If you have been watching my stories on Instagram, you will no doubt be familiar with my flock of chickens. At the moment we have about nineteen (it is so hard to count them when they keep moving!) and they keep me entertained every day.
Because our rooster got sick, I had to cull him a few weeks back. It broke my heart to have to do such an unpleasant task, but because he went from being very healthy to being very unhealthy quickly with no response to treatment, I was afraid that he might have something that the other birds would contract and that I would then loose the whole flock. So now, my ladies are without a rooster to keep them in check.
Having so many birds, I was delighted to be getting a large number of eggs every day. I put a box at the end of our lane and have been leaving the eggs there, so that neighbours can take them. I have the idea to put an honesty box out, but I’m not ready to add the ‘honesty’ aspect just yet – for now, it’s just a box and it seems that no sooner do I fill it with eggs, when they disappear off to be enjoyed by the neighbours. I’m delighted to be able to share such a treat.
Over the past number of weeks, I have noticed that my daily egg haul has reduced. I was getting an average of about fifteen eggs every day. I praised my girls and fed them well. Yesterday I went out and there were three eggs in the coop. I wasn’t too bothered because it was before lunchtime. However I went out later on and there were another two eggs. Both of them had been cracked. I was not happy.
I considered the reasons that we might be getting fewer eggs. Could it be the loss of the rooster? Were they sick? I watched them carefully, but they all seemed healthy and in good spirits. Were they unhappy? Maybe the weather was too dry or too hot? I made sure they had good access to fresh clean water. Not enough forage? Nope, it couldn’t be that… the fields are awash with wildflowers and plants. Not enough feed? Nope, their feeder has been kept full and we haven’t made any changes to what they are getting. I was stumped.
This morning, I let them out of their coop as usual, but instead of leaving their run open, I locked them in. It was a wet morning and now they were not being allowed out to boot. They did not like that one bit and had no issue telling me so. They wanted their freedom. They wanted to roam the field like every day. I told them ‘No’, apologised and gestured to their coop, which holds eight beautiful, comfortable nest boxes, reminding them that that was the designated area for them to be laying their eggs. Off I went to sort out breakfast, the morning field checks, the school run and so on.
By midday, I was feeling guilty. Back up I went to check on them. They were milling around their run, delighting in the worms that were being brought to the surface of the soil by the rain. They came charging for the entrance of the run as soon as they saw me, protesting loudly at being confined. I opened the gate and they spilled out around my feet. Then they tottered off busily about the place. Overall their form was good. I watched them for a little while but didn’t really see anything of note.
As I headed back toward the house, I turned for a last glance. I spied one of our black chickens heading off on her own up the field. They didn’t look like she was in a rush, but she definitely had an agenda. I decided to follow her.
She meandered her way up the field with me following behind. I was careful not to trail her too closely in case she think that she was being chased. She stayed on course, heading for the top of the field, pausing to peck a blade of grass here or there. I wondered what she was up to. I was starting to regret coming out in the rain in a tank top, but figured I would be out of the weather soon enough.
The warm weather we have had has meant that everything has been growing like crazy: grass, the garden, flowers and weeds. At the top of the field, there is an old oak tree, and the ground beneath it is currently littered with a bristly mix of thistles and stinging nettles. It seemed like the bird sought out the largest, most vigorous clump of these nasty weeds and dove right into them. I blinked. Then I followed. Stamping the tall stems out of my way, I found a nest. I sighed and looked around me. This paddock that I was standing in had a very large amount of this tall foliage.
And I had found a nest. One nest. The damn birds were nesting out.
I collected up the eggs and made a cursory inspection of the area. On my way back to the house, I inspected a few other spots that I felt looked promising. I found another nest.
Eventually after getting soaked through, pricked by thistles and stung by nettles up and down my bare arms, I returned to the house. Clutched to my belly in a fold I had made from my top were twenty four eggs. Those bloody birds.
Of course, you have to find the silver lining in these situations! So my birds are healthy and happy. I suspect that without the rooster to keep them in check - they are roaming more because he is not corralling them into one area. And tomorrow, I get to go on a really cool scavenger hunt.
Perhaps I’ll bring the strimmer as my plus one, and I’ll eradicate the tall weeds. That should reduce instances of the girls laying their eggs in places that they shouldn’t!