Broody bird

Last night I discovered one of our speckledy hens sitting tight in the nesting box. We often find one of the girls trying it on – a cosy bed of straw has considerably more appeal I imagine than a wooden perch – and we happily pick them up and pop them back in their rightful place – they don’t flap a wing in protest, resigned to the inevitable routine. When it comes to the speckledys, however, it’s a different story.

These hybrids don’t go without a fight. And the reason? Pure broodiness. They want to hatch out some chicks and nothing and nobody is going to get in their way. Far from exhibiting the kind, soft, nurturing maternal behaviour that you’d think would be natural in a mother-in-waiting, they puff themselves up and peck any hand coming their way. Being a bit of a coward, I’d happily leave them in their box, but they’re sitting on eggs which I need to collect and if they remain in the nest they’ll preventing our other birds from laying. Broodiness also means the speckledy isn’t producing any eggs – so letting her be really isn’t an option: we’ve got orders from family and my Country Living colleagues to fulfill. Isolation treatment is the only answer for these birds so, once I’d equipped myself with sturdy gloves to protect my skin from her beak, into the inner run she went to think it over.

But actually, the whole episode got me thinking: why do chickens lay eggs almost every day? Have we bred them to do this over the years? What possible reason can they have to produce what is getting on for 300-odd per year otherwise? Surely, they could never hope to raise hundreds of young? I’ll endeavour to find out, but if anyone out there has the faintest idea, I’d love to hear it. Answers on a postcard, please – or a blog comment preferably.

Easter eggs and bunnies

HAPPY EASTER fellow henkeepers. This time of the year, us poultry types really come into our own – I’ve had orders for eggs from various Country Living Magazine colleagues this week, so this morning I carried in as many freshly laid beauties as I could, train-travel permitting. The feathered flocks at home are well and truly in the swing now and, as you can see, their efforts come in all shapes, sizes and colours.

Boxful of Smallholding eggs
Yesterday's eggs delivered to the Country Living offices

They’re not the only ones observing the festivities, however. My highly strung but lovable Bengal cat Beau has celebrated in his own special way – by bringing tiny rabbits into the house in the early hours. He chooses his time carefully – at around 4.30am we’re often woken by a mad scrabbling around as he pursues his latest furry victim around the downstairs of our house, less than an hour before the alarm goes off. This little fella was one of the lucky ones, seized from our feline before he was mercilessly devoured in the hallway like countless others. Nice.

Easter bunny
Look what the cat dragged in

This time of year also makes the first birthday of our Araucanas girls who hatched out – along with a whole load of cockerels – on 24 April 2010. Just an excuse to use the picture below, really – gets me every time. Here’s to an eggstra special bank holiday weekend.

The class of 2010 in the brooder

Spring chickens

The fully fledged spring weather is going down a treat at the Smallholdings. These beautifully light mornings (now there’s no need for a torch and raincoat when we go to let them out at 5.45am) and evenings – it wasn’t dark till 8.15pm last night – mean the flock are scratching around far later than in the winter months – extending their laying potential, too. Yesterday, we had ten eggs from the 13 hybrids – pretty good going. And there are always the gorgeous pale pastel blue and green editions from our wonderful Araucanas – their addition to an egg box means they sell out almost instantly in the Country Living office.

I still consider it a miracle that the girls who this time last year were simply eggs inside an incubator on our kitchen worksurface have grown up into these fine feathered ladies (pictured below and far below) and started laying themselves. Though I realise, at the same time, of course, that this is the most ordinary, everyday occurrence. Inevitably, because we’ve seen them from fertile eggs through to fluffy chicks and grow into the fine young ladies they are today, they’re firm favourites.

Brown Araucana
Black Araucana pullet

I’m afraid I’m especially fond of the white one whom I’ve named Audrey due to her tall, slim elegance, snowy plumage dotted with black spots and general Hepburn-esque demeanour. She now seems to enjoy a stroke (I can’t resist her soft feathers) and the occasional cuddle, too. As she is without both comb and wattle, you would be forgiven for wondering if she’s a chicken at all, but perhaps I am stretching it a little by likening her to the 1960s film star and style icon. Love is blind.

White Araucana pullet