After a brutal winter with long weeks of short days, and single-digit temperatures, the hens are once again out and about, chowing down on the grass and sucking up all the worms. They’re racing across the lawn and along the edge of the woods, enjoying the freedom to spread their wings and wiggle their tail feathers with abandon.
The girls are laying eggs again after months of little or no activity, and these eggs are spectacular. The yolks sit tall and proud above the clear, compact whites, and they are so deep yellow that probably no one would challenge you if you chose to call them orange. That gorgeous orange-yellow color comes from all the polyphenols and beta-carotene (a precursor of Vitamin A) in the grass that they are eating with relish. I think they really missed the bugs, worms, and grass. Laying mash can get very boring, the equivalent, in my mind, of living on oatmeal or shredded wheat for months at a time.
The color of an eggshell has no relation to what’s inside, nutrition- or appearance-wise. All the egg shells are various colors of brown, from pink to pecan and everything in between. My old ladies, Nora and Dora, both black-and-white Hamburgs, are (for the most part) no longer laying their small angular cream-colored eggs, so they are simply enjoying their retirement.
I was ably assisted in my weekly coop cleaning duties this morning by a local young lady with a keen interest in the birds, and we had a terrific time. One of my hens, whom I call Quinn, lacks a comb, and there is a chance that she isn’t a chicken at all, but maybe a quail. She has limped since the day she arrived last spring as a chick, and has obviously had her share of challenges keeping up. Nevertheless, she has her place in the pecking order and, just like everyone else, enjoys all the benefits of being one of our girls. My insightful young visitor observed that Quinn is “a special needs chicken,” and that while she’ll never be “the alpha-hen,” she is friendly and engaging.
I taught my new visitor to clean out the old bedding, rinse and fill the watering container, dump the old straw in the compost, spread fresh straw in the laying boxes and across the coop floor, tie open the doors to keep the wind from whipping them closed, and secure the latch keys to keep from losing them. The hens were fascinated, and remained underfoot the entire time.
I reseated a number of the stepping stones out to the coop, and the girls were thrilled to discover dozens of worms beneath the stones as I lifted them out of the path and set them aside. I pruned a few low branches from a beautiful young pin oak in my front yard that’s grown literally from an acorn to now probably 10 feet tall (and counting), and I’ll be back out in the gardens this afternoon to fix garden fencing and start the weeding and spring cleaning. But first…an omelette with asparagus and mushrooms!
My young friend took home three eggs this morning, and she is looking forward to returning next week to share our ongoing adventures out back at the coop.