My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


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Don’t take your chicken’s freshly laid eggs for granted

When your chickens are moulting and having a break from laying, you miss the eggs but you understand the girl’s need for a rest.

When your chickens are back in full egg production, you appreciate those eggs and get used to having freshly laid eggs daily.
You get used to watching the girls stop whatever they were doing and rush to the nesting boxes with a sense of purpose.
You get used to having an egg or two nestled in the wood shavings when you lift the lid of the nesting box each day.
You get used to walking smugly past the egg aisle in the supermarket.
You get used to reaching into the fridge each time you need an egg for cooking or baking or even a quick meal.
You get used to lovingly placing eggs into an egg carton and proudly giving them to your friends and family.

Until one day, they stop laying in the middle of the laying season. The anticipation and excitement is suddenly gone and is replaced by worry.
Have my chickens stopped laying?
Could my chickens be laying in the bushes?
Could my chickens be sick?
How can all three hens stop laying at once?

No more eggs in my nesting boxes for more than a week. So I shut the girls up in their coop until the afternoon for a week and then had to shut Hannah Hen up full time for a few more days until I could see if they were actually laying or not. They were laying, but very sporadically.

But a few weeks on and the girls are now back to their normal egg production and laying in the nesting boxes. The anticipation and excitement is back as I look in the nesting boxes each day. I no longer take my freshly laid eggs for granted and I don’t just expect them to be there each day.

So what was it that caused this hiccup in my chicken’s egg production? It took one of my readers to point out what probably caused my girls to go off the lay. A few days before they all stopped laying, a possum was found in their hen house, all curled up asleep in one of their nesting boxes.


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My chickens may be laying outside in the bushes – but where?

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King George is a bit confused today. Things are not quite the way he is used to. He is waiting beside the coop door, so close to the coop in fact, that his tail feathers are squashed. What is he waiting for?

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He is waiting for his girls to be let out of the naughty room. I have not had any eggs for ten days. Now I know all three of them wouldn’t stop laying on the same day. They must be laying in the bushes somewhere.

So yesterday I watched the girls closely and I think I know the general direction of where the nest might be. I saw King George standing with Hilda and Hannah in the bush, just waiting. That’s what they do when each other is laying so I knew she must be close. They think they can outsmart me!

So I waited and waited and finally saw her come running towards the others. The bush where she has her nest is quite dense and after a quick look yesterday, I was not able to see it. But husband Haitch is going to help me look this afternoon. There should be a mountain of eggs in this nest!

But there is a bit of a twist to this story. Why would they all suddenly decide to lay outside for the first time in over a year of happily laying in the nesting boxes. There are no mites in the boxes and they are quite happily sleeping there each night. But I have had no eggs whatsoever in the nesting boxes for ten days.

Then yesterday while I was waiting very patiently for Hannah to finish laying in the bush somewhere, Helen trotted into the hen house and laid in the nesting box! Why today? Has she been laying in there each day and her eggs are disappearing! And if she has been laying outside, why would she suddenly lay in the nesting box today?

So today, I have locked the lovely chickens in their coop where they will have no choice but to lay in their nice clean, dark, warm, safe nesting boxes.

Let’s see what happens.

 

 


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I had to buy my first eggs in twelve months

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Helen Hen (Barnevelder) stopped laying in February as she struggled with the New Zealand heat and drought and decided she would go through a very light moult. She hardly lost any feathers but it was her first summer and her very first moult and perhaps it was a bit stressful for her. Or maybe she just felt she deserved a rest from laying her 3 to 4 eggs a week.

But that’s ok, I still had Hilda Hen (Barnevelder) and Hannah Hen (Partridge Wyandotte bantam), laying which was enough to keep me in eggs and to provide a half dozen now and again to family.

And then in May, Hilda Hen decided she would go through a very light moult also. She lost her tail feathers and started looking very sorry for herself and a bit bedraggled. She had a break from laying her  4 to 5 eggs a week.

But that’s ok, Hannah Hen was still laying her 6 eggs a week…. Until we got to the middle of the New Zealand winter. Hannah Hen stopped laying mid July. Oh dear.  I had a dozen or so eggs in the fridge. I will use them sparingly until one of the girls starts laying again. Helen Hen is looking fat and healthy and her comb is red so she can’t be too far from laying.

But then the end of July came and still no eggs in my nesting boxes. I couldn’t last any longer. At the end of July I went to the grocery store and bought a half dozen eggs. It felt so wrong.

