I wrote on New Year's Day about the arrival of the new members of our family - 4 beautiful point-of-lay Isa Brown chooks. When we planned for the chooks, it was all about sustainability, recycling scraps, producing eggs as well as compost for the garden. I am happy to report that all of these aims have been fulfilled - in fact on the egg side we have been receiving 4 eggs every day since their second week. We were keeping a record but gave up when we hit 90 eggs after the first month. And the eggs are superb - bright yellow yolks, firm whites that cling to the yolk (making the best poached eggs I've ever tasted, and the prettiest). We've been eating lots of frittatas and quiches.
What I hadn't counted on was the absolute pleasure our 4 ladies have given us (as well as not a few hassles). A friend has declared me chook-obsessed and she's right, I am quite infatuated. The girls (who, after some discussion, have been named after 4 of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice) are full of personality. They can spend all day with their fluffy feathery bums in the air under the magnolia tree, scratching for who knows what. When you call them they come running (in fact even if you just happen to walk past them foraging in the garden they come running) and it is the funniest thing you've ever seen. I want you to picture a corpulent elderly Victorian matron in petticoats, bustle and full skirts (and possibly a little red bonnet!). Now imagine that lady has to run for her life - she hoiks up her skirts and, holding them high off the ground, waddles at high speed towards you, her large frame rocking from side to side - that's what the girls look like as they charge over to us for scraps or just to say 'HI!'.
I will admit to not giving much thought to the free-range vs battery hen dilemma up until a year or so ago. But now I've seen how happy my girls are; spending each day roaming the undergrowth, scratching in the leaf litter, occasionally settling down for a nap in the shade, or finding a bare patch of dirt and giving themselves a dust bath, I could never go back to eating supermarket eggs (free-range or otherwise). Oh the girls certainly aren't cheap - food, housing, etc do mount up. And as I alluded to above, there have been a few hassles. Lydia (named for the flighty youngest Bennett of course) keeps escaping, despite our (reluctantly) clipping her wings. She is a fussy eater and then last week, after several days of laying eggs without shells, became egg-bound. Then on one of the first days they were free-ranging they all decided to visit the neighbours and then couldn't find their way back up the drive and Pippa spent a couple of HOURS retrieving them from the building site. But on the whole I can heartily recommend the exercise of backyard chook-keeping, the expense and occasional hassle are rewarded many times over in eggs and pure enjoyment!