I’m the Sherlock Holmes of Nesting Hens

This one had us laughing much of last night. You may remember that not too long ago, I used my chicken detective skills to discover that my Hermits’ Rest hens had decided to start laying eggs in an artificial Christmas wreath on top of our garage refrigerator. I’d looked high and low, but finally saw Springsteen up on the fridge in the middle of the day, looking very much like she was laying an egg. Now everyone lays there except Bertie Lee (mystery location) and Star, who’s brooding three eggs in the nest box, where they are supposed to be laying eggs. I just climb up on the fridge every day and retrieve the eggs. Not an elegant solution, but it works.

There’s one more chicken, though. Big Red lives with Apache and Fiona, and I hadn’t gotten an egg from her in over a year. Hmm.

I think I’m a horse.

What’s Red’s Story?

Well, once upon a time about three or four years ago, there was a chicken coop and run over the cabin on the greater ranch property. At one point, two people decided to raise some chicks, and got like two dozen production red chicks and two dozen black meat chickens. It was fun to watch them grow and grow. (Here’s a link to a longer story from 2018; podcast listeners can search for chickens on the blog and find it.)

I really loved these guys.

Soon we were getting a LOT of eggs (I say “we” because I took care of them when their caregivers were out of town). I dutifully trotted them up to the neighbors’ storage area and labeled them, where they got sold at farmer’s markets.

Fast forward, and one partner stopped coming around, the residents at the cabin moved out, and I ended up being the caretaker. More babies arrived, some we bought and some that came as gifts. I became the half owner. We ended up with Americaunas, barred rocks, leghorns, and more and more. I sure enjoyed all those chickens, and enjoyed selling my half at work.

Yep, the neighbors had a LOT of chickens back in the day. That’s Buckbeak, the nice rooster, in the center.

At some point, an owl began systematically eliminating the chickens, including the wonderful rooster we had back then. Sniff. I felt powerless, because there was no roof on the chicken yard, and a hole in the door to the coop, which allowed owls in. But it wasn’t my coop, so I couldn’t exactly work on it. The other partner was going to make the hens all into sausage, so I took over as the queen of the dwindling flock. It was sad.

I decided to let nature take its course (which was awful, with so many dead hens), and to just get myself my own chickens at my house, with an enclosed coop, where they would be easier to care for and less vulnerable. As we know, the joke was on me, because we still lose chickens to predators over at our part of the ranch, though we have been working hard on keeping the chickens safe…at least when they are young. The old ones insist on living outside.

Well, I thought all the chickens over there were gone and stopped feeding them. But, soon we realized there was still ONE old chicken left. That’s Big Red. She outlived them all. She was out scrounging for bugs and grain over by the horse area. That made sense.

Plenty to eat around here! (August 2020)

We’ve enjoyed her antics with Fiona and Apache, especially when she drinks from the big troughs. We never found any eggs, but once found her laying an egg with no shell. That led me to start bringing some chicken feed over to her, which we give her when we feed the horses.

She’s a fine hen, and that’s no bull. (This beefy guy is behind our house.)

Once she started eating, she began to look better and better. She doesn’t look at all like an “old” hen, and she’s friendly as heck. She made it through the cold weather, too, and had a nice warm place to hide out. For the past few weeks, though, we’d been wondering if her improved nutrition has enabled her to start laying. I put on my detective hat again.

I’ve been looking in various spots, like the storage area, the cattle pens, etc. No eggs. Then, day before yesterday, I heard an odd noise in the old chicken run. There was Big Red, scratching away. Hmm, I hadn’t seen her over there in a long, long time.

So, yesterday, on a whim, I decided to take a look in the nesting boxes where the hens used to all lay. Oh my goodness. There were 9 lovely Big Red eggs in there!

What??? Eggs!

Well, of course. The great egg detective figured out that the eggs were in the egg boxes. Go me!

Which egg in the Easter basket is not from Big Red?

I took the eggs home, curious as to whether I’d found fresh eggs or ancient eggs. I tested them in a bowl of water, and while none of them floated (which means they aren’t old, rotten, bad, and such), a few of them were iffy. They are marked for future hard boiled eggs.

It’s hard to tell, but this is a picture of the eggs NOT floating.

My guess is that, at her age, Big Red is laying a couple of times per week, so these eggs may be from about the time the cold weather event occurred. I’ll be checking daily from now on, so I’ll know how often she’s laying. I’m so surprised and pleased that she’s still churning out eggs, especially since the production hens tend to lay a lot for the first year, then pretty much stop after their second year. Way to go, Big Red!

Now Suna the great hen detective needs to solve the Bertie Lee mystery. She should still be laying…somewhere.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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