Sunday, April 6, 2014

the chicken and the egg

Soon it will be time to decide whether to add a new group of chicks to the flock.

At the moment, there are only five hens here. The two Buff Orpingtons (one seen above) and the Black Jersey Giant are a few years old now. The Rhode Island Red and the little brown hen are almost a year old. I bought them last autumn to bolster the winter egg supply. I've never added half-grown birds to my flock before, so I cautiously kept the newbies in the barn with the goats for a couple of weeks to watch for any health problems.

The Rhodie in quarantine.

The brown hen began to lay as soon as I brought her home. Her eggs are a very pale green. I've always had brown eggs, so the first light ones were a bit of a novelty. They were also sporadic and very variable in size, but since this was a pullet just beginning to lay, it seemed likely she'd soon settle down into producing a daily egg of consistent size. But she didn't. Instead, she went into a deep, long moult in November, and didn't lay another egg all winter.

The brown hen in moult.

Then all three older hens also decided to take the entire winter off. So for the past four months, the Rhode Island Red has been the only working hen on the place, cheerfully presenting me with a lovely organic egg almost every day.

Thank you, Little Red Hen!!

To recap:

I've been feeding five hens organically all Winter,
in order to have one egg daily.

I am not going to figure out how much those eggs have been costing me,
but it's been a worthwhile expense.
Apart from the value of having fresh, organic eggs in the larder,  
they have also provided a reliably joyful moment
in each dark morning of this bitter Winter.
There's a special pleasure in picking up a warm, newly-laid egg
and holding it in your cold hand for a moment
before continuing on to a series of very cold chores.
Thawing the frozen gate latches. 
Breaking the ice in water buckets.

Plus, they're pretty. See? 

In the past couple of weeks, the brown hen has just begun to lay. But again, not every day - unless she is laying some of her eggs outside the Poultry Palace. I've had hens try all sorts of places: under a lawn chair on the screen porch, behind a shovel in the goat barn, on top of a tall stack of hay bales...I'll let you imagine how I discovered that last location.

So this morning I kept all the hens in the Courtyard for a while, to encourage laying inside the Palace. Shortly before noon, there was a lot of the sudden, exuberant hollering that some hens do to announce the recent achievement of an egg. Since I didn't recognize the voice, I was not surprised to find a pale green egg in the nest in the Palace, right next to the daily brown egg from the Rhodie.

Here it is:

Do you think this is what was meant by the recipe
that called for "one and a half eggs"?

And in case you may think I just have freakishly tiny hands,
here are the two eggs side by side:

Oh, little brown hen.

 I do wish you would try to pace yourself.