Lily seemed fine – alert, hungry and pottering about the Hen Garden with her usual attractive nonchalance. She gets on well with all the other hens and has somehow slotted into our little flock in a way that poor Araminta can only put on her “things I’d REALLY like for Christmas” wish list. So if everything was going so well for Lily, why was she not laying any eggs all of a sudden?
Her beautiful clear blue eggs are the ones everyone wants. They have novelty value, elegance and they taste wonderful. Their absence in the nestbox was a mystery as well as a disappointment. Maybe she was off colour? Or perhaps she was going into an early moult – after all, Sushi seems to be dropping a few feathers already. Could she have developed that most unwelcome hen-vice, and become an egg eater? There were no tell-tale signs, no slurpy bits of yolk stuck to the straw, no dribbles from her beak. There was just no egg…
And then I twigged. Or rather, I realised that Lily had possibly twigged, and that in fact she might well be twigging, so to speak, right then. Various other hens here have occasionally preferred a more natural approach to laying, and have eschewed the henhouse for some fresh air and open-plan living, so why not Lily? After all, the nestbox does get full sun and is not (yet!) air conditioned, and when I think about it, Lily has been spending more time than usual in the shady bushes by the back door. Also crucially, the shrubby Lonicera has been shaking violently, as if subjected to a mini and highly localised earth tremor.
So I set out on an egg hunt. Lily had been leaving various clue so I knew exactly where to look – it had to be the Lonicera Baggesen’s Gold. This is a brilliant pair of shrubs, because although in hen terms they are dense and private, from a human perspective they are fairly easy to plunder.
As Lily was busy elsewhere I carefully knelt down and moved a few leaves and twigs. As expected, she had swapped the henhouse nestbox for the al fresco version in the bush, and two beautiful blue eggs were revealed. I felt rather guilty taking them, but I don’t expect she minds. When the hens choose these bushes for the sensitive matter of laying – and everyone except Florence has tried them at some point – they usually like to get as far under as possible, which brings them flush with the little fence separating the hen/human zones. Once a hen’s bottom is settled into the perfect nest site, there often follows some twig-arranging and tummy-digging, just to make it all as cosy as possible. It must be a wonderful place to go, so cool and green and private.
Down came Florence then, having “done her duty” (as we call it) upstairs in the proper nestbox. In the heat of summer, Florence can’t even manage her usual “TELL EVERYONE NOW!” cluck as she deposits her egg, instead descending the ladder in open-beaked, over-heated silence. Her cluck only returns once she has gulped some water and is recuperating in the shade of the bushes, the ones that Lily now seems to be inhabiting more frequently….
Lily by contrast, appeared as cool as a cucumber and hadn’t over-heated a jot. She and her eggs were refrigerating nicely in the shade, whilst Florence, who likes to stick to her routine, was clearly going for the hard-boiled option.
I had been thinking of buying the girls a separate nestbox to put in the garden – a pretty painted thing like a mini beach hut to act as their summer deposit box- but maybe there is no real need, charming as it would be. For it seems that without my help, Lily and co have already found the perfect hen den where they can relax in the shade and indulge in a little “nest and recuperation”…….