Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No chickens were harmed in the writing of this post.

When you look into building a flock of backyard chickens the rule of thumb is to have one chicken for each member of your family plus a couple of extra in case they don't all survive to adulthood. This is how I originally started with six chickens. In the middle of their first winter, all six chickens began laying eggs and we had more than we knew what to do with. Although everything I had read stated otherwise, my chickens defied the experts by faithfully producing 4-6 eggs daily even during the coldest and shortest days. One of the benefits was being able to give away a dozen eggs per week to friends who appreciated their orange yolky goodness. I enjoyed giving them away almost as much as eating them. It felt so good that we added three new chickens to the flock to increase egg production so we could share even more.

The first sign that we would not be giving out more eggs came last summer when we lost one of our original six chickens to the extreme heat wave that not only gave us triple digits in the daylight hours, but lows that never dropped under 90 at night. She was a reliable layer of light blue eggs as well as being one of our prettiest chickens. Shortly after we lost her, the new chickens were chronologically old enough to begin laying yet showed no signs of being physically ready. All I could do was wait, and wait, and wait some more. Finally one of them began and we were back to having six chickens producing eggs until one of the older ones began molting, followed by another and then joined by the only one of the new girls that actually laid eggs (Molting is a period where chickens lose their feathers and grow new ones. This requires all their energy and their bodies cease egg production during this time). I was now down to three chickens that actually laid eggs and five freeloaders. To make it worse, those three had dropped down from laying almost everyday to every couple of days. Eventually my refrigerator which used to be filled with as many as four full egg cartons now held only one that rarely contains more than a half dozen. For several months we rationed our eggs until I finally broke down and (gasp) bought eggs this weekend so I could bake and make breakfast burritos. Although my chickens had no idea what I was doing nor did they care, I felt like I was cheating on them. To add to my guilt, the day I brought home grocery store eggs, we actually had four eggs in the nest box! Two from my old reliables, one from the previously molting new chicken and the first egg of our beloved "Disco." Any day now there will be cute fluffy chicks at the feed store and the question now is do we pick up some more freeloaders or be patient and wait for our flock to kick it into gear. It's a good thing we didn't live in the pioneer days or else those chickens would have provided us food this winter one way or another--if you know what I mean!

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