Monday, February 20:
The moon is nearly dark, and day after tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.
Last Thursday the mild weather – forties – gave us an opportunity to clean out the chicken house. Three inches of sawdust on the floor had frozen in the cold nights so that the hens could no longer stir the litter, and manure had caked on the surface. Hens perching on top of the broody boxes left an inch of manure up there, too, and the nesting boxes needed new straw. Pushing a wheelbarrow was a beastly chore, especially in four inches of thawed mud and uphill, but we hauled out the shovels and forks. In the bottom nesting box a small hen was couched down in a circle of straw; her beady eye and quivering wattles reminded me of Mrs. Wallace, my fourth grade homeroom teacher, reprimanding whisperers around the SRA box. Established in due course in one of the broody boxes, she immediately began making a nest, and accepted ten eggs without hesitation. Today is day five of what appears to be consistent brooding of the eggs.
Eleven hours of daylight mean more eggs in the nests the last week or two. From a tantalizing three or four a day in December, we are now achieving a not-to-be-despised twenty or so average per day. Once we raised only Rhode Island Reds, heavy layers of large brown eggs; at the moment our flock has representatives of at least five breeds of chicken, including one Brown Leghorn, one Comet, maybe nine Speckled Sussex, and about a dozen Black Australorps, in addition to the Reds – and I may have missed one or two odd ones. That’s what happens when you take in the orphaned and the homeless. Livestock breeders frown upon such cavalier cross-breeding, but if the Sussex hen who is setting — now on eleven eggs — will hatch out some of them, I will feel one step closer to success, cross-breeds or no. We would like to declare our independence from the hatcheries and their incubators.
This could be a success.