Friday, September 23, 2005

It's A Plot, I Tell Ya...

In their ongoing quest to brood and hatch a clutch of eggs, my hens have started laying away again. 'Laying away' means creating little sneaky nests anywhere BUT the lovely nest boxes that J. made especially-special for them. They do this juuuust infrequently enough so that we forget about it, until we realize that for the last few days our egg production has dropped by half.

Then it's off to play Off Season Easter Egg Hunt. Usually it's the banties that pull this stunt, who, if you ask the man that owns one; will tell you are wicked clever little snots. Favorite hidden nest spots of the past (not counting eggs laid in the house) include: an old wheelbarrow full of potting soil and large gravel that I was going to use as a planter--eggs laid DIRECTLY on the stones, in a trash can, in a long redwood planter, on top of the folding table and my personal favorite: suspended in air in the branches of the sage bush in the herb garden. That was a good one, we didn't find THAT little treasure trove for nearly two weeks. Silly us, we were looking UNDER the bush...

Usually when a hen is going to lay an egg, the entire neighborhood hears about it in advance for some 20 minutes. Loud, anxious cackling along with a desperate hunt for THE PERFECT SOMEPLACE TO LAY THIS EGG TO END ALL EGGS. She is accompianied by the rooster, who will follow her around crawling into lovely dark hidey-holes, burbling charmingly and suggestively, trying to sell her on HIS special nest. After several long minutes of this nonsense, including loud, repeated requests to be allowed in the house to lay the egg there (NO thank you, I fell for THAT one before), she finally settles on the same spot she always lays her eggs. It's when she gets quiet that she's actually laying the egg, followed by another round of explosive, joyful cackling which all the other hens take up, too. A hen will lay an average of 6 eggs a week, or an egg every other day. Say you've got 10 hens. Each one cackles for herself AND all the others for every freakin' egg. Now you know why farmers drive tractors. It's so they can get a few minutes of QUIET.

Currently we have six hens that have gone broody--that is, they've Gone Over To The Dark Side. Suddenly the sweetest, gentlest little hen morphs into Godzilla. She stays on the nest all day in a trance. She will come off the nest once or twice a day to eat, drink, and poop massively and with a grand stink. The other chickens run for the other side of the yard when a broody comes off the nest and stomps, clucking loudly and angrily, across the yard. It's chicken PMS From Beyond Hell. God help you if you stick your hand near her to roust her off the nest or, most heinous crime of all, take her eggs. Loud, chicken-y death shrieks, fluffing up and bloodletting (yours) follow quickly. Most heartbreaking of all is the nearly human shrieks from the hens that sound JUST like they are sobbing, "Nooooo!" as you remove the eggs from under them. We are heartless, murderous fiends to take their unborn and yes, we feel lower than dirt and apologize.

So lucky us, we've got SIX of these right now. Since we don't want more chicks, we have to both take their eggs each day (the other chickens gleefully find a broody hen and climb in with her to lay their eggs) AND roust them off their nests and into the safety of the coop each night. Some of the broods have formed Survivor-ish alliances and sit together in one nest. That's better, that way no matter HOW you stick your hand in there you're gonna get bit.

Little snots...

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