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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  1. My hens usually have a period ‘off lay’ over the darkest part of the year, so I do sympathise. But to my amazement my rescued ex-battery hens (acquired last June) have laid without a break all through the winter. I’ve even kept one of my neighbours supplied too. Great stuff, particularly as the rest of my flock, like yours, is knocking on a bit.

  2. Yay Carol! I too think it’s great that you and Danny can look at an egg and know who laid it 🙂

  3. Our hens have been admirable layers right through the winter. We have three, and got 74 eggs from them in January, which is almost one a day from each of them. Pretty impressive.

    We’re planning on adding to our little flock slowly until we have 10 birds so that we should hopefully have a regular supply of eggs every winter as our older hens get older still.

    As such, we’re building a big new run for them this weekend.

  4. Michelle in NZ

    I so like the thought – much loved pets with the added bonus of eggs (sometimes known in my family as cackleberries).

    Your Chooks are so beautiful – huggable too?

    Keep warm and cosy, Mickle and Zebbycat Downunder

  5. Oh – just from your wonderful blog posts on your poultry adventures (and many other fine things)I adore your feathered friends almost as much as I adore mine! (4 bantams – barred plymouth rock, araucana, leghorn and something else -, one cockerel whom we raised from an egg in Sept and now needs a non-urban home as is crowing : ( , 2 gorgeous 1 month-old barnevelder chicks raised under leghorn bantam and as of this week a 3 day-old pekin duck!). Your posts have been so useful, and so moving and also delightful. Thanks so much for sharing, Wendy in sunny NZ (BTW we just had our first egg in weeks and it is summer, due to broodiness, moulting and other such hazards to egginess)

  6. Jo @ LittleFfarm Dairy

    Our hens recommenced laying in mid-January, after a break of about three months. Their abrupt halt was something of a surprise as they’ve always laid consistenly throughout the winter before now.

    I’ve got a real ‘mixed bag’ of breeds, here; the senior cockerel is a Welsummer; I’ve got one Leghorn; four Black Rocks & two Bluebells. Meanwhile the family in the other Ark consists of a ‘farmyard’ cockerel & his ladies; including the broody Silkie who raised them all, last year – dubbed the Mother Superior as with her black-& white wimple she looks a bit like a Nun! It’ll be interesting to see how this lot perform in laying terms although I suspect our broody lady will remain just that – which is fine; a broody hen does a far better job than my incubator, especially where raising the chicks is concerned.

    Like you, our hens are with us for life & some are now a substantial age in chicken terms. I have to say the Black Rocks are amazing – incredible longevity & hardiness, & consistent layers of huge, delicious eggs. So they certainly deserved their break!

    Sadly, a lot of the purist poultry keepers look down on Black Rocks as mere hybrids; however they are beautiful birds in a wide range of colours & an ideal ‘starter’ bird for the novice hen keeper. They’ve given me years of pleasure & hundreds of lovely eggs, apiece – so whilst once they finally cease laying altogether I’ll miss that treat, they deserve a long & happy retirement; watching the sun on their glossy plumage is pleasure enough for me.

    But I share that delighted excitement at discovering the first fresh egg of the year, in the nestbox; & the ultimate pleasure of dipping a crisp finger of toast into that deep golden yolk: surely the finest meal imaginable! Breakfast is now the highlight of my day…..

  7. Anthony Chenoweth

    Two eggs for breakfast?
    Here in France we’ve always thought “Un oeuf is un oeuf”

  8. Congratulations! Our hens have been off laying since July!! One went broody and raised chicks and the other went off in sympathy 😉 Now the young hens will be old enough to lay I am hoping that they will all start laying again together… with 4 hens laying compared to none, we’ll forget what buying eggs is all about (I hope) 🙂

  9. magic cochin

    I loved how both you and Danny knew it was ‘Carol’s egg’. Friends think we’re crazy when we name the layer of the egg – but it becomes so special and each egg is a gift 😉


  10. City Mouse/Country House

    I’ve been pointed in the direction of Leghorns a few times by friends, since we’ll be keeping chickens mostly for eggs and pets. I adore Rhode Island Reds though. If we can find them near us, we’ll likely go with those. How long would you say they still lay decently? A few years, I’m guessing?

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