Thursday, 5 March 2015

Laying hens and turnip eating sheep

Hens are great heralds of spring.  Although it is still cold enough for the woodburner and the electric blanket every night, the hens are more responsive to the lengthening daylight than the temperature.  We have eight hens and one cockerel.  Throughout the short dark days of November, December and January we get just one or two eggs every couple of days.  It is hard to tell whether they are laid by our rehomed hybrids from the British Hen Welfare Trust or by our own Welsumer crosses as both lay a medium sized pale brown egg, though perhaps the Welsummer eggs are a little darker and more inclined to be speckled.  The Cream Legbars don't lay at all in the winter.  Their eggs are a beautiful pale blue and as the days get longer we check the nesting boxes hoping for the first sight of that pale blue gleam.


This one is so pale you can hardly tell it is blue in the picture but I promise you it is.  Now we have all the Cream Legbars laying and eggs coming out of our ears.  Spring is very nearly sprung.


And by the drive the very first of the cowslips is just beginning to open.  This is a pretty poor photo but you can just see the flowers emerging.  When they are fully out they will be held high on their stalk, quite distinctively and nothing like the ground hugging primrose.   This is a little patch which started as four or five plants a few years ago and is slowly spreading.  I have tried to establish cowslips in the field as well but so far only one solitary plant seems to have survived.  Surprisingly they seem happier in the poorer soil by the drive than in what seemed a more favoured spot in the field.


Up on the top of the Clwydian hills just half a mile stroll from home, the grass has not yet started to green up and only the windblown pines are green against the sky.  There are hawthorns up here too, twisted by the wind, but it will be weeks until they show their new spring green leaves.


There are cattle up here though who seem happy enough amongst the grass and gorse.


Sheep up here have their meagre grass supplemented by turnips in February and early March before the new growth comes.  That was a revelation to me when we came to live up here over nine years ago.  I never knew that sheep eat turnips!


But in the shelter of our fold of the hill where the wind is soft and the sun has warmth in it, primroses are flowering.  There are so many contenders for my favourite flower at this time of year and the flood of native daffodils is still to come.  I am still loving the snowdrops and hellebores but perhaps right now, today, primroses are the flower that whispers spring.

45 comments:

  1. The rhythms of nature are wonderful, aren't they? Now I have hope that my hens will be laying soon too. We have some new pullets that will be laying blue eggs, and a couple of henopausal hens that surprise us with a brown egg now and then.

    Grass is greening up in the desert too, and the most ephemeral little weeds in pink, purple and yellow are popping up. Great time of year. Wishing you lots of sunshine.

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    1. I am not sure whether you get the much shorter days in Arizona which characterise our winters here? It sounds as if your hens stop laying though so would love to know!

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    2. Our winter days ARE shorter, though not as short as yours being at the latitude of Casablanca or thereabouts. Sunrise is at 6:39 today and sundown at 18:21. Your days are much longer in the summer though.

      The hens do stop laying unless I turn a light on in the coop in the early morning but decided to rest the hens this year. Laying an egg is enough of an event; those girls need time off too. First egg was laid yesterday :-)!

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  2. So pleased to see your signs of spring. all that green.. I am absorbing it into my white world.

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    1. I wonder what it is like to have such a part of the year when the world is white. I love snow but would admit that I love it for a week or so, not much longer.

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  3. Elizabeth, it's a joy to see this post of yours with all its signs of spring. (It snowed yet again all day today, Snow's now stopped, but the air is well below freezing, so tomorrow's commute to work will be icy. But let me stop my moaning.)

    Until reading your post, I don't believe that I've even realized that hens do stop their egg laying during winter. How is it then possible to do all the wonderful Christmas baking that requires eggs? I know that you will help solve this city dweller's puzzle.

    My Mom has always loved the cowslips in her garden. She and my late Daddy never grew primroses. Another puzzle to me, but it was/is their garden.

    That sheep eat turnips is another revelation from this post of yours.

    Perhaps we have now seen our final winter snowfall here in New York. How I hope so.

    xo

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    1. Hens naturally respond to lower light levels by stopping or reducing laying Frances. In commercial production they are kept in artificial light to stop this happening. I think that is partly why eggs are traditionally associated with Easter because they are a very visible sign of spring. Hope your snow is on the way out!

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    2. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your reply. Of course! It's a natural thing to have eggs as part of the Easter celebration. How could I not have known this before? City living is my alibi.

      Still, I do wonder about the era of pre-commercial egg farming. How did Christmas cakes, etc, get made. Weren't fresh eggs needed for egg nog? In my youth I though so, when we got weekly home egg deliveries from Harshbargers Hen Haven Farm, a very low key operation.

      I am going to have to look into this. xo

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    3. With our hens they don't stop laying completely so we would still have eggs for major things like Christmas cakes. We just get four or five a week instead of four or five a day from our eight!

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  4. Still very few signs of spring in the hedgerow around here, but the birds are under no illusion, it definitely sounds like spring. We haven't really had any seriously wintery weather this year, but I must admit, I'm ready for warmth.

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    1. I remember reading in one of your blogs about the birdsong. We are clearly behind you in being further North and higher up and it was only a couple of days ago that I heard birdsong as I was working in the garden. And yes, very ready for warmth.

