very high and we like them alot. The eggshells are hard as rocks and very small but the yolks are as orange as a tangerine. We very much appreciate these plucky little hens making the effort to do their part here at the Farm.