This year, instead of resolutions, I have questions. Let's start with how long is too long? Or more specifically, how long is too long to wait for a chicken to come back into lay? Or put another way, how soon is too soon to start considering flock redundancies and redeployment? Four weeks? Six weeks? Longer?
Egg production started to drop off in October. No surprise there - shorter days, moulting time (changing your feathers one by one is an exhausting businesses so you can hardy blame a girl for diverting energy from egg production to quill making) - but three months have passed and we're still on a work rate of one egg (or, on a good day, two eggs) from six chickens. I have my suspicions that there is some tag team egg laying going on. The one egg is never quite the same as the previous day's one egg - small, large, elongated, dark, light, scratched (does someone have rough edges on the inside?), broken shell (thank you, Mr Magpie), soft shell or no shell at all. Neither is the one egg necessarily laid in the same location as the previous day's egg - nest box one, two or three, middle of the house, halfway down the run ramp (does someone get caught by surprise?) or, current number one spot, the makeshift nest in the woodshed.
We've tried stalking the chickens to see who is laying when and where (as a watched kettle never boils, so a stalked chicken never lays). We've tried sawdust versus straw in the nest box (they poop in equal measure on both but two out of two poop cleaners expressed a preference for the more absorbent sawdust). We've checked the house for mites and dusted the feathery bottoms. We've wormed them. We've given them grit (as if they don't get enough while free ranging all the way down the drive). We've put garlic and cider vinegar in their water, poultry spice in their pellets. We've assessed combs for redness and legs for scaliness. We've squatted down to chicken level, looked each bird in the eye, and asked "where are the eggs?". All no avail. It's one egg a day and one egg a day only.
Are we being greedy? Are we expecting too much of our 2-3 year old birds in winter? Last year four of them laid eggs throughout winter, setting a level of service they can't now lay up to. But then last year those same four birds didn't bother to moult. Perhaps I'll wait a little longer, delay that call to the chicken man up the road, and run a warm bath to clean Blodwen's mucky bum.
But before I go, just one more question.... how on earth (no pun intended) does a mole manage to make a molehill between a concrete step and a stone wall?