I’m still obsessed with Araucanas Audrey and Mabel’s reluctance to lay. It’s official: they’re ten days late according to sage henkeepers who cite Valentine’s Day as the beginning of the new season for pure breeds. I’m beginning to bore even myself and reckon our ancient Heritage Skyline has become rather sick of my banging on about it, too, because the hybrid who hasn’t laid for three years (apart from one egg in October 2011!) has started producing pale green beauties (albeit covered in mud) every day this week!
She must be five years old, which is a pretty good age for a hybrid anyway – I put this down to her work-shy, relaxed attitude. After all, it can’t be too stressful scratching about and eating all day. But where she’s rustling these eggs up from I’ve no idea. How and why – apart from a noble desire to plug the Araucana-shaped gap in pastel-coloured eggs – remain a mystery. I feel rather uncomfortable selling them, too – I think I’ll be using them in some cakes this weekend rather than eating them ‘fresh’.
Has anyone else heard of elderly hens starting up production again like this? I wonder how long it will carry on for. Curiouser and curiouser. Aside from observing my own flock, I’ve been enjoying Suzie Baldwin’s Chickens: The Essential Guide (Kyle Books, £14.99) book with pictures by Country Living Magazine’s regular photographer Cristian Barnett (and beautifully designed by ex-CL Laura Woussen). It’s full of practical information as well as plenty of inspiration to keep me entertained while I wait for those naughty Araucana’s to resume laying activities.
Valentine’s Day has passed. For the henkeeper who has a few pure-breeds in their flock, thoughts quickly turn from romance to the urgent matter of eggs, for the annual occasion also marks the start of the laying season. Is anyone else still waiting like me? If my Araucanas started producing now, quite frankly it wouldn’t be a moment too soon. They don’t just shut up shop for winter, but the whole of autumn, too.
Not one of those pretty pastel eggs has been delivered since the end of September and James and I miss them terribly. So do our family, friends and colleagues who are our faithful customers – while they appreciate the subtly different browns and the snowy hued efforts of the White Star, there’s nothing quite as thrilling as a pale blue (Audrey) or green-tinged egg (Mabel) – the ones below were laid last year.
I do find these little boxes of four pretty cute, though, no matter what their contents – the girls hadn’t rustled up enough for two half-dozen boxes today, so a fellow member of the Country Living staff, Lesley, will have a smaller box today.
I haven’t done enough detective work to find out which colour egg the Rhode Island Red lays but I suspect she may be among that elite of pure breeds which carries on laying through winter. Does anyone keep any hens (other than hybrids) that perform all year round? In the meantime, I’m crossing my fingers that this evening I find a pastel egg I can poach for breakfast in the morning.
Anyone else’s flock snowed in at the weekend? Felt really sorry for the girls when we went down to excavate a patch of ground for them to scratch about on. There’s no denying the excitement that the deep, white covering brought the rest of our animal household – and us – on Sunday morning. The two chocolate Labs were scurrying about, chasing each other and regularly crash landing as if they were pups (actually nine years old now), Darcy the German Shepherd was equally scatty and Beau the Bengal, highly strung as ever, couldn’t make head nor tail of this cold layer on the lawn which he couldn’t help but sink into. But for the chickens, it was all rather miserable. They looked utterly bewildered, as if their whole world had disappeared.
And I suppose as far as they knew, it had: completely covered – and is still – with a thick icing of snow. I did my best with a shovel and then a rake but to clear the whole area would have be a fully blown project and I didn’t have the spare couple of hours.
On a less wintry note and, looking forward to spring, I am very pleased to announce that Country Living Chick’s eggs made it onto the breakfast table on the cover of CL’s March issue – our Home Design Editor Ben borrowed a dozen for the special shoot in Sussex. Now I’ll be able to print labels for my boxes of eggs stating ‘As featured in Country Living!’. Fame for those faithful old layers at last!
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Something pretty spooky has happened on the egg front. My friend and old colleague, Lisa, who until recently was Country Living’s Features Editor, has been willing her Welsummer pullets to lay ever since she first bought them back in July. She’d kept chickens some years ago and so, after a time renting a place (which became known as ‘the single storey dwelling’) when she finally settled into her new Sussex home, she was keen to move a flock into the garden, too. It was a perfectly hatched plan: Lisa contacted a local breeder who raised three chicks to order. She bought a coop from eBay and painted it a splendid neutral, Farrow & Ball-esque shade – no doubt an eggshell finish – which transformed it into a veritable poultry palace. In went the young Welsummers and then the awful truth suddenly dawned on her: there’d be no eggs till spring 2012, at least another six months. She willed them to lay in early autumn, but there was no hope, these girls knew they’d be able to sit it out with months of bed and board till they need to show willing. Lisa accepted the state of affairs and bought the odd box from me to keep her in fresh eggs over the winter.
Last Friday, I suddenly realised Valentine’s Day was just a matter if weeks away – the traditional date for hens coming back into lay – and so sent a message via Country Living’s Twitter account to Lisa aka Countrycommuter:
CountryLivingUK Tweeted on 27 January, 7.24am: @countrycommuter Have your lovely Welsummers started laying yet? The wait for those fresh eggs can’t be much longer now
Oddly, the following appeared shortly after:
Lisa, countrycommuter Tweeted on 27 January, 7.56am: @countrylivinguk That is bizarre – I have just tweeted a pic of the very thing!?! Did you feel it in your bones, like true countrywomen?
I was delighted but also spooked by the timing. If only I could will my own little Araucanas to lay with the same effectiveness. The hybrids are doing a splendid job and I’ve a dozen to sell today, but I want one of those pretty pastel-coloured eggs with the big yolks to poach and enjoy in a toasted muffin this weekend – come on you blues!