One late October afternoon Rich brought only three eggs into the kitchen. In spring and summer our 15 hens normally give us a dozen beautiful eggs every day. Like so many signs in nature our chickens are telling us it is transition time.
We have lucky chickens. They enjoy good food, safe living space, and daily fresh air, sunshine, exercise and natural food. Seasons shape their lives, but even their unfortunate counterparts living in cramped cages in factory farms are not completely immune to seasonal changes of nature.
A hen starts laying when she’s four to five months old and stays laving for 12 to 14 months. Egg laying is tough on bodies and after a year chickens need a vacation. So hens call time out. They shed old worn out feathers and grow new ones, rest and eat as they build back strength. After a month or two they look great in their new feathers and begin laying again – if they are fortunate enough to live in a backyard flock.
Commercial egg operations kill hens as they begin to molt and replace them with young birds. Not us. We keep our birds for at least two years. In their second lay cycle our hens give us slightly fewer eggs but they are huge with bright yellow/orange yolks in shells of various hues.
Molting is caused, in part, by the age of the bird, but declining daylight is a major factor. Nature has programmed chickens to lay the most eggs in spring. As fall’s days shorten production drops. We let our chickens enjoy seasonality. Commercial eggeries don’t. Their unfortunate hens live in windowless buildings with lighting that simulates spring to stimulate peak production.
Declining day length triggers thousands of reactions in our world outside the living room windows. Here are just a few things we notice:
Leaves of our sugar maples turn vibrant red/orange before drifting to the ground like snow. Our black, white, and red oak leaves wait a bit later until turning rust colored and shedding, although some oaks keep dead leaves all winter.
- White footed mice, box elder bugs, and Asian beetles try their best to get into the house before cold weather settles in.
- There are comings and goings in the yard. We’ve said “goodbye” to house wrens, orioles, grosbeaks, warblers and many other birds but are delighted to welcome back juncos from their nesting grounds up north. Hawks, geese, and even pelicans pass overhead on their way south.
- The world sounds and looks different as humid summer air transitions into fall’s dryness. Colors are more vibrant in low humidity air, sound transmits more clearly, and late afternoon sunlight dances across tree trunks and drying prairie grasses.
We produce a bit less electricity from our photovoltaics because the sun isn’t shining as long each day, but peak production is earlier in the day than in midsummer
- Sitting outside on a bright autumn day lets us soak in the sun’s delicious warmth but it cools quickly as the sun drops. Then, we go inside to enjoy the warmth our wood stove provides.
- Clouds drift by and sunrises and sunsets are particularly colorful.
- Autumn and winter constellations enchant viewers and linger into the darker mornings. Because the temperatures are mild, star gazing is pleasant.
Fall is a beauty filled season. We encourage you to “Go outside and play!”