I am getting a good supply of eggs from my hens at the moment. Today I collected five eggs, one egg for each hen. I also have two cockerels, which is one too many cockerels! However as my hens are completely free-range this isn’t causing too many difficulties. I gave up naming them a couple of years ago when I ended up with 30 chicks and they all grew up!! The cockerel is known as Finlay (and any descendants as Finlay Jnr). I just let my hens do whatever comes naturally to them, I do like fresh eggs but mainly I just enjoy watching the hens. In fact most of my eggs go to friends and neighbours or as part of a bartering system – eggs in exchange for fish for example!
All the chickens live in a solidly stone-built hen house a few yards from my back door. I leave the little “hen-flap” open for them to come and go as they please, with food and water always available in the henny-hoose. Unfortunately despite having a “des-res” to live in, the hens prefer to go off and hide in a dark corner to lay their eggs. This necessitates skulking around the byres and barns in search of eggs. I am often alerted by a loud squawking sound as a hen has laid an egg (well wouldn’t *you* squawk??!) so once I locate the hen I start searching around about. Another method is to shut the hens up overnight and then follow them when they are released in the morning! But once the hens realise someone is stealing their eggs they find a new location. Playing Hide and Seek with my hens is a regular pastime.
I try and collect the eggs regularly to dissuade any of the hens from going broody. The first year I allowed them to hatch chicks which was fun, but then they all started doing it, which is no problem if the chicks are female as it is easy to find new homes or expand the flock. But cockerels are more problematic (well they would be.....) and I tend to give these away to any takers – although I suspect the ones I give away do end up in the somebody’s cooking pot!
Having free-range hens is a bit of a challenge if you are a keen gardener as they love to scratch up the earth – especially freshly dug earth, and love to nip off the tops of shoots of young plants. However with various Heath-Robinson type contraptions most things can be protected till they grow big enough to survive the odd nip. And I just love the company of my hens when I am pottering around outdoors so I don’t mind them having the odd dust bath, or aiding in the thinning out of some of the vegetation!