Every year about this time, our chickens stop laying eggs. Each year I swear I’ll be ready for it the next, but it always, always seems to catch me by surprise. One day we’ll look in the cupboard and there’s no eggs. Our supply is dry.

It’s part of a natural cycle. Chickens require a certain level of sunlight to produce eggs. As we’re currently in the depths of winter, the eggs stop with the shorter days.

In commercial egg farms, they use artificial light to prevent this happening. If our coop were lit up for a couple of hours either side of sunrise and sunset, we’d still be getting eggs. But alas, the chicken coop is a wooden shack with none of life’s luxuries.

And so our cupboard is bare of eggs.

Craving eggs

You can guarantee I want to use the most eggs when there aren’t any eggs. Always. After 4 years of owning chickens, my cooking (and particularly my baking) has evolved to include more eggs. If a recipe uses 4 eggs, I love it 11 months of the year. And I’ll inevitably be craving it when I am lacking eggs.

And I really, really dislike purchasing eggs. When I was about 9 or 10, my class did a learning unit on them. It culminated with a fieldtrip to a battery farm.

There, my young mind was exposed to 3 or 4 featherless chickens in a tiny cage. A little silver receptacle sat waiting on the outside of the cage to receive the eggs. Walking down a line of these cages is something I’ll never forget. We learned how eggs make it into the boxes on the supermarket shelves and I did not like it. I did not like it at all.

And so I’ve always purchased free-range when I need to purchase eggs. And I’m not a big fan of purchasing both chicken food and free range eggs at the same time.

The struggle is real

It feels like I’ve been trying (and failing) to increase our egg production for over a year now. We introduced 3 new chickens, then Roxy killed a couple of our older ones. We got given 7 chickens – 4 of whom have turned out to be roosters. Right now we have 4 layers (Hilary, ChloĆ«, Siouxsie, and Metiria), and 3 probably-female pullets.

Over the last year, they’ve stopped laying in the boxes and hidden their clutches instead. This led to an epic canine poo explosion in my car the day before it was due to go in for a WOF.

Over summer they stopped laying because it got very hot. In autumn they went into moult and that always reduces the number of eggs we get, though a roll of dogroll usually helps see them right. Now they’ve stopped completely and it’ll be at least a few weeks before we see an egg in the box at all.

Human intervention

Generally, I’m up at 5am each morning, so this week I’ve started a wee routine.

I go out there just on dawn, when there’s enough light for me to see but the chooks are still in their house.

I lock them in and remove the younger chickens and roosters. They go into the pen with the ducks and get a little breakfast.

That leaves just the 4 layers in the coop. I give them a couple of inches of dog roll to increase their protein intake. It looks to me like a couple of the younger ones are still moulting, so I want to provide protein to help them grow feathers quickly and get back on the lay.

Then I leave them there until 11.30am. Chickens usually lay in the morning and I want to ensure they’re not laying anything out amongst the long grass. This hasn’t led to an egg yet, but when they do come back online, we’ll definitely know about it.

Before I let them out, I give them a big dose of Peck’n’Lay layer food. This way they’re getting the nutrition they need for egg laying without the ducks getting all of it.

Basically, food in = eggs out… when the light increases and their reproductive systems kick in again.

Being a better Girl Guide

I need to be better prepared for this. It’s an entirely predictable and natural state of affairs.

One thing I never do (and should really start doing) is freezing eggs. It’s possible to freeze them whole as long as they are whisked together as the egg yolk can do funny things in the freezer. Every winter I swear to myself I’ll put some in a muffin tin and freeze a dozen for moments like now. I am yet to actually do that.

There are times throughout the year when we’ve got a full box of eggs for ourselves; have sold a couple to our neighbour; and we still have another box. That box needs to be frozen next time. I hope I end up remembering. Please let me know if you think you have a better way to store eggs though. Obviously, it’s not something I’ve thought about too much.

Project #chickenfarm continues

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t haunting the Poultry category on TradeMe again. We don’t need any roosters, but if some female chooks came up at the right price and distance from me, I’d probably have a tough time saying no.

Getting the balance right is tough, but we’re getting there. Hopefully next season while we’re in ‘feast’, we’ll remember the ‘famine’ and put some aside for later.