Hens sit for quite a long time in the nesting box, before, during, and, in some cases, after. I say “some cases”, because some breeds tend more toward “broodiness”, the very-natural compulsion to hatch and raise chicks. But a broody hen is not a laying hen. She sits on the eggs. She hatches the eggs. She does not lay the eggs.
Humankind wants its hens to lay eggs, as frequently as possible, as large as possible, and without interruption. No stopping for winter, molting, or raising babies. Until we want babies, of course.
In addition to giving them artificial light in winter to keep the engines humming, humankind has also developed breeds for maximum egg production. They pump out larger eggs, in greater numbers, sooner. My “Production” Red, Haley, is a prime example of this. I never check under Haley when she’d nesting to see if she’s done laying and is just hanging out on her egg. Production girls do not “hang”. They lay and they get out. Without sentiment. They are career girls. They do not want a family.
(Someone really should tell Hermione. Still nothing. Production, my ass.)
Then, there are Buff Orpingtons. If I had never read that Orpingtons tend to broodiness, I could have told you. No one hangs out in the nest like Trixie and Buffy. Buffy, in particular, can hang out on a freshly-laid egg (hers or someone else’s) for an hour or more. And Trixie and Buffy are the two of my hens fondest of the chicken butt handshake. Hmmm…
There are breeds that are known to be rampantly broody, but I just can’t bring myself to have a chicken who looks like this:
All this to say, it can be tricky to catch a hen while she is in the actual action of laying. I have done it a few times, and, having caught three eggs (two Abby, one Coraline), am feeling a bit of an expert on the subject. So, here’s how one catches an egg.
First, be there. I know, I know. It’s not so easy to pick the right minute to be there. But here’s how you’ll know if you’re there at that right minute:
The hen will stand up.
I was not prepared for this. They never tell you this. The hen stands when the moment of truth arrives (“Get that, would you, Deirdre?”), and stands stock still, a glazed look on her face. You might almost think she was completely relaxed.
But, if you were to put your hand around her, under her bloomers, and very gently feel her vent, you’d feel the large end of the egg beginning to emerge. (Large end first. Thanks for that, Mother Nature. You suck.) The hen won’t move; she’s in the zone.
Now…you wait. Lower your hand so it hangs in the air between the hen’s rump and the floor of the nest, and wait. It shouldn’t take long, less than a minute. You’ll see the hen’s expression soften a bit (as the biggest part of the egg passes), you may even hear her let out a soft cry, halfway between a grunt and a sigh.
And then you’ll feel it in your hand. It will be warm, the temperature of the hen’s body (110F, they tell me), and wet. The wetness comes from the last stop in the hen’s complex, nay, miraculous, assembly line, a layer called the bloom, which protects the contents of the eggs from bacteria passing through the porous shell. It dries in a matter of seconds.
The hen will continue to stand there for a bit, stunned, then will lie down to rest. I like to show them the egg in my hand before leaving, so they know where it’s gone. (“What the…? I could have sworn I just laid an egg! It must be here somewhere. I did not just dream that…”) It doesn’t pay to gaslight your hens.
Now, that’s what I call a fresh egg. From the chicken’s butt to your plate.