But then on Monday, there in the nesting box was an egg from Hannah Hen. And then on Tuesday there were two brown eggs, one from Helen Hen and one from Hilda Hen.  My girls are back providing us with eggs regularly and I couldn’t be happier.


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My Partridge Wyandotte bantams laid their first egg

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The egg at the top on the left is Hilda Hen’s egg. She is a Barnevelder. She always lays large, elongated eggs with freckles and two shades of brown.

The egg on the right at the top is Hannah Hen’s. She is a Partridge Wyandotte bantam. She lays small, light green eggs.

The two tiny eggs at the front belong to two of my three “babies”. They are Partridge Wyandotte bantams and they are five and a half months old. These two girls laid their first egg yesterday. I couldn’t be more proud.


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Waiting for chickens to lay an egg for my Christmas baking

Before Christmas I had been saving up my girl’s eggs for Christmas baking. I wanted to make my own sponge for my Christmas trifle (three eggs) and I wanted to make a pavlova (four eggs). At the moment I only have my two Barnevelders laying as my bantam is on motherhood duties and therefore no eggs.

Two days before Christmas I had six eggs and so I needed one more. The Barnies lay approximately one egg each every two days and Hilda was due to lay today and Helen tomorrow. My husband went to the grocery store and he knew I was one egg short for my Christmas baking and so he phoned me from the store to ask if I wanted him to buy eggs. I said NOOOOOO. I didn’t mean it to come out so aggressively, but come on….. NO. One of the girls will provide me with that last egg.

I made the sponges so that they would be stale enough for the trifle on Christmas morning. So that left the pavlova with one egg short. Hilda is reasonably consistent with her every second day laying so I was confident I would have a pavlova in the oven by the end of the day.  I kept my ear attuned for Hilda’s “I’ve just laid an egg” commotion. I didn’t need to listen too hard as she is very loud and proud and even the neighbours a kilometre down the road know when Hilda has laid.

but by mid afternoon, still no egg. Each time I saw her walking from the front lawn towards the back (where the coop is) I would rush out to see if she was going into the nesting box. But no, she was just going about her scratching and pecking business defying me by walking quickly in the direction of the coop and then she would stop and look up at me. I kept checking in the nesting box just in case today was a quiet egg laying day. But no, no egg today. (I felt like picking her up and giving her a squeeze but thought that probably was not the right thing to do.)

So the next morning (the day before Christmas) my husband offered to go down to the local store to buy eggs and I said no, we would go without pavlova if Hilda or Helen didn’t lay by lunchtime. I couldn’t bring myself to buy eggs. Particularly since the eggs at the local store are not free range. I would rather go without the pavlova.

Then I heard it mid morning. Hilda’s egg laying commotion.  Inside the nesting box was my final egg and just in time for me to make the pavlova. Thank you girls.

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And Then There Were Three – Eggs

At last. Three hens and three eggs. I knew even before I lifted the lid of the nesting boxes, that the last of the hens (Hilda Hen) had started laying, .

You see, I have five nesting boxes, three at one end of the hen house and two (for bigger hens) at the other end. Hannah Hen (the Partridge Wyandotte Bantam) lays in one of the dainty nesting boxes being the dainty hen that she is. And when Helen Hen (the large Barnevelder) started laying, being a young pullet she just copied the dainty but matronly Hannah Hen and laid in the same nest.

So when I got home from work a few days ago, I happened to notice some woods shavings on the ground under the larger nesting boxes at the opposite end to where Helen and Hannah lay. Either Helen or Hannah have started to lay in a nesting box at the other end of the house (not really likely) or Hilda Hen has started laying (more likely as she is Helen’s sister and she has been laying for about a week).

So I opened the lid of the nesting box and there was no doubt. It was Hilda Hen’s egg. How do I know it wasn’t Helen’s. Well, it was elongated. Helen lays a more normal shaped egg.
Hilda’s elongated brown egg is at the back on the left of the photo.
Helen’s normal shaped brown egg is at the back on the right of the photo.
Hannah’s green bantam egg at the front.

How lucky am I? (I promise I will try to make this the last egg post.)


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Green Eggs and Ham

I think Dr Suess had a little chicken like Hannah Hen who laid little green eggs. His inspiration for his wonderful book.

Today I went out to feed the girls before rushing off to work at 6:45am and Hannah Hen was not in the run. There is only one place she can be. In the hen house. I know she had heard me outside. She would have known I had the treat box and scraps. I heard her scuffling around in the nesting box. I waited for her to step graciously down the little ramp but she didn’t come. She must be sitting on the nest laying an egg!

