Here’s a little backstory.
Hens need lots of light to stay on a steady laying schedule. Most are in their prime during the summer when there are long days of sunlight. That is, unless they are molting, dehydrated, or under some other stress. But most laying hens regularly produce eggs during the summer.
During the winter, there is much less daylight than they need for regular egg production. So most of them naturally slow down. I say most because our Leghorns don’t seem to notice the changing length of daytime—they keep right on laying an egg a day even in winter. But our other breeds space their eggs out by an extra day or two when the days are short.
So unless they get artificial supplemental light, most hens take some time off from laying during the winter. Last year I set a timer to light the coop before dawn and after dusk to extend the hours of light. We had plenty of eggs.
In fact, last year we had more than enough eggs. So this year we did not supplement the winter light. We’ve gotten a steady stream of eggs, but obviously every hen is not laying even every other day. This winter we’ve been getting anywhere from two to six eggs a day.
Spring and fall, the daylight supply is in transition, and so is the egg laying. The days are getting longer, and the hens know it. The egg basket gets a little fuller as the weeks go by.
Yesterday was a record day. There were nine eggs in the basket.
Well wouldn’t you know it…I stumbled coming out of the coop. A few eggs dropped out and fell on the ground. Immediately some of the hens pounced. As I recovered my balance, I swung the egg basket a little too far. I could hear eggs cracking and then I saw more fall out onto the ground.
Mr. Rooster then made his “Time for treats, ladies!” announcement, and more hens came running. (A good rooster will not only protect his hens– he will also tell them when he finds something good to eat. And usually he’ll stand aside and let them have first dibs. Usually.)
Finally I regained my composure, but only two eggs made it to the kitchen.
The bad news is I didn’t get to share the bounty of the day with any people. The good news is that the chickens all got a special treat that day. The protein and other nutrients are good for them. The shells provide calcium, which they need in order to produce more strong egg shells. And there’s nothing cannibalistic about chickens eating eggs that are served to them by humans.
But really now–what I want to know is, was that my imagination, or were those chickens smiling when I tripped?