Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Easter Egg Hunt was Early This Year Thanks to Chicken Antics


One of my Americana hens decided she wants to be a mama.  Lacking a rooster husband, she will not be able to fulfill her dream, but her chicken brain does not realize this minor detail will prevent motherhood.  Her desires led us on an early Easter egg hunt for her beautiful blue-green eggs. 


She stopped laying eggs during the fall, but in mid-January, I saw her sitting on the nest inside the coop,  and I planned to check on her later to see if she had laid an egg.  She let me know about her egg-laying success with a cacophony of cackling that went on so long I checked on her to make sure she was okay.  Unlike the peaceful clucking depicted in children’s books, this was a cackle, a “BA-aaaCK!” which she repeated for five or ten minutes until she was sure all the other chickens knew about her egg.
I keep them inside a portable fence, made of electrified netting, that I move regularly.  I don't let them free range because of the threat of predators and the mess they create.


My chicken was proud of her egg, so proud that on subsequent days, she flew out of the pen by flapping her way from the roof of the house across the fence and away from the other chickens to roam the yard to find places to lay her eggs.   My daughters came looking for me, yelling, “There’s a chicken under the playhouse!”  Because of the low clearance under the structure, we couldn’t get her out, and I told them she’d leave when she was ready to leave.  I looked for eggs, and couldn’t see any under there.  For weeks, this hen got out of the pen nearly every day.   I should have trimmed her wings but I never managed to find the time to clip the flight feathers, which does not hurt the chicken, to keep her from flying over the fence.

One reason I don't let my chickens freely range is that they make a mess of the flowerbeds


After yet another escape a few weeks ago, I looked under the playhouse and saw a cache of eggs.  At first, I thought there were five or so, but as I removed them, I kept seeing more eggs.  Eventually I removed 13 eggs from under the playhouse, making it the most exciting egg hunt I have ever attended.  My daughters enjoyed seeing the enlarging pile of eggs, colored a perfect Easter egg blue.
Some of the eggs I nestled among the blooming thrift as if hidden for Easter


When chickens decide to go “broody,” or decide they want to hatch some babies, they collect eggs in a nest until they believe they have enough, and then they sit on the eggs for the several weeks it takes to hatch the eggs.  My hen hadn’t accumulated enough eggs to suit her, apparently, because she left the nest to return to her house after she laid the eggs.


It doesn’t matter to the hen if there is a rooster or not, but of course the eggs won’t hatch unless a rooster fertilizes them.  Maybe, when my girls are old enough to escape an angry rooster, we’ll get one.  Seeing the life cycle would be interesting.


Everyone wants to know if we ate the eggs.  We tested their freshness by putting them in a glass of water; if they sink, they are fresh, and if they float, they are not fresh.  All the eggs sank, and we are eating them.  It was winter when this happened, and although we’ve had some cold nights we have had plenty of days in the sixties and seventies. 


Eggs are designed to hatch, and the chicken won’t sit on them regularly until she’s accumulated a pile of sufficient number, so the eggs from which chickens hatch under natural circumstances may have sat in their Mama’s nest for weeks before she began to incubate them.  In modern agriculture, where farmers ship eggs across the country by tractor-trailer, constant refrigeration is necessary.

My hen is now back inside her pen with the other chickens.  I enlarged the pen and moved the house away from the fence, and she seems content.  I remove all the eggs every day; she’s less likely to try to have more babies than if she were able to keep eggs in a nest.   Of course, with chickens, you just never know what they will do next. 
The escaped chicken, returned home and dust-bathing

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