When we first adopted our ex-battery hens I had visions of finding ourselves knee deep in eggs. The reality (as with most of the things I had idealistic, city-person thoughts about) is somewhat different. We do actually get a steady daily supply of eggs from our girls but at a rate of exactly one egg per day. Logically this must mean that either we have one prolific hen and three duds, or we have four very lazy hens taking it in turns to lay the daily egg. The thing is, you see, that along with everything else we didn’t know about hens, we were unaware that the egg yield shrinks to virtually nil in the winter. Winter appears to hit here in the countryside much faster than it does in town. I can’t have had to melt ice from the windscreen more than once a year in London but we’ve lived here seven weeks and I’ve already lost count of how often it happens here! I’ve been worried about how the chickens will deal with the cold at night so we’ve been topping them up with extra bedding. If you open their coop at night all you can see are four spherical puddings made of feathers that burble a sleepy protest at you and then withdraw their heads. They’re still sleeping in the nesting boxes rather than on the roosting bars but we’re putting that down to their previous lives of incarceration and hoping they’ll learn.
We also read that slipping them a couple of beakfuls of corn every evening will help them to heat up from within so they’re getting daily corn treats. Mr Land initially wandered about the place in a fog of desolate disappointment at the lack of eggs and wanted us to purchase various fancy hens to add to our flock to increase the yield but the problem, as I see it, with that, is that we could do that almost indefinitely if they all stop laying in the winter, and then suddenly find ourselves floating in a sea of excess eggs come spring! Better to just hang on and overwinter the chickens we already have I think, lest we inadvertently end up with more hens than we know what to do with next year. And although we’re getting about half a dozen eggs a week, it still means that I’ve only had to buy a couple of boxes for specific baking purposes since they’ve arrived so I’m sure we’ll be fully self-sufficient in eggs come summer! There’s such satisfaction in taking a beaming toddler up to carefully dole out some corn every afternoon before triumphantly fishing the daily egg out of a nest box and bearing it back to the house as part of a two person parade. Everyone should have hens!