After a painful period of absence, eggs are back on the menu – and in the incubator. It’s a pleasure to collect eggs in a range of colors, and gratifying that the fowl are, once again, “earning their keep”!
Domestic fowl like chickens and ducks typically take a break from laying when the hours of daylight shorten, generally starting in late fall and into winter. Other species, like geese and Muscovy (which are technically unrelated to Mallard-derived duck breeds like Indian Runners), cease laying in fall and won’t begin again until spring.
While it’s possible to “trick” chickens and ducks into laying by extending daylight hours via artificial lighting, we don’t do that, choosing instead to honor their natural cycles. Sure, it may feel a bit like the birds are freeloaders at this time of year, but since they’re living creatures, rather than egglaying machines, the need for a break is completely understandable. When they’re ready – often after molting, another process that interrupts laying due to its resource intensiveness – they resume laying beautiful, delicious eggs.
Early cycle eggs are some of the most richly-colored, too. The chickens’ ink supplies are recharged and ready to go; as they approach the end of their laying cycle in the fall, some eggs will become a bit lighter in color, as though the “ink” has faded. This phenomenon is particularly noticeable in breeds like Black Copper Marans, which can lay a very dark brown egg: the depth of color may even fluctuate from time to time even in early or mid-cycle. Such are the vagaries of egg color!
While it’s fun to find eggs in winter, it can also be a race to collect eggs before they freeze, especially if they’re laid where they shouldn’t be (outside of the warmth and safety of a nest box)…and the Runners can be vexing when it comes to eggs just laid willy-nilly. Like in a puddle. Just a couple of mornings ago, I found a frozen, cracked duck egg in the coop – a slushy, goopy mess – that had been buried and stomped on by the waterfowl rushing out the door. Sigh…
Though the polar vortex is nearly upon us, we’ve been collecting more eggs each day. Only a few girls are still working through their molts (and they must be chilly with their skimpy coverage), so it feels like we’ve turned the corner and are slowly moving away from austerity toward the abundance of spring. More snow’s in the forecast, but I’ll be daydreaming of overflowing egg baskets, chicks, ducklings, and goslings. We’ll get there yet.