I wonder what it will look like? I wonder what colour it will be? I wonder how big it will be?

I didn’t have to wait long. She came out a few minute later as though nothing had happened. I almost threw the treats at her in my haste to lift up the nesting box lid. A little green egg. Thank you Hannah Hen.


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Egg mystery unravelled (maybe)

 

I have had a few intriguing mysteries since keeping chickens. Firstly there was the mystery of where Hannah Hen came from. That is now solved.  Yesterday I had an egg mystery. Who laid that first little, brown egg? I did not think I would solve that mystery so quickly, if at all.

We were out for the morning and on our way home, we met up with my neighbour / friend Jay who was going for a run. We slowed down to say hello (as you do in the country) and she said she had heard my chooks as she walked past our house. Now that is quite unusual as my chooks are very quiet and I wouldn’t expect their gentle clucking as they scratch and peck to be heard from the road. So either something had frightened them (possibly some pesky sparrows had got caught in the run again while trying to steal food) or one of them had laid an egg.

When we got home I went straight outside to see if they were ok and I could only see two chooks. Hannah Hen (the bantam) and Hilda Hen (one of the Barnervelders). The coop and run are not very big so there was nowhere the third one could be hiding and I know that she can’t escape. Maybe she is sitting in the nest laying an egg. So I did what no chook would want anyone to do when trying to have a bit of privacy to lay her egg, I peeked inside. And there she was sitting on the nest. How exciting. I left her to it of course and went back inside.

After a few minutes Helen came out of that nesting box telling the whole world she had laid an egg. She was so loud that the whole neighbourhood probably heard her. She went on and on and she looked dazed and a bit shocked.

I went quickly to the nesting box and lifted the lid. There in the same nest as yesterday was an exact replica of yesterday’s egg. Aha, so now I know who laid that egg.

But then maybe I don’t know who laid yesterday’s egg. Yesterday the layer was very quiet and it was laid before 8am. Today’s layer was raucously loud and it was laid at lunchtime. So maybe yesterdays was Hilda’s and todays was Helen’s? Hilda does tend to take things in her stride and I wouldn’t expect her to make a fuss. But Helen is a bit more like me. The smallest thing can become a huge drama. One thing I can be fairly sure of though, is that both eggs came from a Barnevelder as they were almost identical in size and colour. I can’t imagine Hannah Hen’s bantam egg would be an exact replica.


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Which of my chickens laid this first egg?

Who laid me this beautiful, little egg? Which one of you did this?

It could have been any of my three chickens.

They normally free range during the day but for now they are enjoying a little rest and relaxation from all that scratching and pecking. They are currently living in luxury holiday accommodation (their coop and an extended run) while Hannah Hen gets used to living with us and the two Barnevelders. Normally shutting a chicken in for a week would be plenty of time for them to realise where home is but because Hannah Hen used to live across the road in a paddock, I am not going to let them out until next weekend. That will be just over two weeks and if Hannah Hen runs back across the road after all that time sleeping here in her warm luxury accommodation then I will have to accept that she isn’t mine.

This morning just before 8, I went outside to let the sparrows out of the chicken run who had become trapped after sneaking in through the smallest gap to steal the chook’s food. Some of the sparrows were crashing against the chicken wire in the run and some were flying around inside the coop so I lifted the lid of the nesting box to give the sparrows another escape route. In amongst all of this commotion, I almost didn’t register that there was an egg in the nest. My first egg! A little brown egg nestled among the wood shavings.

Whose could it be?

Could it be Hannah Hen’s? She is a bantam so I would expect her to lay a small egg. She has been captive living in the holiday accommodation for ten days now and prior to that we think she was broody and sitting on unfertilised eggs somewhere in the paddock. Maybe it is time for her to start laying again.

Could it be Hilda Hen’s? My Barnevelders are almost six months old and should be laying sometime in the next few weeks. When I first got the Barnies, Hilda was the bigger of the two and seemed to be the most developed. Although her comb was still small, it was quite red. A Barnevelder lays a reasonably large egg but their first one can be small.

Could it be Helen Hen’s? She was the smaller of the two Barnies but in the last few weeks she has had a massive growth spurt and is now quite a bit bigger than Hilda. And I noticed a few days ago that Helen’s comb and wattle are quite developed and a lovely red.

So the layer of this egg could be any of the above. I wonder if we will solve this mystery. The photo below shows our little brown egg sitting beside a “normal sized” free range egg from the shop. Cute huh? I have boiled it and will take it to work tomorrow for lunch.