The “chicks” are just over six months old now, laying eggs regularly and yes, quite spoiled. We collect five or six eggs a day right now and no one has yet tired of having a turn to collect eggs. Having the egg box doors has been helpful as the girls see an open door to the coop as an invitation to free range, even when time doesn’t permit.
My daughter opened an egg box door one afternoon to find Sophia in the process of laying an egg. She immediately squawked to alert her to such a rude intrusion to her coveted privacy. I watched as my daughter closed the door, then opened it again moments later, finding an egg which she delightedly held up to show me, exclaiming, “fresh from the butt!”
Interestingly enough, we’ve had a few excessively large eggs now that contained more than one yolk. This can happen with young hens just beginning to lay. Those larger eggs are impressive though, one recently looking almost like a torpedo, causing one concern as to the aftermath of laying such a big egg! But from all I’ve read, it is common with young hens as they adapt to egg laying and of no concern.
The eggs are amazing! The yolks are a vibrant orange from all of the organic feed and greens of free ranging. The shells are hard and crack well. I provide them with oyster shells and their own pulverized egg shells to eat at will for added calcium in their diets. The calcium aids in hardening the shells. When I made my first cookie batter with our own eggs, I paused to consider why it looked so different and then realized it was because of the good eggs in the batter. Everything seems to taste better with our own fresh eggs.
The coop has already undergone an expansion and the girls now have a run that is more than double the original size. This came as their free ranging abilities diminished due to the increased surveillance of hawks, several swooping right into the backyard despite my presence and/ or that of our dog. While a hawk can’t easily carry off a full grown chicken, they will try, the effort frequently ending in decapitation, something I’d like to avoid. Our property borders a large expanse of woods where hawks reside so we need to coexist.
The girls and I were reveling in extended hours of free ranging, just as I’d always envisioned. However, with the threat of hawks, we’ve adapted to supervised free ranging only and many times, I have to call them into their run because of persistent hawks. As such, we decided to expand the run, giving them more area to scratch and peck and I’ve added a few things to keep them busy while their “cooped up.”
The construction was supervised by the girls who felt compelled to be a part of each step, never deterred by the looming presence of my husband as he stretched his tape measure from here to there, hammered extensively and extended hardware cloth. They carried on as usual, chatting with him and among themselves, even foraging underfoot so many times that I had to help distract them from the fresh soil options.
The expanded area of the run is not covered by a roof, just hardware cloth that is angled along with the roof line of the original run. As my husband worked on the extension, the girls loved investigating the freshly unearthed areas where the hardware cloth was to be buried to deter digging predators and explore the expanded area prior to it’s grand reopening, often shunning free range opportunities in the backyard, to explore the new areas.
Once the extension was constructed, the existing wall of hardware cloth was cut away. It was like letting kids into an amusement park. They raced one another to explore their new digs and as he continued to secure each nook and cranny from any potential marauders, they explored, frequently underfoot. All semblance of greenery was gone within a day. Eggs continued to be laid despite the hammering, yet a cascading autumn leaf frequently still sends them into orbit.
I’m delighted with the outcome, as are the girls. My husband and son surprised me by adding a giant swing into the new area to allow another perching option. They have several perches now: the swing which can easily accommodate four birds, the branches in the corner and the old playground ladder. When it’s wet outside, these make nice options and when snow falls, I suspect that they will become particularly handy. They like looking out over the fence and into the woods from these heights as I frequently look out to see them perched and looking out in that direction.
They are still adjusting to less free ranging and frequently fuss when not let out. They make themselves heard when they hear my voice, either from an open door or window or if they hear the screen door close. It’s hard to sneak out to do anything without letting them out.
In addition to the perches, I’ve added some things to keep them busy. With so many falling leaves, I’ve noted how much they love scratching through the leaves to find buried treasures so I charged my daughter with adding a thin layer of leaves into the run. This keeps them busy as they scratch through the leaves looking for buried treasures. I frequently sprinkle scratch, mealworms or hulled sunflower seeds out for them and the leaves keep them busy searching and working for these treats and the leaves break down quickly.
The other new thing I added late summer is a large suet container that I fill with greens and herbs. I bought the largest one available and I added a hook onto the wall to hold it in place. They enjoy pulling herbs and greens from this and it serves as a good boredom buster.
Garden foraging is still the number one preference and my girls do get time outside of their run every day, just not quite as much as they did before. They have begun helping me with my fall clean up chores in the garden and even line up at the garden gate entrance, seeking admission, however, I have now sowed many greens for fall and early winter, including a mix for them, so they have been excluded for the time being else they eat the tiny seedlings before I get a chance at fresh greens for my family.
One of the things I love about having chickens is the lack of food waste. While my compost pile is suffering a bit, the ability to feed extras and less than prime foods to the chickens instead of the trash or compost is a good feeling. I reuse many containers as well since I like to offer up extra oatmeal, yogurt or cottage cheese to them as treats. They practically knock each other over trying to get to the gems I bring out to them in these containers, particularly enjoying oatmeal with mashed bananas and raisins.
The cooler days are harboring lots of changes in temperature, scenery, and temperament as we transition into autumn. A recent call from my son to come see what he found in the woods, pulled me from my immediate scenery and into the less traveled traverses of our woods to revel in what I don’t see on a daily basis.
He told me he was exploring when he paused to consider where he wanted to go next. As he stood quietly considering his options, he heard the sound of leaves moving, but not from a deer or human. He looked down towards the small sound of movement to discover a turtle journeying through the woods.
This was a moment of pure joy for me as I paused to not just appreciate my surroundings but the blessing of being able to raise children where they see nature as it unfolds before them, recognizing the grandness of it all and how we fit into it, perhaps less magnanimously than we might believe. As well, it was a reminder to be present, slowing down to observe and process, and to be still so we hear and see what calls to us, not just rushing onto what’s next or what we think should be, sometimes veering onto different paths, seeing what’s right before us and appreciating the simplistic beauty of the miraculous natural world. Here’s to a happy fall filled with crunching leaves, breathtaking skies, colorful scenery and the presence to find peace in it all!
There is a harmony in autumn, a lustre in its sky. – Percy Bysshe Shelley