Hens and eggs

It seems to be a fun thing for some of my guests to help me with my feeding chores. Several times when we are taking care of the hens, my guests will exclaim, “You need to keep this hen she has laid seven eggs.” Most of the time I smother my chuckle as I explain that each hen only lays one egg each day. In fact that hen sitting on those eggs might not have laid any of them but is getting ready to brood or set.

That gives me an opportunity to ask, “Why do hens lay eggs?” Of course most people think the hens lay eggs for the breakfast table. I explain that each spring after a winter of hibernating the hen begins to lay one egg a day until she gets a clutch of 12 to 15 eggs. Then she quits producing eggs and starts to set or brood. For the next 18 days she will sit on them turning them over and over so the new life therein has a chance to grow. If the eggs don’t get turned the yolk attaches itself to the shell and can’t grow. She will get off the eggs at least once to eat and drink, then back on, fluffing her feathers to cover them again. After 18 days she knows her continuous warmth is very important; more important that eating.

Now she really becomes a broody hen ready to protect her precious new life with first a ruffling of her feathers along with a grumbling warning and then with wings, feet and bill she will attack. This is not the time to interfere with her duties; she becomes very grumpy and fussy. She spends the next two months teaching them to drink and eat and continues to try to protect them as they are extremely vulnerable. Then later they go their way and she often decides to lay another clutch and raise another batch.

We people often take advantage of their innate desire to reproduce. So we take away the eggs as fast as they are laid so she keeps on laying trying to get her clutch. Some hens will lay as  many as 300 eggs in a year because of the need to reproduce. I think there are probably many people who really think that hens are supposed to lay eggs for their breakfast table with little thought of the real reason. Since we people can think and plan, there are ways that both reasons for eggs can be a blessing.