Sunday, July 27, 2014
Chickens can be a bit frustrating at times. In the spring they flood us with eggs. More than we can use. We give them away to neighbors and friends, we feed them to the dogs, we eat a lot of quiche. Then, invariably, some of the hens go broody. This means they are feeling in a family way and want to nest. A broody hen plants herself in a nest box and does not budge. She goes into a trance-like state, only getting off the nest long enough to eat and drink once or twice a day. And when she is broody she does not lay eggs. So egg production dwindles and the egg supply dries up some. Hens remain broody for almost a month. Since I am not interested in having new chicks, I don't really like having broody hens and this whole process frustrates me. There are ways to "break a broody," but I generally just let them do their thing.
Once the broody phase has passed the hens do something else. They moult. This means they drop their old feathers, and grow pretty new ones. All of a sudden the coop and hen yard are full of feathers: little downy feathers, long wing feathers. Everywhere. My husband will look at a pile of them gathered by an errant breeze and ask, "Honey, did a chicken 'splode?" Some of the hens moult rather seamlessly...they may look a little scruffy, but not too far from normal. Others lose so many feathers at once that they look like abused things for days. They new feathers come in looking like porcupine quills, hard-shelled pointy things. Soon the sheath covering each feather dissolves and the birds begin to look more normal. This new growth takes a lot out of the birds, and they stop laying. I check the nest boxes each day, and feel disappointed to find few or no eggs at all.
Then there are the ducks.
They don't bother with nest boxes or brooding. Every morning when I open the sturdy door of their house they stampede out, raring to meet the day. Quacking, they run past me, flat feet slapping over the grass. They are gone for a day of foraging about the meadow. There in the shavings of their house I find eggs, scattered about with reckless abandon. 2, 3 or 4 eggs, every day, no matter what. I have to bend low to climb into their house and gather the eggs, and getting out calls for a graceless maneuver, but it is worth it for the prize of those huge treasures.
Duck eggs taste like... eggs. And they are terrific for baking, with huge yolks. They come in shades of ivory or blue, a nice change from the basic brown hens eggs. And they are so big they make the chicken eggs look rather insignificant in comparison. Sometimes I think I should put the chickens in a pot and just keep ducks. Maybe if I tell the birds of this plan they'll up production!