When I tell people I have chickens, their reaction is usually something along the lines of “I’d love to have chickens! It must be so lovely to have them clucking round the garden and get all those delicious eggs”. It is of course lovely having chickens, but they also take a certain amount of work and commitment, especially in the winter.
Last night, it went down to -6°C here and it’s barely crept up this morning. The water in the chickens’ drinker froze solid overnight, so it’s now standing in a sink full of hot water to thaw it out before I refill it. I’ve let the hens out of their coop but they’re really not impressed at the rock hard ground. Unlike my cats, who are all curled up indoors next to the woodburner, they’re tough little things but their instinct is to scratch and peck, difficult when the ground is frozen. I’m going to cook them up a pot of vegetable peelings and scraps later to cheer them up.
The other problem in the winter is that egg production drops. Dottie and Doris in the picture are hybrids and are the only ones out of the six currently laying. Hybrids like these were bred for more commercial egg production and lay almost every single day, gradually reducing after the first year. Because of this, commercial producers usually replace their hens after a year because their margins are so tight, any reduction in production means that they’re not viable.
The other four are rare breeds; they lay fewer eggs over the year, especially in winter, but live and lay for longer. They’re also a year older than the hybrids. One by one, they stopped laying during their autumn moult and because of their age, I don’t expect them to start laying again until the days get longer in March.
We’re still getting about 10 eggs a week from the other two. That’s plenty for us, we just eat fewer omelettes in winter. I had to forgo a couple of breakfast poached eggs when I made my Christmas cakes and puddings the other week, but that’s all part of living and eating seasonally.