Like myself, the “girls” appear to be experiencing some emotional, psychological and physiological changes. Being new to this business of egg ranching, I’ve been observing them and assessing their health constantly. Their laying has fallen off markedly this winter. This has helped me understand, to my considerable chagrin, that my interest is not prompted entirely by compassion, altruism or emotional attachment. With great reluctance I have needed to admit to myself that their egg production is more important to me than I had realized.
Last winter, inspite of -20 degree C. temperatures at times, their laying barely faltered. I came to have great respect for their hardiness and unswerving sense of purpose. As the mercury slithered downward late in 2014 though, it became evident the girls were not able to maintain their earlier torrid laying pace. Lonely Hearts had from the beginning been a less consistent layer. Actually, I always felt she was doing her best. Sometimes she sat for nearly an hour, vainly struggling to produce an egg.
Initially the production fell from 3 eggs most days to 2 eggs. Then at times only one. A few weeks ago none of the girls laid. I actually searched their compound in the hope they were again hiding eggs. Nothing.
I’ve begun to speculate about the possibility that chickens suffer from Seasonally Adjusted Disorder. Last week Lonely Hearts pretty much stopped eating. She’d leave the Hen House with the Cleopatras and then sit quietly at the entrance to the yard. Even treats didn’t interest her. While the other two pecked furiously and raced around seeking the bits of dry oatmeal, she sat still.
When she didn’t return to the Hen House even after dark one evening, I discovered her in the usual place at the entrance. She didn’t squawk or squirm when I picked her up and carried her into their abode. Same routine the next evening. She felt light and I feared she might die overnight. The next morning though, she was still alive and began eating again. Did she just need a little attention to lift her sagging spirits? It does cause me to wonder how elderly individuals living alone fare during the dark dreary days of winter. Undoubtedly there are some who sit alone, day after day, without anything to stir their interest in life.
The girls share my interest in food, especially treats. They know that in the morning I throw a handful of oatmeal on the ground of their small private yard before I open the little “chicken door”. They usually wait on their roost until I come in. Then they fly down. This morning they had prepared a surprise for me. After taking a day off from laying yesterday, two eggs lay almost hidden in the loose, dry grass on their floor. Remembering that recently one of them had landed on an egg and broken it, I hurriedly bent over to gather them.
Bending over while they are still on the roost is risky, mostly due to their eagerness to come down and the uncertainty of their flight trajectory. Sometimes they shuffle from side to side for up to a minute, seemingly getting up the courage to fly down. They appear to be seeking a safe place to alight. Invariably there is a mad flapping of wings as they descend. This morning Lonely Hearts landed on my back while I was bent over. I expected her to hop to the floor immediately. Instead, she dug her talons into my jacket, evidently pleased with this new perch. She remained there until I slowly straightened my back, then dropped unceremoniously to the grassy floor. I opened their door and “the girls” rushed out, eagerly anticipating the much deserved reward waiting for them.
Watching them exit their little home, I was reminded that in addition to the exceptionally delicious eggs they provide for Linda and me, there is another reason for having them. They give us a sense that ours is a simple existence, not as cluttered by expectations as when we lived in Abbotsford. As I’ve said to them many times, they are good girls.