At just over 19 weeks, we have our first egg! I’m reasonably certain that it was laid by the Rhode Island Red, named Honey by my son for her coloring as a chick, but aptly named for her sweet contribution to our homestead and a gracious nod to our honey bees who pollinated much of the foods the chickens have been enjoying from my garden. I have had my eye on her for just over a week now as she submissively squats when I reach out to pat her, a sign that a hen is maturing and close to laying.
I changed the egg box arrangement a bit to allow for two laying options. One is a bin with a section cut out for egg laying, making clean up easier for me. The other is simply straw and bedding. I sprinkle lots of herbs in the coop to keep it smelling fresh and enticing (lavender, lemon balm, anise hyssop, tarragon and thymes). A friend who recently visited and held one of my chickens commented on how good they smell. This was a huge compliment that she probably didn’t even realize she gave me as I’ve been conscientious about not having a foul smelling coop out back.
I had kept bins turned upside down in the nesting box area since the girls moved in to keep them from using it for anything other than as a nesting box. A few weeks ago, I turned over the boxes, added bedding and plastic eggs to designate the area for egg laying. There are many options that can be used to help guide them to where to lay eggs and keep them from laying all over the yard and their run, etc. I know people who used wooden or ceramic eggs and another that used golf balls to encourage hens to lay in nesting boxes. I have a lot of plastic Easter eggs so I just put one in each section, hoping to steer them in this direction. We’ll see.
Initially there was absolutely no interest in the nesting box area and it remained pristine for weeks. Last week though, one of the bins was overturned twice suggesting some exploration of the area. I cut out an area in one of the bins to make access easier and removed the other two bins to provide the second option I described above.
Yesterday, I took my family to South Mountain Creamery to visit the newborn calves and feed them. We have been gratefully receiving our milk deliveries in glass bottles, along with many other delicious dairy products, from them for many years. I wanted to take the children to see the cows first hand to connect the dots, if you will, helping them to see what we discuss. It is important to me that my children understand where their food comes from and some of those conversations can be difficult, but I find them to be important to garner appreciation and respect for where our foods come from which is also why I garden and raise bees. The chickens entered that conversation on the ride home, but what I hadn’t planned on was the discovery of the first egg upon our return, almost as if on cue.
Now the girls free range a fair amount, mostly early in the morning and again in the evening, with intermittent outings during the day as time permits, so they tend to announce themselves whenever they hear my voice, letting me know that yes, they would in fact, like to roam about.
When we got home yesterday, I was working outside of our garage and I could hear them chattering, suspecting they wanted to be let out, but I wasn’t quite ready yet. A neighbor stopped by and as I spoke to her, I could hear them talking to me and thought they sure did want to come out, despite it being close to dusk when they usually retire inside their coop.
When I finally walked out back to see them, they were clacking and gabbling, seemingly quite anxious to get out, so I wondered about the fuss…. Before letting them out, I walked around to the coop door and looked inside, talking to them all the while. I immediately noticed that someone had bedded down in the straw and kicked the plastic egg off, but alas, there was no egg. I couldn’t let it go though, as they were so animated in their jabbering, remaining in the coop despite knowing that I had opened the coop door. So I walked around to the egg box door, opening the one by the bedded down area. I read that first eggs tend to be smaller and sometimes, quite small, so maybe I couldn’t see it from my angle, but it was still empty.
I decided that they just wanted out a bit and went to the run door. I opened the door to let them out, their squabbling even more rambunctious now that I acknowledged their request. And there it was! I was astounded to see an egg lying on the ground of the run. They spilled out of the run as I couldn’t contain my excitement and yelled to my family, “We have an egg! The first egg!” I felt like a kid racing in the house to announce this long awaited news. I was down right giddy with excitement.
The first egg is relatively small but a good size and well shaped. I found Honey and asked her if it was her work, suspecting as much and she squatted down for a pat, reaffirming my suspicions. It will be interesting to see where the next egg gets laid and to now watch as each girl begins to lay. It’s still on the early side, so it may be a while before the others produce eggs, but they have a mentor among them and she’s as personable as they come. Honey is very social, quite curious and an all around gem of a chicken. She likes to go where I go and investigate what I’m doing.
I find that each of these chickens has an individual personality and I can almost guess who will react to something new first, and how. For Lulu, the Columbian Wyandotte, the sky is always falling and she is a high strung panicker. Leaves slowly cascading down from trees onto the lawn send her into a tizzy, little chickadees landing at the feeder merit running for cover and an outstretched hand absent food is viewed as quite concerning. Honey, the Rhode Island Red, and Sophia, the barred Plymouth Rock, are usually the first to try something, both very curious and bold. Ethel, the Silver Laced Wyandotte, is a leader and likes to reign everyone in when they wander too far. Isabella, the Easter Egger, is just as delicate and poised as her name suggests. While Bumble, the Buff Orpington, used to like being handled, we may have reached for her a time too many, and she now avoids the kids, but when I do pick her up, she is fine after an initial squawk of protest for removing her from her important business of browsing the yard.
The run receives a good amount of morning sun. If the girls are free ranging, then they roam and rest in shaded nooks under bushes and trees, even behind the coop, under the storage area.
On particularly hot and humid days, I noticed that they tend to go inside the coop in the mornings when they aren’t out because the sun is so strong. This sun will be good for them in the cooler months but in August, it’s a bit much so we now hang a tarp in the corner of the run to keep their water cool and offer some protection from the sun.
The children have checked on the girls frequently today, seeking another egg since it’s all so new and exciting, allowing little privacy for such a personal event. This is a time for learning for the hens too and it may not be today as it takes a great deal of energy to lay an egg and the kinks need to be ironed out. I’m interested to see where the next one gets laid and I’m delighted to share this with my children as we continue to learn about and appreciate our valuable food sources.
This morning, as I enjoyed my morning coffee with fresh cream from the dairy we visited yesterday, my girls came up to the patio, per their routine for some cool water in a dish, visiting with me. I was filled with gratitude for this opportunity to raise chickens, and bees, and vegetables and flowers in my little backyard homestead. I felt filled with appreciation for the milk products my family has been enjoying for years from our local dairy and gratified that I no longer need to purchase eggs from them or local friends as I will now have our own. And I felt blessed to be able to share it all with my family and friends.
Two roads diverged in a wood and I-
I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost