Empty nesters

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 new hybrids are plugging the gap with their tiny pullet eggs

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.

Chris’s box of eggs – the pullets’ eggs are admittedly small but they’re also a lovely dark-brown colour

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?

4 thoughts on “Empty nesters

  1. In the winter I put a thick layer of Sawdust & chopped straw on the floor of the coop, they all love to snuggle down in this bed. Each day I pick out the droppings & any wet patches, putting a bit more straw in to replace what I’ve taken out. Once a month I completely clean out & disinfect the whole coop, they dont seem to eat their bedding & I dont do this when red mite is around in the warmer months. They also have an old set of x-mas lights, on a timer, around the pen so I can see what I’m doing in the evenings.
    To help with the noise of the fireworks I was told to mix lavender in their bed ( I’ve put seed in but am sure you could use essential oil aswell). Rosie has to inspect after I done this & makes a funny clucking noise to show her approval. Haven’t got a clue if any of this helps but all my girls seem happy with their lot & are still laying.

    1. Hey there!

      Thanks for passing on your fantastic ideas – the Christmas lights tip is brilliant! And a nice idea to mix in lavender with the bedding – the henkeeper who writes a column for Country Living recommends lavender for the coop, too, to soothe the girls.

      I might take a leaf out of your book and deep-litter the under-cover run – it would give them somewhere cosy to spend time during the day when it’s tipping down – like today!

      Happy henkeeping,


  2. Since the clocks went back I haven’t seen my hens during the week, as they’re in bed by the time I get home. I really miss them! (we share hens with our neighbours so have a week on/week off looking after them.) But we’re still getting between five and eight eggs a day from eight hens.

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