At the beginning of September last year, we decided to keep track of the number of eggs produced by our girls each week. This week we clicked over a year’s worth of data, so here are the results.
There were seven hens in the flock at the start, increasing to eight when Neroli was added in late March, although she only started to lay in August. This probably compensates for the overall aging of the flock – as hens get older they lay less. (Just don’t tell that to Bessie!) The only glitch is that there are a few eggs from the Peeble girls in March, just before they were sold.
The annual cycle of laying is pretty clear: maximum production in spring as the days get longer, and the chooks recover from moulting in autumn. The slight decline in summer was caused by hens going broody, or just taking a break from laying for a few weeks. (Heat is supposed to be another laying-reduction factor.)
The poor week in January (13 eggs) was a result of having Poppy and Ella broody, Venus and Lily sort-of off the lay and Bessie & Frida having early moults (although in retrospect Bessie was probably “shedding” rather than moulting). Things recovered rapidly when Poppy & Ella got back into the groove soon after, only to drop again in late February (Poppy broody again, and others laying erratically). The temporary boost in March was due to the Peeble girls starting to lay.
The decline into winter (shortening days) bottomed out in May – three consecutive weeks of just three eggs, with only Bessie laying. Everyone else was in various states of moulting, or in post-moult recovery. We feared that purchasing eggs would be necessary, but strict rationing got us through :-)
Since then hens have gradually come back into lay, until last week when we had eggs from everyone except Bessie (who, having seen us safely through late autumn, decided on a late moult once a few other girls were ready to take up the slack).
One of the valuable things about keeping hens (and other animals) and growing your own vegetables is the awareness you get of the yearly cycle of productivity: surplus and scarcity. You experience (if somewhat trivially, with a supermarket just down the road) the same concerns about food supply through winter (or dry season, etc) as our ancestors did, and that people in many countries still do. It’s a connection to the world and to ‘reality’ that we are otherwise insulated from in modern western society. The moulting-season egg-shortage really did a good job of reminding us just how spoilt our girls make us, and there’s nothing like a fridge full of overflowing egg cartons to make you feel rich.
Here endeth the philosophical musing – this was meant to be a science page!