Thursday, 17 December 2015

Great egg-spectations

When chickens moult they stop laying eggs, for they need to put their energies into regrowing feathers. The moult coincides with rapidly shortening daylight hours and so often decidedly grubby weather. The hens look a mess, though this state of affairs is quite natural.
When you think about it, as distanced from their natural cousins as they are, why would a bird be laying eggs when it can't fly and any chicks born would have zero chance of survival?

So when you buy eggs from the supermarket, however they are labelled, you should think about what they have done to ensure this steady supply of eggs. Maybe they control the lights to trick the hens. They don't need a period of rest as they are disposable at the end of their short lives. Odds are that the eggs you buy are quite a bit older than you'd imagine anyway.

But here in the world of the smallholder, eggs remain a seasonal product. We get loads of them in the spring and hardly any in the first half of winter. This varies from year to year, but at the moment we are getting about two eggs a week from 25 hens! That's not the best return in the world! Of course the hens still need feeding. If profits were the only motivation, you'd get rid of them all and get new ones in at the right age to begin laying. That's what mass production is about. Even some smallholders fall into the trap of adopting such practices, but it's a slippery slope. I don't want to be overly sentimental about my birds - they're not pets. But at what stage of considering costs does it become pointless trekking down to the chickens at least three times a day, whatever the weather, in the mud, in the rain, in the sun, in the wind, in the icy mornings? How far down the costing slope do we slide before we might as well buy our eggs from Tesco?

So I feed the chickens, take the dogs for a little walk to 'help' me several times every day, and return eggless. I do this in the knowledge that it will change soon. It won't be too long before I need to take a large basket with me to collect the eggs. At least the ducks have started laying again, but they are quite old now, so an egg every other day is the most I can expect.

But this week I had a couple of surprises.
I was wondering when the Ixworth hens would start laying, for these young hens don't need to moult yet so the time of year should have no effect. They are at what is known as 'point of lay' (POL).
The Ixworth trio. Growing up.
So it wasn't too much of a surprise a few days ago  to find a broken egg in their house. The frst eggs are always soft shelled and small. But for the last two days I have collected one small egg from their house. Come spring, these eggs will be hatched under a broody hen and the chicks will be raised as meat birds. For now they are a valued source of eggage.

One of our Crested Cream Legbars (the ones that lay blue eggs) has been spending all her time in the stables. I think she may even be roosting in a livestock trailer. I had a sneaky feeling that she may be building a secret stash of eggs somewhere. The Legbars moulted before the other hens and are now back in their finery again.

Last week Sue spied our girl sneaking out of the turkeys' stable, where we have a small store of straw bales.

I went to investigate and wasn't too surprised to find a clutch of  eggs. This is as many as the rest of the hens have laid in total in the last month! It is an easy place to collect from though, so I have stolen the cleanest of the eggs and left four, marked with big black crosses, so that she keeps laying there.

Those eggs will be savoured when we eat them, for at this time of year eating eggs is a treat, even for us folk who keep chickens.

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