The Gems (so-called because I named them all after pretty rocks) hatched on April 24. They are now 19 weeks old. They are old enough to start laying eggs.
My ten old girls (those in the HenCam coop) provide only one or two eggs a day. Mostly, it’s Betsy and a Polish laying. These are tiny eggs. Not enough to make a custard with. I’m hankering for custard.
Some breeds lay at 18 weeks, some not until 22. If your chicks hatched late spring or summer, they’ll be affected by the shorter daylight hours of fall and winter, and won’t lay until February or March. But my Gems are ready. I’m ready. Right now I’d rather have a dark-brown egg from my Welsummer Jasper than a golden egg.
Steve hung the nesting boxes last week. I waited to install them in the barn because the Gems first needed to learn how to roost. Given a choice, a pullet will chose a nesting box over a roosting bar, but you don’t want her sleeping and pooping in there, dirtying eggs and the bottoms of the hens who do use the boxes for laying. Once your pullets’ bedtime routine is established, but before they begin to lay, is the time to introduce the boxes.
I like metal nesting boxes because wooden ones can harbor mites. These boxes have removable bottoms for ease of cleaning and a bar in the front so the girls can hop up and look in. Incredibly, right when I was about to go on-line and buy nesting boxes, I won these on a giveaway from a blog I’ve been following for quite sometime! Pam is a farm woman in Georgia and her talented husband, called Farm Man crafts all sorts of things, from boats to soap molds. He builds these boxes and sells them on-line. As a general rule, you need one box for every five hens, so the girls could use another. I have too many nesting boxes in the HenCam barn, so I might move one over.
Chickens innately want to lay in a safe, semi-dark place. But their idea of a good place is not necessarily yours! If they’re free-ranging, they’ll find a nook in a stone wall or a hiding place under a bush. So, when your girls begin to lay you might want to keep them from wandering. Keep them near the coop and install inviting nesting boxes. Attach the boxes about a foot off the ground (although they can be higher if they’re near a roost so they’re easy to access.) A chicken might be surprised the first time or two an egg comes out. It’s not unusual to find an egg on the floor. But soon enough, the hen will want to find a nest to lay in. They especially like to lay where there are already eggs. That’s why I’ve put a wooden egg in each of the nesting boxes. Chickens are quite gullible.
Sadly, there is one Gem that won’t be laying eggs. One of the cochins in the chick order was weak from the start. She was half the size of the others and walked with a stiff gait, as if her feet or joints hurt, though an external examination showed nothing wrong. I named her Little Blue Sapphire. Her feathers were a gorgeous slate grey. She ate. She grew. But she never looked comfortable. She’d walk a few steps and sit down. I didn’t become too attached. A hen that’s not vigorous has something very wrong with her. Two days ago her legs were no longer able to hold her up, and yesterday they stopped working. Little Blue couldn’t even bend them under herself to sit up. Steve euthanized her. It was the right thing to do.
I know that I have new readers because of the Country Living Magazine contest. I could have left this news out. Writing about death is not a way to win votes. But, this is not one of those “cute animal of the day” blogs. When you have chickens, you have losses. And yet the experience, the whole of it, is worth it. I’ve heard from many of you who have told me that watching the HenCam and reading about my animals is what you turn to when you need some sanity in your workday. Some of you have been with me for years and have seen real heartbreak, and yet stay with me because the life going on here in my backyard is joyful. Chickens live in the moment, and that moment is always tinged by curiosity and optimism. Visit with them awhile and some of that will rub off on you.
I’m optimistic. I’m looking forward to eggs.