Some of our multi-coloured eggs. Aren't they pretty?
We lost a chicken a couple of days ago, one of our best layers. She was also one of our biggest hens, with a crooked foot that didn’t seem to stop her from running with the rest of the flock whenever I came out to the meadow to throw them some scratch — chicken candy, we call it — or collard leaves culled from spring-tender plants in the garden.
A hawk got her, the second time we’ve lost a chicken to a predator. That’s not bad, considering our little flock spends all day foraging in a fenced but open-to-the-sky meadow that measures about half an acre.We are out in the country and large birds — hawks and eagles — are a common sight around here.
Over the four years we’ve had chickens, we’ve lost most of them to natural causes. We started with about 20 chickens, many given to us by friends who wanted to thin their own flocks, others bought from a hatchery, others still purchased at a livestock auction.We have four left from that original group.
The others have found their own way to that big meadow in the sky. We’ve had to slaughter several birds because they became egg eaters, a bad thing when you want the eggs but they have first crack (no pun intended) at them. Once they develop a taste, they become like addicts and can’t stop themselves. Others became sick – some kind of genetic chicken disorder – and died, while the others just reached the end of their life spans. Some chickens, they say, can live up to 10 years, while others lay big beautiful eggs almost non-stop for a couple of years, then keel over, because they are bred to lay big beautiful eggs, not live a long time. Nature is a stern taskmaster that way.
We added eight or nine Ameraucana chickens to our flock last year. They are distantly related to a South American pheasant from whence they inherited their best trick: they lay blue-shelled eggs that look so pretty nestled in the carton next to the pale tan and darker brown eggs of their sisters. Their eggs are just like the others, once the shell is cracked. But when I first saw the blue-shelled eggs in a shop in Napa, Calif. a few years ago, I knew I wanted those chickens in my flock, too.
The chicken who fell victim to the hawk added even more to the rainbow in our egg cartons. She was part Ameraucana (blue eggs), part brown-egg layer and we got her by trading a rooster we didn’t want. I am not yet good at scientific chicken names, so bear with me. Her genes gave her the ability to lay eggs that were bluish-green. We have one bluish-green egg layer left, now — also traded for a rooster — so I am trying to find another.
All our chickens give us eggs that taste wonderful. We sell the surplus when they are laying full-tilt and people tell us they love our eggs. Their little kids complain when the supply dries up — usually in the darkest depths of winter — and they have to make do with store-bought eggs.
But it’s the colours I love to see when I go out to check the nesting boxes. So pretty. It’s like Easter every day. Now, if I could only get rid of the wild bunny that sneaks into my flower beds and eats the pink lupines . . . Where is that hawk when I need him!