Establishing the pecking order with our new hens
WE got four new additions to our hen flock recently, which brings the total number of birds to eight (six hens and two ducks). The decision to get more hens was prompted by the fact that our 'existing' hens were getting on in years and had gone off the boil somewhat on the egg front.
Laying hens are at their peak for about three years, and then the number of eggs they produce starts to wane considerably.
When two of them died over the summer, we were down to just two hens with scarcely a decent layer among them.
That meant a dearth of fresh eggs, which is pretty much a calamity in a house like ours where eggs are considered staple diet.
We probably eat poached eggs for breakfast three times a week at a minimum and throw in an occasional baking session or some pancakes and you've got a requirement for maybe 20 eggs a week.
Last winter the unthinkable happened – we had to buy eggs. Each day I would go down the garden to feed and water the birds and curse them bitterly for their lack of generosity.
It's an annoying fact of life that a poor layer needs as much minding as a good layer.
We took a visit to the inimitable poultry breeder Mrs Keogh in Wexford, who people with an interest in poultry will almost certainly know, and bought two new Rhode Island hybrids (the most prolific of egg-layers) and two purebreed – a Black Rock and a French Maran.
These latter hens won't lay as many eggs, but they are very beautiful.
After the usual couple of weeks of fisticuffs to sort out the new pecking order, everyone is getting along famously. And best of all, the new hens started laying eggs almost immediately and we're back to getting three to four eggs a day. Eggscellent.