School Story Time

I had a wonderful time at the Willington Center Elementary School in Connecticut yesterday. Three delightful and amazingly well-behaved kindergarten classes greeted me in their library. I read Tillie Lays an Egg. I talked about chickens. Did you know that people take baths in a bathtub with water and soap but that chickens take baths in the dirt? The kids loved that. They also were fascinated to hear that chickens like the color red, and that they like eating leftover cooked spaghetti! 

We also talked about writing stories. Using the last photo in Tillie – the one where she’s in the pickup truck – I asked the kids where Tillie was off to next. To the fair to ride on the Ferris Wheel, perhaps? Some suggested the mall, others the beach. Maybe camping! I also asked them, if they had a flock of chickens, what names they would give them. Would they use people names, or perhaps the names of characters from favorite books? Of course, one boy suggested Captain Underpants : ) Or maybe words like “diamond” and “precious?” 

Some of the teachers were so inspired that they went right back to their classrooms and got their children writing right then.

I repeated the program for an equally wonderful group of first-graders. 

They’re doing something right at The Willington Center Elementary School.

Win a Book!

I have been thrilled to get emails from librarians telling me how much they love Tillie. My book is being used for story hours! HenCam is seen on library computer screens. People are talking about their favorite chickens (which is just the subject matter that I think librarians should be sharing with their public!)

Instead of a “chicken in every pot” I’d like to see Tillie Lays an Egg in every library. To that end, I’m going to donate a copy of Tillie to a library (school or public) of the winner’s choice. All you have to do to enter is email me. Write “contest” on the subject line. Anyone can enter – librarians, teachers, kids. You can only enter once, but each student from a classroom can enter the contest!

The contest closes on February 8th at midnight.

I’ll use one of those nifty random generators to select the winner.



Bunny architecture

You’ve probably been watching Candy napping in the coop, or sunbathing in her hutch. Perhaps you think that she sleeps as much as a cat! However, she’s been very busy in a part of the run that is just out of the camera’s view.

Candy has made this snow nest:

bunny in snow cave

And she has made this tunnel:

bunny in snow

Right now it’s the “road to nowhere.” It doesn’t lead to food. It doesn’t lead to a protective shelter. These constructions are how she plays in the snow; just like children build snow forts, Candy makes tunnels and nests. I imagine she’d like to make snowballs and have a mock battle with the hens.

Egg Laying in Winter

Early in the Fall the hens begin to molt. Like leaves falling, it’s not all at once, but little by little. Some start in August, some in October. The girls look scraggly. Then they grow in aptly-named “pin feathers” (which look like short porcupine quills). Finally, they fluff out, hopefully in time to have a nice feather coat for the winter cold. During the molt they stop laying; their energy goes into feather-making.

With winter, the daylight hours shorten and the temperatures drop. All of this triggers the “don’t lay!” button on the hens. Before there was heat and electricity, before there was cheap refrigerated transport to ship eggs, eggs were seasonal. I have brochures from the turn of the last century talking about how to make money on “winter eggs.”

Those of us with backyard hens, go from having an abundance of eggs to having a few precious ones a week. Sometime around December I buy a dozen eggs at the store. It feels wrong, but I do it.

This year, I’ve tried an experiment. I have a light on a timer in the big barn. Hens need 14 hours of light to lay. I’m giving them that with a 60 watt bulb. Instead of no eggs, I’m getting 1 or 2 a day from six hens. Better than none. The girls in the hencam barn, without the light, stopped laying entirely.

It looks like this outside:

snowy trees

but I know the tide has turned, because of this in the hencam barn today:

egg in nesting box

I think that it’s Lulu’s. But it might be from Marge.

I’m thankful, not only for the egg, but the optimism that this snowy, icy winter isn’t permanent.


It was -10 degrees Fahrenheit this morning (thats -23 Celsius!) The girls in the big barn are fine. The bunny isn’t fazed. But the party girls (the little white leghorns) looked cold. My husband hung a heat lamp. It’s causing quite a bit of consternation in the coop. Lulu, the adventuress, has no qualms about warming her head. It’s blocking their favorite nesting box, so Marge is looking into other accommodations, and is checking out the lower boxes. She’s fussing around in them as if they are totally new to the coop. Placid Buffy is taking a nap. Very little fazes her.

The heat lamp won’t stay. If it gets above zero, it’ll get taken out. I think it’s better to have their living areas one temp than to have a hot spot. But for now, the lamp will give the little girls just enough warmth to stay healthy.