Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chicken Egg Farming

Well, I guess it's official, we are egg farmers! The girls are all laying now and I think we've been with them long enough to have a grasp of what's going on.

The classes, books and websites all told me that I woul eventually get to know each chicken's personality, when they laid, and be able to just tell when something wasn't right. Like parenting children. This is my story of the beginning of egg production.

About a month ago, I checked the hen house for visitors (aka predators) before putting the girls to bed (as usual) and found an egg. What a surprise! Now to figure out who laid it... Emagene had a theory: the yellow one, with yellow feet, Ella. Two days later I walked in on that chicken in the nesting box. Mystery solved; we had a layer! She laid every other day for a week but then along came the 4th of July, stressing out the animals and put a halt on egg production.

A few days later, I had a perplexing day of homesteading. The day started out normal enough: teeth brushing, feeding animals, letting the chickens out, checking the nesting box for eggs, walking through the garden picking of pill bugs and looking for grasshoppers. As the chickens stretched their wings and started grazing I noticed Ella was a bit off her game. She has always taken her time to leave the run but usually hurries up to join the flock in the morning grazing. This day she was walking particularly slow and keeping to herself. When I looked closely she appeared to have waded through a bog. Since I have to no bogs in my yard I was concerned. What was matted on her belly? It looked sleek and shiny and... a little yellow??? Checking beyond the nesting box I found a soft shell split around the center sitting on the floorboard. She had laid on the floor of the hen house and then tried to nest without any padding resulting in a broken egg and a sticky mess.

Bathing a chicken is not something I recommend for everyone, but in this case it was necessary. The only way to free up her movements and not attract unwanted guests was to wash her. Surprisingly, she let me. I sat her in a shallow bucket and gently splashed and rubbed until she was done. She then rolled in the dirt, like a good chicken. Unfortunately, she had ingested some of the egg goo and had an upset stomach. I panicked slightly when Ella had an eggy poop, but after a conversation with seasoned poultry farmer and friend and a small fight at bath time, I assumed she was feeling better. The next day she was more active and chased a bug or two. I took a deep breath and relaxed. She'll be fine.

About this same time, Minerva and Ferdy began looking like they may start laying any day .A week after Ella's unfortunate accident, she started laying double yolks. That day, we found 2 eggs in the nesting box. Emagene's theory? The black chicken with yellow feet. Minerva came running at us as we took our gifts inside, begging for scratch. We obliged. She laid again two days later.

Then started the decimation of the garden. Ferdy, the Demon Chicken as Pete calls her, was stressed. She was getting ready to lay for the first time but the nesting box didn't have enough nesting material, the fire pit was full of ash and the garden was off limits. Once I figured this out and overloaded the coop with straw, she found enough peace to take care of business. We assumed we'd sorted it out: the girls were timed to share the nest and we had time until the last one was ready.

We were wrong. Fluffy was in a tizzy the next day and Ferdy was back in the garden.

When the chickens were tiny, they slept in a giant litter box filled with straw. The box has been repurposed serval times since the completion of the coop, but in between uses it lives on the porch near the straw bale. We took the lid off for one reason or another and the girls occasionally sit inside. Following this cue, I filled it with straw at left it where it was. It was immediately inhabited by Ferdy who took a bit of time on her off-laying day to fluff the nest and satiate her nesting drive. Today she left us a gift in this new nest of hers that still doesn't have quite enough fluff. Such a posh and pampered princess!

Fluffy has needed to be locked in the run the last day or two to take care of business. She seems intrigued by the porch nest but not able to focus. The garden calls her. Emagene removes her. It's only her third try at this, but she's starting to prefer spending the noon hour in the hen house. Immediately followed by Ella who is desperate for the box by early afternoon.

And, there you have it. A rough look at the transition into egg harvesting, from a human perspective. I am grateful that is has cooled down in the mornings so Emagene and I can spend the late morning hours being outside and watching the girls. We do our best to stay off the porch or watch through the bedroom window if the porch box is in use. We say thank you and gently pet the girls when they come running to tell us they are done. We keep the waterers full and the scratch ready. If the chickens weren't so focused on the garden, we'd weed and water in these cool morning hours. But alas, we spend our time carrying birds around, talking softly to them while enjoying our coffee and juice. Some times we watch the cardinals and mockingbirds fight the chickens for their grasshoppers or the hummingbirds and finches nip at the tomatoes. But mostly we get excited at the discovery of a new egg and a morning spent watching and learning from nature.

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