At the beginning of the week, I was asking myself what in the world I would possibly have to write about by the time the end of the week rolled around. This time of year is characteristically uneventful around here, and don’t get me wrong – uneventful is definitely a good thing, but it makes for some pretty boring blog material. However, as the week marched on we had some random exciting things mixed in with the normal January monotony of kicking ice out of water troughs, doing animal chores, and preparing for the months to come.
We’ve been collecting anywhere from one to four eggs a day from our hens over the past few weeks, and we’ve been noticing more and more girls going in and out of the nesting boxes each day. This is a great improvement from the hens using the nesting boxes as their own personal outhouses during the past few months. With an increased interest in the nesting boxes, there has also been an increase in a very distinct sound: the egg song. If you’ve ever kept chickens or have lived in close proximity to someone who keeps chickens, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re new to chickens, you may be surprised to know that the hens are actually the loudest birds in the flock. Sure, roosters crow, but crowing is nothing compared to the loud screeching, squawking, and cackling sounds that make up the egg song. Hens are not afraid to sing you the song of their people at any given time on any given day. Just because their song is affectionately known as the egg song, do not be fooled. Hens don’t just sing after they’ve laid their own egg, they also sing when they have found someone else’s egg, when someone else is in their favorite nesting box, or they may even join in on one of their flock mates’ egg song. To make things even louder over here, we also have a young and goofy rooster named Bullwinkle that joins in on the hens’ egg songs.
There are a few theories as to why hens sing their egg songs. The first and most fun theory is that the hen is so proud of herself for laying an egg she just can’t help but broadcast her accomplishment to the rest of the flock and to the world. A second theory is that the egg song is a hen’s way of locating the rest of the flock after she is finished laying an egg. In natural flocks of chickens, the flock will constantly roam while foraging for food. When a hen goes off to lay an egg, she will be left by the rest of the flock for potentially up to an hour or more. When the hen is finished laying, she will call out to the rest of the flock to locate and rejoin them in all of her foraging glory. A third theory is that the hen sings her song to protect her nest. It sounds counterintuitive, but after a hen lays her egg and leaves the nest, she will start to sing her song. By moving away from the nest and making a lot of noise, the hen can theoretically distract potential predators from the nest itself in order to keep the egg safe. Because eggs represent a new generation in the flock, hens will go to great lengths (essentially sacrificing themselves) to protect their nest. Although we would love to believe that the first theory is correct, the latter two theories are likely the real explanation(s) as to why the egg song is sung loudly and proudly.
Since we’ve been hearing an upswing in the egg songs coming from our coop lately, we are hoping that we will start seeing more eggs soon. We were surprised to have a five-egg day on Wednesday, but it doesn’t really count because the fifth egg was a fart egg. Yes, you read that correctly: a fart egg. Also known as wind eggs, fairy eggs, or dwarf eggs, fart eggs are tiny eggs that are a result of a young hen’s first attempt at laying. Fart eggs are merely a glitch in the hen’s laying process and develop when a hen’s body starts to form an egg before the yolk is released into the oviduct. Fart eggs are a common occurrence in young hens, but can also be produced by older hens during times of stress or when the hen’s reproductive cycle is interrupted by things such as molting and decreased daylight. We have had our fair share of fart eggs from new layers, but in the current case, the fart egg was likely produced due to the stress of the cold weather or by a hen that is starting to lay eggs again after a long winter molt. Either way, a fart egg is always an exciting little anomaly to find in the nesting boxes.
The second exciting part of our week was that we actually got some snow in Eastern NC! We woke up Thursday to about an inch of beautiful snow blanketing the ground and all of the tree branches like a perfect winter wonderland. In true Eastern NC fashion, the snow was gone by the end of the day, but Doug and I were both lucky enough to enjoy it for a few minutes before heading off to work. We typically only get one or two snow falls each year, so this may have been it until next year. I guess we will just have to wait and see.
One final piece of excitement is that I was finally able to catch one of our leghorn hens that I have been trying to catch for weeks now. She is super flighty even in the coop at night, so she is virtually impossible to catch. Luckily, with the help of my mom distracting the chickens with treats, I was finally able to grab the little leghorn and take her inside for a spa day. We’ve been noticing lately that she’s had a lot of poop stuck to the feathers around her vent which can be a sign of impending vent gleet – a disruption in pH levels that leads to an infection of the chicken’s cloaca (the emptying place for a chicken’s digestive, urinary, and reproductive tract). Vent gleet can occur during times of stress and usually presents early on with large watery droppings that dry up and get pasted around the chicken’s vent. Although she was very displeased, I gave the flighty little leghorn a nice warm Epsom salt bath and cleaned her vent and surrounding feathers until there was no more paste. I also gave her some apple cider vinegar mixed with water and then towel dried her and released her back to the flock. Just a day in the life of a chicken keeper. We ended the week like usual by catching up on farm chores, cleaning the goat barn, cleaning out the chicken coop, dragging hoses, filling feeders and waterers, and finally enjoying a nice sunny day even though it was only in the low 40’s. We are heading into a new week today with constant rain and temperatures in the 30’s. The goats and Maya haven’t left the barn, but the chickens are still free ranging in the rain to their hearts’ content.
Until next time!