Not all the laying news is bad. Some of it is actually pretty funny.
Backstory: As you know, this is my first winter with chickens, and I am, ahem, winging it. As a result of a very mild and wet November/December, we still have plenty of forage for the girls, to which they have easy access. I am under no illusions that this situation will continue for very much longer. La merde blanche, she comes.
My hens are what’s known as “good foragers”. They leave the coop at first light, and they return only to lay (those who actually lay inside the coop), or when I coerce them back in there with treats at lockdown. They spend every moment they can outside, much of that time foraging for grass, bugs, worms, etc. This cuts way down on food costs, of course. (Except when you discover that you been unknowingly feeding an unknown rodent population late at night, but that’s another post.)
But what happens when there is no grass, when there are no bugs?
In preparation for the barren months which surely lay ahead, I took the advice of the experienced people at Backyard Chickens and bought two bales of alfalfa hay. Alfalfa is very nutritious, with reports of increasing both egg production and depth of colour in the yolks. I leaned the two bales vertically in this corner inside the coop (pic taken before The Occupation):
The alfalfa would fulfill three important functions: food (the hens would eat the flowers), bedding (the straw makes great bedding, with a lovely green tea fragrance), and entertainment (the girls get to decide which is which), most important on those stormy days ahead when the girls might be coop-bound all day, or for many days.
They wasted no time getting into the alfalfa, bypassing the normal freakout period required when anything new is added to their environment. (You should have seen them shriek in terror when I added pine shavings to the coop floor on top of the sand, even though they’d all had the exact same shavings in their nesting boxes for months.) They not only began eating it and tearing it apart, but also perching on it. Chicken Law #5: Higher is better.
Success! (And the yolks have been quite a deep orange lately, I must say.)
Fast forward to two days ago: I had some yummies for the girls, and brought it to them to the usual place, outside the barn front doors. “Looklooklooklook!” They all came running, and I did the usual head count: “Two blonds, two reds, three whites, two blacks.” Wait…what?! A Barred Rock was missing. I saw a comb folded over to the right and a comb folded over to the left. Maisie was missing.
Not a problem; Maisie was due to lay and is a very dedicated layer who wouldn’t leave the nest for treats (I’m looking at you, Pip). I popped into the barn to look in The Annex, where I would surely find Maisie. Maisie lays in The Annex. She’s The Original Annex Girl, now that Hermione has moved on.
I began to feel a little dread. We’ve been so very lucky these past three months, since we lost Angelina, and there is a voice in my head that keeps saying “You’re due for a loss. You live in the country. You free range your chickens. It’s going to happen.”
I checked The Baby Box and Haley’s Hideaway. (Sorry, Hermione; use it or lose it.) Empty.
I walked up the hallway to the open coop door praying I’d see her at the feeder, but she clearly wasn’t there. It wasn’t until I came right up to the coop door entrance, that I caught something in the corner of my eye. And I just happened to have my camera on me.
Oh, MAISIE. Another nest? Really?!
I thought she might just be hanging out, but, upon closer inspection, it was clear that she’d made herself a round indentation in the alfalfa…the perfect nest. But would she actually lay there? Hens like close, confined, protected spaces in which to lay, so “they” say.
Clearly, Maisie has not yet read the manual. And neither has Haley, who laid there not an hour later. Chicken Law #12: Chicken see, chicken do.
So, yet another new nest is born. Ah, well. At least this one is inside the coop.