I have been wondering what my first chicken related post might be. We have been keeping chickens for more than a year now, but have so far been very fortunate not to suffer from any significant problems, although that makes for neither an interesting nor a useful article. Today, though, was our wedding anniversary. Coincidentally, it is also one year to the day since we had our very first freshly laid egg.
We bought eight chickens – 2 Barnevelder, 3 Light Sussex, and 3 Rhode Island Red – last May, at 10 to 12 weeks of age. As they are all pure breeds, we did not expect them to start laying until about six months of age. As August arrived, we started to check daily the nestbox, and on the 10th, more or less when expected, the very first egg arrived. There was much excitement, of course, although not much to eat – it was the smallest hen’s egg we had ever seen; CT enjoyed this first one fried, and it looked rather sad in even our smallest pan. These first eggs were, though, absolutely delicious; there seemed much more flavour to the white, and the yolks were richer in both colour and flavour, than supermarket offerings.
They have continued to produce over the last year, even through winter. I am, though, expecting them to stop laying, or at least slow down rather more, during their second winter. Eight girls do produce rather a lot of eggs when they are all laying – far more than we can use, although it has never been hard to find grateful recipients. However, they are rarely all laying concurrently – the Barnevelders and Light Sussex are frequently broody, which leads to long periods without laying as it takes a while for them to recover after becoming broody. I have read of various ways in which broodiness might be discouraged, but we simply turn them out of the nest box from time to time. We do not usually have more than two broody at a time, but at the moment we have four crammed into the nest box. This is a little inconvenient as the remaining hens cannot always squeeze in, so eggs get left in odd places.
In return for a modest input of feed, water, and, since they have turned their large, formerly grassy enclosure into a barren landscape, some greenery from the vegetable patch and the occasional treat of mixed corn, our girls have given us a year of good service, during which we have not had to buy any eggs, and usually had a surplus. They have also produced copious amounts of droppings, collected along with their woodchip bedding, which are currently composting and will eventually make a good addition to the soil, especially for nitrogen loving vegetables.
Although probably not offering much in the way of financial benefit, as the capital outlay is rather high, and they probably take more time than the eggs are worth, they have still been a pleasure to keep and I would be reluctant now to give up my girls. They are surprisingly entertaining and therapeutic to spend a little time with; they each have their own personalities and their antics can sometimes be very funny indeed, although they are not the smartest of God’s creatures.
Having read various books before starting out with chicken keeping, I was rather worried about the various health problems and injuries they can sometimes suffer from, but we have been very fortunate and had an easy time of it. It would be nice if we can say the same next anniversary.