Blog: Insolent chickens and wayward eggs

Polly joins ‘Team Duck’ when her chickens send her on an egg hunt.

There was a sly cackling from under a thistle bush when I was out in the garden this morning. Creeping stealthily up from behind, I was just in time to see one of our chickens exiting a well-concealed tunnel. At the end of the prickle-lined burrow lay the source of her mirth – 42 eggs in a nest.

‘Well, well, well,’ I addressed the flock sternly. ‘So you’ve finally been caught in the act.’
We have waited a long time for those eggs.

For months, James, me and the children have been carefully searching the chicken run, rummaging under bushes and peering amongst tree roots while the nine chickens have followed nonchalantly in our wake, maintaining a clucking commentary that’s sounded mocking and derisive at our fruitless labour.
When we first got our dozen hens, I thought they were marvellous. Not only did they lay 10 eggs a day, but they were deposited in tidy abundance in the hen house. Struggling to keep up with production, we made yolk-rich pastas and consumed more omelettes than was possibly healthy. I loved our chickens, lavishing them with specially cooked rice and potato-peeling dishes. When one occasionally shuffled off her earthly perch, I mourned her passing.
Twenty months later and my love has dried up alongside their output. Chickens, I’ve concluded, are nothing more than small feathered dinosaurs with cold eyes and reptilian feet. Ours have turned cunning and shifty, eroding the bank as they scratch it into hollows for secret nests. They are healthy birds, with bright red combs indicating they’re laying yet no matter how we’ve searched, the egg count has steadily diminished from many to a few, to nothing at all. In a way, it’s understandable; their desire to conceal their potential progeny from our frying pan, but this wasn’t part of the contract, and besides, they’re not the broody type.
It’s grated on us, particularly on town days when we’ve found ourselves buying both sacks of chook food and eggs from someone else’s productive poultry. Then, last week we found a dead hen in the chook house, stiff in a small pool of blood.

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‘Must have been a stoat,’ a friend advised. ‘That could explain why you’re not getting eggs either.’
We were on zero eggs, with zero stoats in the traps, but I did feel less hostile to the brown shavers, imagining a vicious, fanged tube of musculature mustelid tormenting our girls as it rolled their eggs off for a feast.
Then came this morning’s discovery.
Chances are there is no egg thief after all; just a pack of perfidious poultry with a lot to learn about sharing.
This is why I’ve switched my allegiance to ducks.
As I write, three Pekin ducklings are sweetly splashing about in the paddling pool. Renowned for being non-secretive, generous layers, they bear my eggs of the future.
Across the path, the hens have gathered at the edge of their enclosure to watch the commotion. If they were human, they’d be clad in hairnets and horn-rims; a malice of gossiping ladies murmuring waspishly over fine china teacups.
The ducklings, cute as buttons, have no pointed edges at all.

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