Tweets and clucks

This week, I was reminded of the usefulness of Twitter. After last Friday’s blog, CL’s editorial assistant – and social media guru – Caroline consulted fellow users about miniature eggs on my behalf:

@countrylivinguk: Features editor @CLchick’s hens contend ‘World’s Smallest Egg’ title. Can anyone top their offering?

This was then kindly retweeted by @HenCorner’s Sara Ward, based in West London, through which I virtually met Shropshire-based writer and chicken breeder Andy Cathray (@chickenstreet) who advised that a miniature egg is called a witch or cock egg. My favourite name for such tiddlers, however, is a fairy egg, which came from Lancashire’s @homefarmer who’d had two delivered that very week. It was great to connect with hen enthusiasts across the country and it made me realise how neglectful of Twitter I’ve been.
From Tweets to the clucks of happy hens; over the past few balmy days, it’s been a pleasure to watch the hybrid flock scratching about in the scrubby bit of land by their run, while Audrey and Mabel have enjoyed free-ranging among the daffodils, obliging to pose for the occasional picture.

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I’m still to settle on what breed of hen their future companions will be – we’d like another pair to share their run – but in the meantime we’ve been in touch with a Somerset-based farmer of rare-breed Ixworth chickens who can send us some fertile eggs around June time. The beauty of these ‘utility’ birds (meaning good for laying and eating) is that if the chicks all turn out to be cockerels, James will simply rear them for meat – any pullets will be a bonus and will be kept for eggs. We look forward to receiving a clutch in the post!

PS The campaign group 38 degrees has set up a petition calling for an immediate ban of neonicotinoids and a reduction in the use of pesticides on bee-pollinated crops, to be sent to Secretary of State for Environment Owen Paterson. To sign it, click here

Micro eggs

We’ve had some whoppers in our time, but not many true tiddlers. Yes, there are the beautiful bantam-size eggs from Mabel (containing the huge orange yolks) and the smaller-than-usual offerings from the hen-that-never-grew-up, but the diminutive one laid this week takes the prize for the (world’s?) smallest hen’s egg. If it had larger speckles, I would suspect a quail, which are apt to fly and could just feasibly have taken to our hen run and found the nesting box to lay.

Little and large (and medium in the middle!)
Little and large (and medium in the middle!)

This made me think, yet again, that a nestcam is the way forward (must get round to this one day). Then we’d be able to work out who’d laid this micro egg. It’s not even as if any of our chickens are young pullets, who do produce dainty offerings at first – they’re all at least two years old. We couldn’t resist cracking it open, too, of course, and knew James’ parents, being regular egg customers and fans of the flock, would be interested in witnessing the event, so took it round to do the deed.

It barely filled the middle of the saucer!
It barely filled the middle of the saucer!

The yolk wasn’t fully formed but it had an impressive inner and outer white. Does anyone know how and why such minuscule eggs are created? Or have you collected something similar from your nesting box?! We’d love to know.

Just a gratuitous picture of Audrey (left) and Mabel breakfasting
Just a gratuitous picture of Araucanas Audrey (left) and Mabel breakfasting

Hen party

Well…’party’ might be stretching it a bit, but last Saturday evening, after a busy day of housework and errands, James and I were in need of some downtime so headed off to the chicken run, G&T and beer in hand, to chill out with the gang. The beauty of these long, light evenings is that whether we’re downing the DIY tools or returning home from a day out, there’s still the chance to have some quality poultry time.

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The Botanist, a gin made on the Isle of Islay, is featured in the May issue of Country Living (on sale now!) and makes an amazing G&T (which I’ve discovered is lovely with a slice of orange in addition to the regulation lemon)

Despite the fact the sun was setting (making silhouettes out of the willow trees that grow by the River Blackwater at the end of our garden) as we made our way down the lawn, the hens were still out and about…

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… And seemed fascinated by James’s glass of beer. We scattered some corn on the ground to give them a bedtime treat.

James and the the flock have a beer together
James and the the flock have a beer together

After half an hour or so in their company, watching them scratch about and entertain us, we felt suitably relaxed for an enjoyable Saturday night in.

The hens are on strike

After reaching the giddy heights of a dozen eggs from our 13-strong flock of hybrids several days running, we were almost taking it for granted that we and our small band of customers would have an abundant supply from now until autumn. Winter’s short days and freezing weather combine to result in a low yield – sometimes we collect just a couple of eggs a day during this time. There’s a gradual increase of activity come the last week of March and from then until October we can expect around 60 a week. And so, just a few days ago there were ten or 11 to collect. Last night, though, we had just five offerings in the nesting box. Is this a protest against the extreme cold they’re forced to work in despite it being April? One of those eggs was so freakishly big it wouldn’t fit in even the ‘Extra Large’ boxes in our extensive collection.

What a whopper! The giant egg dwarfs Mabel's pale khaki number
What a whopper! The giant egg dwarfs Mabel’s pale khaki number

I couldn’t resist cracking it open to see what was inside and, sure enough, it was a double yolker – the contents so voluminous I could have made an omelette with that single egg. Eggstraordinary.

The magnificent double-yolker
The magnificent double-yolker

As a result of our reduced supply, my regular Friday delivery to Chris in our art department comprises four eggs only.

Chris's slightly-smaller-than-usual order
Chris’s slightly-smaller-than-usual order

Lets hope he’s not too disappointed. Is anyone else experiencing low yields due to the cold weather ?