So when you decide to trim down a flock of laying hens, generally you cull the older chickens that are no longer laying (or laying sporadically). I’ve been told that good way to tell whether or not a hen is laying is to pick her up and feel between her hip bones. If her hips are wide – two or three fingers width – she’s probably laying. If they’re closer together, she’s not. Basically if you think an egg could squeeze through it probably has pretty recently.
Don’t be fooled, though… eggs can get out of some real tight spaces. Robin and I culled the chickens today after checking all 16 hens twice over the last month. Four, we felt, definitely weren’t laying. Two young birds who we decided to give a chance, and two older birds who we separated last night along with our older rooster.
When we butchered them this morning, however, it became very clear that my methods need work: both older chickens were laying. Inside one of them, an elderly bird, we found the set of developing eggs in the picture above (including the fully formed egg). In the other, a couple developing yolks. And so: two fingers of hip space is no reason to go carting birds off to the kitchen. However, both of those birds had other reasons to go. One was diarrheic and has been for years, and the other has a seriously nasty temperament. The flock will be better off without them, though we’ll probably get fewer eggs.
The thirteen chickens that are left, we hope, will all be laying within a month and our egg production won’t dwindle too much. If it does, then those of you to whom I promised eggs may be waiting longer than I meant you to (oops!).
Margaret found a frightened little bird in the grass under a tree today. About a hundred feet from the chicken coop, it was chirping away, totally terrified. She gently picked him up and took him away from cats, dogs, and other predators. Steve rushed it to a friend, who is good with stray birds. Upon his return, both Steve and Margaret were shocked (okay one of them was not as shocked) to discover that the little bird was in fact a chick from our coop and not a wild wind-blown baby bird. In other words… A CHICK! A very independent and lucky chick. We have no idea how it wandered OUT of the coop and managed to chill there for who knows how long until Margaret came along.
The broody hen is a Buff Orpington, but (now that I’ve checked with Morgan) we don’t think the new chick is one of hers. He’s probably the Black Australorp’s baby, crossed with our Rhode Island Red Rooster (Rodney). We’ve decided this one is male, mostly because Margaret wants to name him Oscar… but he could very well turn out to be Oscarella. Either way, so cute. So fierce!
He was put back into the coop with mama broody hen and comes out from beneath her wing to greet you if you go in to visit, but nuzzles his way back inside after a quick hello.
One of our hens at the farm is broody. That means she has decided it’s time to hatch chicks and she sacrifices her life of pecking and squawking to sit in the laying box on a bunch of eggs until they hatch (about 21 days). This particular hen, I’m told, has a history of getting broody but not broody enough to stay on her eggs for the required amount of time. I had not heard that story until yesterday, however. So when I took the eggs from the hen house on Saturday, I didn’t think twice about the six eggs sitting in the box. Taking them inside, I began to make my special waffle recipe for my parents who were visiting from Idaho. I cracked open one and separated it without thinking about it… then this.
It’s what I get for not paying attention to which box the broody hen had been sitting in. I took a flashlight and lit each of the remaining six eggs from behind. They were either bright and glowing or partially opaque. The opaque ones I marked and put back under the broody hen within 30 minutes of taking them out of the box.
Later that day, I moved the eggs to the original box I had taken them from. Tonight, Ms. Broody Hen is still sitting on them diligently.
From now until she stops sitting, I just might check every egg with a flashlight before I break it into my waffles… as much as I was amazed by this little guy and more generally by the incredible (edible) egg, I’m not interested in repeating the experience.