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Natural Perspectives: These hens are just clucking around

December 14, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • Lou's hens have gone on vacation from egg laying. They spend their days eating, loafing, and taking dust baths, not working. Shown here are Miss Hillary, left, and Chicken Little, right. Henrietta is hiding behind Chicken Little.
Lou's hens have gone on vacation from egg laying.… (Lou Murray, HB Independent )

Vic and I have three chickens but no eggs.

Our hens quit laying in late October this year. I've actually had to buy eggs from the store, three dozen so far. The store-bought eggs pale in comparison to our home-grown eggs in flavor, color, and freshness.

Part of the problem is that egg production slows down in winter. Another part is that all three of our hens went into molt at about the same time this year. When they are busy losing their feathers and growing new ones, they don't lay.

The last part of the problem is that two of our hens are almost middle-aged. They are nearly 3 years old, and their best laying years are behind them. If they lived at an egg factory, they would have been turned into soup by now.

Last year, we got only a dozen eggs in November and another dozen in December. It wasn't much, but Vic and I just adjusted our consumption and got by with what the hens were producing.

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Henny Penny was a year older than the other two hens and had already stopped laying. Henrietta, our black Australorp, was molting and not laying either.

The job of keeping us in eggs November and December fell entirely upon the able shoulders (do chickens have shoulders?) or drumsticks or whatever of Chicken Little. By the time Chicken Little went into molt, Henrietta had resumed laying.

It all worked out.

Egg production reaches a maximum in spring. Our peak egg production was in March and April of 2010 when all three of our hens were younger and laying. We got an amazing 67 eggs in each of those two months. We were giving eggs away to our neighbors.

Ah, those were the days. Since spring of last year, it's all been downhill.

The late Henny Penny was never a very good layer. We didn't miss her when she went to the great chicken coop on high, because she hadn't given us any eggs for months prior to her demise. A real farmer would have relegated her to the stewpot, but we let her enjoy a comfortable retirement.

We have never set a limit on the amount of vacation time that our hens may take. We assume that any lull in laying is merely a vacation and that eventually they will lay more eggs. With Henny Penny, her vacation turned out to be full-fledged retirement as she never resumed laying.

Our latest acquisition, Miss Hillary, is a barred Plymouth Rock hen that hatched in January this year. She laid two eggs for us when we first got her in October, but hasn't laid one since. What a loafer.

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