Spring is here! The groundhog’s promise fulfilled. All of nature seems a bit stunned that it has burgeoned forth so swiftly this year. The birds can’t contain themselves in their nest making. Every plant that can bloom is doing so in abundance.
However, the surest sign of spring in my own backyard is the appearance of what I’ve begun to call the “Sun Egg.” It came especially early this year, when there was still snow on the ground...that amazing snow that is so rare in our part of the world. I crunched out into the frozen whiteness to my tiny hen’s coop, opened the nesting box, and discovered the first egg of Spring!
For those of you who are not familiar with the laying behavior of the common domesticated hen, without the urging of artificial lighting, hens cease to lay as the sunlight diminishes at the time of the Autumnal equinox. Last year, my first egg appeared about a week before the vernal equinox -- right on schedule. I was quite surprised to see this one, fully a month early.
This was just the latest of many surprises that have come from sharing our lives with two fine, fat, sassy hens- Sarah Jane, a black and white Plymouth Barred Rock, and Pearl, a golden Buff Orpington.
The first surprise being that every day is Easter! How great it is to go out to the coop and open the nesting box on two, perfect brown eggs every day! Once a hen reaches maturity at the ripe old age of 5 months or so, she will lay one egg every day, barring the interruptions of molting and “going broody.”
The first time one of mine molted, it came as a jolt. Coming to the coop for the usual feeding and cleanup one morning, I saw a mound of black and white feathers billowing in the breeze. Visions of a violent end involving a raccoon were running through my mind, when out popped the head of Sarah Jane, looking moth eaten, but whole. Since then, my collection of feathers has been growing, and I may stuff a pillow someday.
When a hen goes “broody,” she is feeling the urge to hatch some of those eggs and will sit with the dedication of an anchorite for up to six weeks at a time. She comes off the nest only once a day to eat or drink, the futility of the fact that her eggs are unfertilized in no way dissuading her.
Sarah Jane went broody once. I found it a very disturbing experience. If it ever happens again, I have vowed to attempt foisting a foster chick on her to see if she will adopt!
The greatest surprise has been in discovering how much joy these hens bring to my life.
To watch Pearl chase a butterfly down the driveway or stand on her tip toes to reach the low fruit on our weeping cherry tree, is to watch contentedness in action.
And don’t even get me started about the voyeuristic pleasures of watching them take a dust bath or of listening to the contented, soft clucking of happy, sunning birds. They eat from my hand, suffer me to hold them, and seem in most ways to take some comfort in my presence.
This is no small thing.