Walking on Eggshells

Here at our house, we keep 8 chickens. I know I’ve mentioned them before. They’re pretty lovely girls all individually, though they do have some quirks.

Right now we are struggling with integration blues. The oldest three hens–Effie, Andromeda, and Mambo–have all been giving the newest 5 quite a hard time. I know it’s normal but it’s distressing nonetheless. Mostly it’s just Andromeda and Effie, and mostly they just chase Shadowfax around and pull out the occasional feather.

Effie, right after meeting the News for the first time. She crowed. For. Ever.
The Original Shadowfax

A little backstory on Shadowfax: Our first Shadowfax was a cockerel, someday to become a beautiful rooster and boss all the other chickens around. But living in Seattle, we couldn’t let a rooster hang around, so we traded him for a slightly older bird–a 100% hen version of the same variety, Ameraucana. Isaac and Aaron decided she should still be named Shadowfax, and I went along with it because I was very sad to lose our original. He was so pretty. The new version is all white, and while she is pretty too (and already laying cute little eggs the color of mint ice cream) white isn’t the most exciting thing in the flock.

The New Shadowfax

For the most part, the birds all “get along” by ignoring each other. I’ve slowly pulled out all the obstacles to integration. First the “News”, as we call them, lived inside and only visited the outside world a couple of times. Then we moved them into a newly built coop with a run that was completely separated from the “Olds” so they could see/hear/smell each other but not have physical access to each other and each other’s stuff. For a while I let them free-range at different times of day. Then we started to let them out into the yard at the same time, but with a bit of chicken wire splitting the yard in two. Then I needed the chicken wire to protect the garden from the girls, so I took it down and let them all be “integrated” but still having separate living quarters in the run/coop area. Now all barriers are down and they have to share a feeder and water.

Poor things. A few weeks ago, when Shadowfax started laying, she knew just where to go–into the Olds’ coop, because that’s obviously where you go if you want to lay an egg. It didn’t matter to her that there were nesting boxes built especially for the News, which I showed her several times. I even put in a fake egg. She laid in there a couple of times. Then she started laying in the Olds’ coop and just puts up with the abuse.

That’s when the troubles began, because the Olds started to get much more territorial.

The evidence.

They chase her around and pin her down, and then she chases the other News around to try and assert her place above them. I know they’ll get the whole thing figured out eventually. Probably around the time the rest of the News start laying . The funny thing is, the Olds really stir up the most trouble when I have to go out into the backyard for whatever reason. The News just try to stay out of the range of the Olds’ beaks, hudled in their own little tight group, trying not to invoke the Wrath of Effie.

I know I need to cut off access to the Olds’ coop. Our plan is to get rid of it entirely. But, I hesitate. It could go either way I suppose. It could put the Olds in the their place, since they would be forced to live in the News’ coop. Or it could end in a bloodbath.

While they are working all that out, I quietly take the eggs and leave treats in their place. The eggs are delicious too–bright yellow-orange yolks with flavor so amazing you can hardly believe it.

I’m guessing everybody knows how to scramble an egg. But do yourself a favor, if you’ve never done it before. Go to your local co-op, or farmer’s market. Splurge on 6 or 12 of the eggs fresh from a local farm. Go home, and poach or fry a couple, so that the yolk is just thickening up. Make a piece of toast from your favorite crusty bread, and eat it. Sop up all the drippy yolk with another piece of toast. (Whatever you do don’t boil them, because you’ll never get an egg that fresh to peel properly. I usually let them sit in the fridge for a week if I know I want to boil some.)

You might never go back to store-bought, and that’s a happy thing.

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