Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tracking the Eggs of the Famous Houdini Hens

If you live in the Ashland City area and would like to order eggs laid by our 'Can't Fence Me In' Houdini Hens, make a comment below as to how many dozen you would like and your preference for day and time. I can deliver eggs weekly, either morning, afternoon or evening.

Chickens are relatives of jungle dwelling birds. No, really. They don't fly much. It's more like semi-controlled falling or jumping. But that's because most domestic chickens weigh a bit too much to fly. Of course, in our modern agroindustry, most chickens don't even get a chance to spred those wings to find out how much they can fly. They prefer moderately warm temperatures. Think California. Chickens also tend to be home-bodies. They like to nest in the same place night after night. Being able to jump, however clumsily, up the limbs of a tree protects them from predators.

Staying in the same place every night doesn't seem like the greatest predator protection. For predator fooling tricks, we have to look at a hen's nesting habits. She prefers a secluded area. She will wallow out a shallow depression and scratch the ground up causing bits of grass, feathers and other stuff to form a sort of nest. Typically hens will look for places to nest that are screened by vegetation. This provides a cover of sorts from predators. A hen's nesting profile is very low and its coloration will blend in with the vegetation, no matter what colors are involved. Once the egg is laid, the hen will move off the nest and strut away from the nest making the characteristic chicken sound: Bowck Ba boc boc bawk or something similiar. (It is hard to translate chicken into English and each one sounds a little different) She is deliberately leading any predators that may be thinking of eating a nice chicken or eggs away from the nest. The attention will be focused on her at that moment.

Roosters have an important role to play here. They spend most of their time watching for predators and potential food sources. I have many times seen George, our Bantam rooster, find a spot of food on the ground, investigate it, and make a certain type of cackle until hens come over to eat what he has found. George is also fairly protective of his s and will attack anything that looks like it's getting near and shoulodn't be. The dogs definately leave him alone.

Now for the Houdini part. Our hens like to slip through any hole that doesn't look near big enough for them to get through and find those secluded little spots to lay their eggs. They have some very nice nesting boxes made from plastic planters and lined with straw, but I think they are a bit too exposed for the birds' liking. So out they slip, while I figure out what size hole is just too dang small for them and where to put the nesting boxes this time. One small wrinkle is when I collect the eggs in their little hideaways, the hideaways move. I get to figure out what other places are also inviting. If I am lucky I will come around when the hen is strutting and I can easily figure out where the nest is, this time.

The hens seem to prefer shallow depressions in the dirt surrounded by vegetation. I am trying a new experiment with the nesting boxes. Since straw and hay are in short supply this year, I am using some of the dry rotted wood mulch mixed with leaves as bedding in the boxes. Now all I need to do is move them to a more secluded spot. I will look for a spot near some mounds of grass and place woody stems and small branches around and on top of the nesting bozes and see how that works. I also have a few more escape holes to cover up on the fence. The idea here is to make the nesting boxes as close to the natural setting as possible.

If you have chickens, you know the egg count fluctuates from day to day and season to season. Check to see if you have some Houdini Hens if the count is off for a couple days. When you find their nest(s), it will surely be loaded with eggs. These are not the eggs I sell or eat for that matter. I grab the ones that are laid in the proper places, one of our six nesting boxes. I check for eggs three times a day because each hen has their own optimal laying time. Some like to lay early and some like to lay just before they tuck in for the night.
Feel free to comment by clicking on the comment link above. I want to see what you have to say.