Friday, April 6, 2012

Oh Where Oh Where Did My Little Eggs Go?

For the last several months I've been making trips to the hen house to find there were no eggs. This wasn't a problem as sometimes all my hens take the day off. Considering the size of their eggs, they deserve a day off!. The problem is they don't quit laying for days at a time.  This "no eggs" situation was really frustrating me. I was hearing them cackle and then when I went to gather eggs there were none...no shells...nothing but an empty nest.  Where were all my eggs?



Around here, animals that don't produce anything in exchange for the cost of feed soon get sent to "freezer camp."  My hens had laid a great deal of eggs in early Spring and were now playing "Punk the Chicken Lady" with all their empty cackling.  Either my hens were smarter then me, or something was taking their eggs. Since my mind will not accept the idea my hens have outsmarted me, I opted for the second option...we had an egg thief. Now, all I had to do was catch the culprit...whatever it was. This involved making a call to our local chicken guru Kathy.

My friend Kathy is a walking, talking, Mother Earth News poster child of Wikipedia type homestead information. If she doesn't have an answer, she KNOWS someone who does. I have called her with many questions over the years and she has never failed to amaze me with her agrarian wisdom and  half cracked sense of humor. I count her as one of my dearest friends and the best neighbor you could hope for. Who needs the internet when you have a neighbor like Kathy?

I called Kathy to see what revelation she would reveal about my missing eggs. What she told me was this: "Your hens are eatin' their eggs." What? My hens are doing what? EATING their OWN eggs? They can't be eating their eggs...there are no shells! Her reply," They eat it all Anita, you might find some yolk in the nest, but they eat it all." "You better nip this in the bud quick, 'cause they will teach the others to eat 'em too."

OK...pick my jaw up off the floor. My hens were eating their own eggs. This would explain why I still had all the wooden eggs in the nest but not the real eggs. Those spoiled hens had been sneaky egg eating cannibals for almost 2 months.  I should have called her a LOT sooner. My job now was to find the culprit hen(s), separate them from the flock, and keep them separate until they went to Camp Deep Freeze.

My plan of action was to make many trips a day to the chicken coop and try to get the eggs shortly after the hens laid them. Since a few of my hens cackle well ahead of laying an egg, I made a LOT of trips down only to come back empty handed. I was determined to beat those hens to the eggs. If anyone was gonna have eggs for breakfast it was me!

It took almost 2 weeks for me to finally catch them in the act. My hubby Brad, and I were home one morning when the culprits were caught with the evidence. From my kitchen window, I saw Huzzy Hen (she really is a huzzy, seriously)  run out of the coup with something white and shiny in her beak. Right after her came another hen with a shiny object in her beak. The chase was on in the chicken yard! The rest of the flock formed a posse  to chase them down and steal the tasty morsels  my outlaw hens they were showing off. I yelled for Brad to help me catch them before they ate all the evidence. We both took off to the coop to cull out the cannibals. YES! I WON! I was feeling a major "Attack of  the Happy Dance" coming over me. Eggs were back on the menu...along with chicken and dumplings...or so I thought.

When I ran into the coop to save the rest of the eggs, I discovered the nightmare Kathy had foretold. I had other hens eating eggs...4 to be exact. There were three hens crowded in the nest box with a 4th hen trying to squeeze her fat feathered butt in to get her share of raw egg. My spirit of victory flew out of me faster then Huzzy can catch a bug. I went from victorious to vicious just as fast. I started grabbing hens and catapulting them into the hen yard. Within seconds the coop was a filled with flying pine shavings and loud indignant squawking.

 To say I was upset was an understatement. My pin headed hens double crossed me! I was ready to wring their egg eating cannibalistic heads off. I spent good money feeding them the best feed, minerals, etc. and they are EATING MY EGGS! We had deal! I provide great scratch and they provide me with tasty eggs. Every birdie wins, right? The problem was I only have 12 hens. Six of them were caught with egg on their face...er, beak, literally. I would reduce my flock by half and then not be sure I had all of them. What if all my hens were eating eggs? I really didn't want to butcher them all if I could avoid it. How do I keep them out of the nest boxes when they aren't laying eggs?

In all that fracas I  managed to save one egg...and release my chickens. In my haste to save the eggs, I had left the coop door  wide open. Most of my hens were happily bug hunting in the tall grass on the outside of the coop. FINE! Just FINE!  They could just stay out all day...WHAT EVER! If the coyotes get them they had it coming. I left open the coop door and then opened the door to the chicken yard. Soon, all 14 chickens were happily bug hunting as I carried the lone survivor egg back to the house.



The flock did a major bug hunt all over the back yard the rest of the day. .It was a delight to watch them happily scratching and clucking, despite the fact half my hens were egg eating cannibals. When evening came, I only had to herd two hens back into the chicken yard. The rest had already gone in to roost. As usual, I did a feed, water and nest check before closing the outer door to the coop. To my surprise, I found 4 eggs in one nest! All four eggs were perfect with not a peck mark on any of them.

Now I was really confused...why were they laying and NOT eating the eggs? They were running all over the yard and still went back in to lay eggs...hmmm. Maybe they like more freedom and eating bugs then they do eggs? The only way to know for sure was to try it again and see what happens.

The next day after lunch, I released the flock to bug hunt. I left both doors open to make it easy for them to return to the nests.  I was not disappointed. They gave me eight eggs! Not bad for only 12 hens in their second day of "chicken recess." They must have found a bug banquet in the yard, as it only took two scoops of scratch grain to refill the feeder. Sweet..think this "recess" thing might be the answer to the problem!

So, it's now been  about a week and I am a happy Chicken Lady again. My girls are hunting bugs, laying eggs and I am get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I can now watch them enter the coop and listen for the "Cackleberry Song."  Once the hen leaves the nest, she hurries to join the rest of the flock happily dining at our all-you-can-eat "Back Yard Bug Buffet". Sweeeet. My hens are happy eating bugs, I am happy eating eggs and everyone wins...sort of.

You know how when you do one thing differently it can lead to to other changes? My hens have discovered the joy of scratching up my raised garden beds.Guess, I need to fence off the garden now. Oh well, just another day on the homestead...one egg at a time.

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