My little flock of hens bring me much joy and sustenance. In fact, I am enjoying my adventures in chicken-keeping so much that I’m even considering adding to my flock. However, last week I developed a small problem. The five hens (yes, I lost one to an opportunistic predator a few weeks ago) have generously provided almost an egg a day each throughout the winter, but suddenly – no eggs!
At first I assumed that some critter was stealing them, but there were neither telltale eggshells nor any gap in the chicken run big enough to allow egg egress. I was stumped!
The hens aren’t moulting, their feathers are intact and attached and they’ve not (that I know of) experienced any stressful event that might cause them to tighten their egg-sphincters. Even when their sister was brutally murdered in front of them (R.I.P. Fern) they continued to lay eggs without any interruption, so I was baffled.
Over the course of three days I gathered a grand total of two eggs – not exactly stellar production! Late on the third day, I opened up the henhouse to stock their feeders with pellets and AHA! In the back corner of the henhouse, nestled deeply in the fresh shavings I’d recently replenished, was a nest with 8 cackleberries!
Mystery solved! I really must credit the birds with some smarts – it’s not easy to hide stuff in a 3 foot by 8 foot area but they did, at least temporarily.
The very next day, when there were only two eggs in the nest boxes, I knew just where to look (can’t fool me for long!). Sure enough, there were two more eggs in the new nesting spot. This behaviour might be mildly amusing, but it’s not particularly satisfactory because I designed my henhouse with access to the nest boxes from OUTSIDE the chicken run so I don’t have to put on rubber boots each time I gather eggs, it’s a little mucky in there.
Today I was working outside in the garden for most of the day…it was lovely! At one point I peered in the henhouse window to check for inappropriately laid eggs and yes indeed, there was one back there. It was early in the day and I was disinclined to gather eggs right then so I let it sit. Much later, clad in my rubber boots, I went inside the run and opened the henhouse door to gather eggs and…NO EGGS!
Oh for Pete’s sake, now what? I knew I’d seen an egg earlier, but now there were none. None in the new nest or in the nest boxes, or anywhere that I could see…
I asked my family but nobody would admit to gathering any eggs. I began to suspect that it was my mind that was lost. After another half hour had passed I went back into the run, determined to figure out what was going on. There in the back corner, tucked into the non-nest, was Willow. She half stood when I opened the door, with a warning “Braaaaaaach” and under her I spied three eggs! There were two more in one of the nest boxes! There is no way that those hens laid five eggs in a half an hour, at least some of them must have been there earlier. Mystery re-solved, and the culprit is Willow.
Now Willow is a lovely hen who seems to be unaccountably “broody”, which is odd for an incubator raised chicken. I’ve often found her happily sitting on eggs when her sisters are out enjoying the run of the yard and I frequently have to steal eggs from under her because she’ll sit there all day! This doesn’t make her very happy.
But now her conniving has reached new heights. All those fresh shavings are perfect for hiding eggs in! This clever hen has been covering up the eggs when she leaves the henhouse so I won’t see them (and probably to keep them warm). She is determined to hatch her babies, I just wish I could make her understand that without a rooster in the flock, her eggs will never hatch, poor thing…
Hmmm, if I can get my hands on some fertile eggs, I wonder if she’d be dedicated enough to hatch them for me?