That’s my new term for henkeepers in winter: eggs are decidedly slim on the ground lately. This is mainly down to shorter days – hens get up when it becomes light and head back to the coop at dusk, so they’re active for fewer hours in autumn and winter. There are so few in the nesting boxes that Country Living‘s art editor Chris, my most regular customer hasn’t been supplied with his weekly half-dozen for a fortnight. And what I’m bringing in today is a collection of rather small offerings laid by our new pullets who are coming up with the, albeit minuscule, goods virtually every day.
The other hybrids have seriously reduced production, while the Araucanas led the way by shutting up shop back in September. Still, I’m grateful we’ll at least have a few eggs a week from the stoical flock. A newly henkeeping neighbour whose pure-breed chickens I looked after during the summer sent me the following text message yesterday:
‘My hens aren’t laying – even the Polish now isn’t!! Very strange! I bought them some tonic, hope it helps them! Susie’
When I replied, telling her not to worry, explaining it was perfectly normal and they’re likely not to lay until around mid-February, far from being disappointed about the lack of eggs for several months, she was hugely relieved, having thought they had an illness.
Another factor affecting henkeepers during shorter days is, during the working week, we open up the pop-hole in the morning and shut them up at night in total darkness, so only see the girls at the weekend. The morning and evening routines require a torch, of course, and it wasn’t until I visited the Cambridgeshire smallholders Country Living is running a series (from April 2013), that I realised the ultimate solution is one you wear on your head! Then your hands are free to collect eggs, fill up drinkers and put hoppers away. Ben, the man at the helm of this fantastic community farm, carries out all his morning and evening duties, from feeding the pigs to milking the goats, with one of these great little devices strapped to his wooly hat and I’m following suit. Simple pleasures, eh? Does anyone else have any tips for making henkeeping in the colder months that bit more comfortable?