I am thrilled to report that at least one of our hens is laying eggs again. I found my first egg in the nest box in nearly a month. This year we kept nine hens over the winter. We had failed to cull our flock before cold weather set in so we made do with more than we normally keep in the winter. Initially I thought it would not be so bad as it would mean our egg production though less, with the shorter days, should be acceptable over the winter. Silly me as soon as the cold weather set in all but one of my laying hens went into full molt. Molting along with the shorter days meant that no matter how careful I was with my precious eggs, in January I did end up buying a dozen store eggs.
Yes my coop is sunshine yellow inside. I want my hens to feel sunshine everyday.
For those of you not familiar with chickens, molting is when all their feathers come out, like a dog or cat’s shed. During the molting process chickens do not lay eggs. All their food and energy go into making new feathers rather than eggs. Molting can be a long process of months and my hens did not disappoint. They started in late October and early November, and some of them are still working on replacing their feathers today and look pretty sad.
I have caught two different hens in the nest boxes last week. A couple more look pretty filled out feather wise and their combs are starting to perk back up. The days are getting longer. The chickens are starting to lay again. Spring is in the air in Montana.
Yesterday I visited a friend, and I brought her some “farm fresh eggs.” The oldest one was only 2 or 3 days old. They were laid by my happy hens who run free every day, eating weeds, grass and all the bugs they can find. My friend loves soft-boiled eggs and was thrilled with the collection I brought her.
Farm fresh eggs are a special commodity now with all the eggs in the commercial system running amuck with Salmonella. I am not sure how this happened but I’d wager that it came about as a result of the lifestyle of these commercial chickens. I am not saying that the facilities weren’t clean, inspected, well fed or watered. Commercial hens have been selectively bred to lay as many large eggs as possible. These hens start laying early and lay nearly every day. Imagine the women settlers who had 15 and 16 children and how their health suffered the stress of all this childbearing. Many pioneer women died early. The same is true for these birds. Their bodies are tired and it doesn’t take too much for them to get a bug, and their close quarters may it easier to spread. This is all done to make farming as economically viable as possible, because we expect eggs and other farm commodities, food, to be inexpensive.
On the other hand my flock is not commercially successful. My expenses and overhead will never justify my eggs. My seven free ranging hens have a coop that possibly 50-75 commercial laying hens would live in. They get to run out free in the pasture everyday, even though I risk loosing a bird daily to the fox family, a stray dog, or feral cat. Last week one of my hens hid her eggs for over a week and when I finally found her hidden nest there were 6 eggs that couldn’t be used. Unlike commercial breeds that you can’t tell the sex by feather color at birth, I end up feeding a rooster now and then.
I do get to sit out in the yard in the evening and watch them cluck around the yard, chasing bugs and eating dandelion greens. I know that my hens are healthy and hence my eggs the same. True farm fresh eggs are a rare commodity today. If you have a source for yourself, say a special thanks this week when you buy your eggs. If you are looking for a source and they tell you eggs are twice what you pay in the supermarket, remember you get what you pay for.