Saturday, May 20, 2017

Is it good or is it bad?

We have had hens since Harry's father passed away over 15 years ago when we took home his red shaver hens. As they have passed away we have added to them with other peoples 'cast offs' over the years. Currently we have two black and three small brown hens.

We shut them up at night to keep them safe and into the morning as that is when they tend to lay their eggs, but let then out to roam around the section during the day to scratch and eat what ever they want. Apart from popping over the neighbours fence to eat, their neighbours bread crusts (that she tosses over for them) they keep within our section. In fact they don't seem to even like going out to the road preferring to just jump the fence.

Although they have a perfectly good run and hutch with a nesting box they often prefer to lay the eggs somewhere else around the section where we can't find them.

Over the last few weeks there have been no eggs which meant I had to buy some for the first time in ages. Some of the hens look a little worse for wear. As they are molting a bit, we just presumed they were going through their break time. After awhile we thought it was add that none of them were laying and have been wondering about finding some more hens.

The other day Harry removed some of the netting around one of my flower gardens as I had put in some new plants earlier and wanted them to establish themselves a bit before the hens got in and scratched around. To our surprise there was a 'nest' fill of eggs, tucked right down the far end of the part that had been fenced off. (Who said hens were dumb)

There were 14 eggs of a couple of different colours and sizes so it wasn't just one hen using it!

We gathered them up being careful not to break any as if they were rotten the smell would have been awful. I cleaned them with a cloth as best I could and tried the float test. If you float an egg in a container of water it should sink or sit on the bottom.

If it floats or bobs up it is fill of gas and rotten. Here's an explanation:

When an egg starts to go "off" decomposition occurs. Decomposition gives off gases. As more of the egg decomposes, more of its mass is converted to gases. A gas bubble forms inside the egg so an older egg floats on its end. However, eggs are porous, so some of the gas escapes through the egg shell and is lost to the atmosphere. Although gases are light, they do have mass and affect the density of the egg. When enough gas is lost, the density of the egg is less than that of water and the egg floats.

Fortunately there was only 1 that floated although a couple sort of stood on end in the bottom of the bowl so I will bake with them and just break them into a saucer for a 'smell' test before actually using them!

But it was such a joy to find eggs which meant that they were still laying! Haven't found anymore since so they may have found a different spot.

It is not unusual for them to find places hidden away but we usually find them either because we see the hens coming out of their secret places and think "Hmmm what have you been doing in there?" or just come across the clutch of eggs while working around the garden. We notice that they like to considered themselves safe and hidden away so are usually against the walls of the house but under plants for protection above.

One spot that they seem to go back to even when we have found the eggs and cleared them out, is behind a clump of bulbs under a rose bush. It's a nice little warm protective spot against the house and to be honest is quite difficult to collect the eggs from. As I negotiate one rose branch another will stab my in the wrist. Not only do they use it for laying eggs but our cat will also pop in there for a rest, presumably because the feathers the hens lose over time make the nest comfortable. Or maybe its a handy spot to watch out for mice. And as I have said before there are a few different hens who use it as when we collect the eggs there are the nice big brown ones and the little skinny white ones.

Sometimes if there are no eggs being laid and there is a hen permanently sitting on the nest in the nesting box we will shut them away in our 'behavioural management box'. This is an old air vent cover that sits directly on the ground. There are vents at the side to let in air and a little light but basically the hens are shut in there with a large container of water for a few days for them to get over their need to 'sit'. Once let out they will normally go back to be a hen with a sense of freedom but if they go back to 'sitting' they get put in the box for another few days!

Don't get me wrong its not being cruel so don't go calling the SPCA. It's just to help them break the habit as there are no roosters in our flock to fertilize any eggs so there is no need for them to incubate any eggs.

Our hens are almost family.

In fact they are even known to come inside especially if it is nearly feeding time and Harry has got a bit late getting out to them. They seem to like routines so will let us know if we are late.

One even likes to get in and eat the cat biscuits if it can.
We have had to keep the back door closed because if it sees it open it makes a be-line for the door and in to peck at the cat bowl. Unfortunately it is not always in a hurry to go back out side when we find it so it has to be a gradual coax to leave so it's not frightened and so leave a little deposits on its way!