The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Nothing can beat that first egg of the season

Photo: Chickens in the snow

I’ve been very envious of people who were collecting eggs from their chickens throughout November, December and January. All of ours have been on egg laying sabbatical since October and, although I want them to enjoy a decent holiday each year, I did expect the laying breeds to produce an egg or two in January. They were coddled and eventually cagouled with no egg effect.

Life off the nest was clearly far too important to accommodate anything as strenuous as egg laying . Admittedly most of our hens are elderly maidens – but the layers have come up trumps for the past years and started laying early in January.

So I took stock of our flock. The ginger hybrid layers are six years old (I was astonished when I did the maths) no wonder their egg laying was meagre and erratic affair last year. Carol  (the Maran) is five in April. Cloud, the guinea fowl wife is not even two years old yet. Mrs Boss and Mrs Squeaky (six year old Pekin Bantams) have always been more concerned with beauty treatments or raising a brood to lay many eggs. Hope (our one remaining adolescent Wyandotte) is still too young but should be laying eggs by Easter.

In the UK the egg laying peak is around Easter time. So I’d almost given up hope of any eggs before then.

After two years, egg laying gradually declines as hens get older. Some people cull or give away their hens after a couple of years. Our hens are pets and are here until they fly into that vast meadow in the sky. This means that we might not collect as many eggs as we’d like as our hens get older. But we love their companionship – hens are hugely entertaining.  So if we get eggs from the older hens these are a real bonus.

If you want a regular supply of eggs you need to make sure that younger hens are coming up through the ranks. Tonight I realised that we have coasted and not made adequate plans for this. 

So if Mrs Boss goes broody in the spring we are going to try a clutch of Sussex or Leghorn bantam eggs under her. If they all hatch out we can easily extend the run and I have the shell of a new Hilton hotel to accommodate the brood when they eventually step out of the Emerald Castle into the main run. Until now the size and original cost of our hen house has stopped us enlarging our flock too rapidly. But I was given the frame of a house (actually designed to accommodate floor tiles in a house that I was decorating). All it needs is a roof, floor, cladding and a perch.

But it will not be until this time next year that we will be hoping for eggs from young hens.

A couple of days ago, I was doing a brief roll call before I shut the flock in for the night and spotted a large brown speckled egg in the nesting box. It was an egg from Carol. Within seconds I was running through the snow and up the stairs to the Rat Room.
“I’ve got good news.”
Danny looked up from his desk and I held the egg out to him.
“Great! That looks like Carol’s egg.”
This morning she’d laid another. Tomorrow it will be boiled eggs for breakfast. The first two eggs of the year are always the best ones to linger over with a slice of soft buttered toast and a little Murray River salt.


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15 Comments

  1. rosiev

    I’m so enjoying reading your articles and comments. I set up home for 6 young hens last September and now have 4 starting to lay. That first egg (Sadie’s) was so exciting! The eggs are very delicious.

    But we are surprised to see the yolks are rather pale.

    I am feeding them on organic layers/growers pellets mixed together (because two are still growing). The hens, which are a source of great delight to me with their funny ways and different personalities, are free range. We have no grass in our garden – they’ve eaten the little available! Not much green stuff in their bit of the garden – they’ve eaten everything! I give them shredded cabbage etc from the kitchen but they’re not terribly interested in it – mostly they seem to love scratching in our very gravelly garden soil under the tree and shrubs.

    What can I add to their diet to make their egg yolks a nice strong yellow?

    Rosie

  2. We have been inundated with eggs all Winter – my 3 Speckedlys that I got last Easter have continued to lay at least 3 per day with 1 from my Black Rock more than enough for the 4 of us. The neighbours have been well supplied. My sister’s Buffs have been on egg laying strike since the autumn!
    (Kevin – with the Esthers! what a coincidence this is Jane in Derbyshire who had your previous Esthers!)

    Jane

  3. My girls have never stopped laying all through the snow and cold!. Remarkably they are now 2 and a quarter years old and i expected them to decline in production through the winter but i still get 3 eggs a day from five chickens. I called mine Esther, indeed they are all called Esther and they are Lohman traditional breed.

    I will get some young ones to replace these lot of Esther soon, from the organic farm down the road, so if anyone would like my five esthers as pets or to run about in their garden they are welcome. I am just south of Nottingham.

    I must say this blog is excellent and most cheering!

    kevin

  4. Steelkitten

    Thanks for a very timely post.

    We have three ex-battery hens that laid throughout the winter without much break, but we did notice the frequency from one hen has declined a little and were debating whether to get a couple more young ‘uns to add to the flock.

    I think you’ve just made my mind up!

  5. You can’t beat the first fresh egg of the season!(well you can if you’re having an omlette!) my chooks have just got nicely going again since they went on strike at the start of November. I have 10 feathered females, and usually get more eggs than i can eat, so I have managed to arrange a “conversion” scheme at my local, whereby 12 eggs = 1 pt of Tetleys “finest”, this way I get to enjoy my eggs twice a day – morning and night!
    The allotments here have been plagued recently by (we suspect) a Stoat, several of us have lost a few hens over the last few weeks, Just over three weeks ago i lost a Silkie bantam, although i searched everywhere for her, she had gone. Then day before yesterday, she turned up scrattin on the Rhubarb patch with six chucklets! this was a suprise as i’d searched everywhere for her without sign! where had she been? In a corner of the allotment,where the nettle patch is (should say my nettle beer crop!) on i’ts side lay an old plastic builders bucket, sure enough inside that i found a rudimentry banty nest, so thats where she’d sat all through the snow, rain, and the hardest frosts we’ve had for many a year, tough winter, tougher little bird! They are now tucked up in the greenhouse and loving it!

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