It's hard to believe that we've only had the hens in the garden for just over a month. Letting them out early in the morning, checking how they're doing in the day and finally putting them to bed at night has become such a regular routine that it seems like we've had them for ages. The hens seem to be settled into their new life as well and not only are they much calmer but we've even noticed that both their body and egg sizes have increased. I wonder if that has something to do with having access to a larger pen or if it's to do with all the bananas the Hubster's been feeding them.
We're now regularly getting one to two eggs per day but were really surprised a few days ago to find three. Carmen is the youngest of our hens and as far as we knew she hadn't begun laying yet. Last week she was acting a bit strange though and would disappear off into the coop for hours at a time clucking to herself. One day we even found her sitting on an egg laid at the bottom of the coop but couldn't determine if it were hers or if she'd 'adopted' it. It wasn't until we found three eggs in the nest box that we could confirm that she'd actually done the deed.
Strangely enough while I was out raking up the compost pile inside the run I came across what looked like a very small egg. It caught my eye because of its colour and shape so I picked it up to have a look. Initially it was covered in dirt and chicken poo so I couldn't be sure what it was at first but it did feel like there was a yolk inside when I shook it. After washing it up inside the house I cracked it open and found a gooey mess of a mini egg yolk and white inside. I wondered if this was some sort of proto-egg that Carmen may have laid and so did a bit of internet research. I found that these tiny eggs are called 'Fairy Eggs' and are usually laid when a hen has been disturbed or if she is just beginning to come into lay. Fortunately we haven't found any more eggs inside the run so think Carmen must have figured out that she needs to lay inside the coop.
The girls have gotten into the habit of sleeping in the nest box and then hopping down onto the roosting bar in the morning when they're ready to go out. We come open the coop door around 7.30am and they follow each other out single file to peck at a bit of dry food before going to scratch around in the grass and dirt. It used to be that Geraldine would immediately jump out and head for the water dish but we've since put a water feeder inside the coop so she doesn't become too dehydrated in the night. It was shortly after we put the water in the coop that she started to lay eggs along with Miracel.
We were a bit concerned that the hens were sleeping in the nest box at first but have decided to just let them get on with it. I think that they initially chose to do this because the nest box sits above the roosting bars - this must be a case of a someone who's never had hens designing a coop. Chickens want to be up high when they sleep so this is probably why they preferred the box to the bars. We did end up building a roosting bar that sits up much higher but I'm not sure if they've figured that one out yet. In any case they lay their eggs in the nest box when it's fairly clean and when it gets a bit mucky from their droppings they lay eggs at the bottom of the coop.
The size of the run has turned out to be perfect for our three girls. It's big enough so that they don't destroy the grass completely and small enough for us to keep tidy and unobtrusive in the garden. As mentioned previously, I've been sectioning off bits of the run with additional fencing so the grass has a chance to recuperate after the bashing it takes from the hens. This seems to be working really well and I'm moving the fence every two weeks to a different spot. There are places that are becoming a bit bare, such as the area the hens have made their dust bowl, but the patches of grass that have survived the initial onslaught of chicken destruction bounce back with vigor as soon as I cordon off the area. The grass seed I planted in the run is specifically meant for hard-wearing lawns and play fields so may be one of the reasons that the grass has proved to be quite durable.
I've also created a compost pile inside the run which is in reality a simple pile of leftover kitchen scraps, garden waste, coop litter and lawn clippings (we have an electric mower). I rake it up every couple of days after which the hens come running and begin kicking it back all over the place. It actually good for the compost since it then gets covered in chicken poo which activates the composting process and enriches the matter with nutrients. The Hubster is planning on building a wooden frame to put around the compost area but at the moment the pile/rake method seems to be working really well.
Having the compost pile inside the run has actually been great for the hens as well. Not only are they getting access to all sorts of green scraps and insects, but the pile provides them with added recreation. They literally spend hours looking through the material and kicking it around each day. And you should hear their excited clucking when I come out with the bowl I use for kitchen scraps - it's like 'Oh yay...more goodies!' There's actually been quite a lot of stuff put on the pile already but in the photos it looks relatively small. This is due to the hens eating a lot of the greens but their poo and the constant aeration breaking it down at a quicker rate. Chicken manure is extremely rich in nutrients and I plan to start putting this rich compost into my raised beds over the winter.
The last month has seen the cats become a bit more accustomed to the hens, and vice versa, but I don't think the fascination will ever completely disappear. They spend a part of every day hanging out either on top of the run or stalking the hens from the sides but I think the girls have come to the conclusion that the cats can't get to them. They'll warily watch Louis and Cheebers but they don't get panicked like they would before. It's a good thing too since the neighbour cats come for a look on a regular basis as well. A big fluffy grey boy named Popcorn jumps up on top of the run each morning and a tabby named Merlin watches them with hunter eyes from the top of the shed. It's a good thing that the Hubster built the run so sturdily and with such a strong roof or I think we'd be a bit more than concerned ourselves.
All in all the hens are doing great and we're enjoying the rich golden eggs they provide for the table. We've never seen eggs so luminous orange before and it really indicates that the girls have a healthy diet with plenty of fresh greens. Though I don't really eat eggs straight (yet) the Hubster absolutely raves over the taste of them. It really goes to show that home-grown is always best!