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  5. Spring is here on my island...love it! Too early but we have had no winter this year so let´s go for springtime! Lovely pictures, have a lovely weekend...
    Warm hug,
    Titti

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    1. Glad you have your spring! Ours is around the corner rather than in the room!

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  6. Gorgeous images of spring! Our only sign is that the snow is melting into ice on the few days if breaks freezing. I long for primroses and an English spring. Thanks for sharing yours!

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    1. I do think that spring in England (and of course in Wales!) is one of the great times. We also do pretty good autumns.

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  7. Isn't it lovely to see all the signs of spring bursting into life. Our hens are laying again too, home grown eggs are just so much nicer :)

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    1. We have got so used to our own eggs that I would struggle to adjust to having to buy them all the time. Whenever we are short of eggs in winter I buy free range eggs and am surprised to find that they have nothing like the colour and flavour of our own eggs.

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    2. I find the same, when we moved last year we had to downsize our flock sadly and I had to buy eggs for the first time over winter, which I didn't like, and even free range shop bought aren't the same as our own hens eggs :)

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  8. How lovely to see the primroses again - they are such a harbinger of spring and summer in the way that (for me) snowdrops are not. I love snowdrops dearly, but they always seem to be more to do with winter...

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    1. I do think you are right. Primroses are yellow and yellow is spring. Snowdrops just remind me that spring will come, eventually!

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  9. Ah...lovely views of grass and green! Piles of snow all over here in Northeast US....but melting this month. We can plant outside by mid May...keep the pictures coming, please!

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    1. We have not really had snow this year. It is much more variable here in the Uk and than it is with you. The year before last we had such deep snow in March that farmers lost thousands of lambs in our area so we are not quite counting on winter being over just yet! Hope so though, the signs are good so far!

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  10. You have cowslips and primroses? Bliss indeed - a distant dream from here where the high will be 37F today - a great improvement on recent temps.
    Happy spring!

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    1. I love cowslips and primroses. Both really sing spring to me!

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  11. I love that delicate, buttery shade of primrose -- used to have some in my own garden, but I've noticed their absence the past few years and haven't got round to addressing that. . . Love your photos, thank you so much.

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    1. It is an extraordinarily delicate colour isn't it? I once tried to paint a bedroom in just that shade and despite all my efforts at matching once it was up on the wall it was just too yellow!

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  12. I love seeing those first primroses springing out of the ground, they herald the changing of the season and I am very excited to feel the sun on my face again! Things in the garden are about to get very busy again, but I will be pleased to see the back of winter for another year!

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    1. Me too! I am not a winter person at all although I have got quite into the stove and my knitting this year which I think is the way to enjoy it.

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  13. Wonderful, hopeful signs of new life and the opening of nature's new year! I never knew that laying eggs was related to the amount of light, but it makes sense. Happy Sunday!

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    1. I didn't know about light and egg laying either until we kept hens ourselves. Now it is wonderfully clear!

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  14. Free-range eggs - the ones advertised along country lanes - that we usually buy are in really short supply here at the moment, and I've had to resort to shop-bought. A comparison between the local farm shop and the Co-op yielded the surprising result, in flavour and freshness, in favour of the Co-op! Things should pick up soon though, don't you think?

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    1. Definitely should be lots more eggs about Rachel! I suppose the encouraging thing about your experience with the Co-op is that it does suggest that their free range eggs are properly free range!

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  15. Love your header photo!! And those eggs... they look good enough to eat! Primroses remind me of my trip to Scotland. Today is the first day in months that I walked outside and could feel spring coming to Long Island... my nose did not freeze, and the birds are singing!

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    1. Bird song is starting to be heard here too Marcheline. I was weeding on the bank yesterday and for the first time this year heard a blackbird singing its heart out.

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  16. Hurray for eggs! We had 4 eggs today from our 5 hens... 4 hens and the just about retired 8 yr old Gt Aunt Phoebe. It really is a sign that Spring is here.
    x

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    1. Eight years old!? That's a great age for a hen. How wonderful.

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  17. Another planet. Really. Blue sky and white snow here. :<) Do the owners of the sheep not give them hay in the winter?

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    1. They do get hay for quite a while but at this time of year they seem to move over to turnips!

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  18. I saw my first snowdrops today, in the Eglwyseg valley. No cowslips where I get to yet though.

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    1. The only cowslip i have seen so far is one of the ones on our drive. Perhaps it is an advance reconnaissance party!

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  19. How to choose a favourite Spring flower? I was sure it was snowdrops until the croci appeared, the primroses and hellebores, the winter aconite and the tiny narcissi I love, just beginning to turn pale yellow. And all planted by me here in my Suffolk garden.

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    1. I can't choose either Marianne and it tends to be the one I have been looking at most closely most recently! Daffodils are just coming out in the field and I am turning my love to them too.

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  20. It is truly, the loveliest time, even with the backdrop of leafless trees and muddy fields. It's all about the promise in those yellow primroses and cowslips. I have a basket of primroses at the front door - not much has shown up in the garden of this new cottage, but these ones will be planted out for next year.

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    1. Promise, is the right word. Odd that it is so close to primrose!

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  21. It's lovely to see the signs of spring appearing all the way around us. We have seen so many primroses but I haven't been lucky enough to discover any cowslips yet. Sarah x

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