We moved to The Lint Mill on Thursday 1st October 2009 and by Saturday 3rd October, the first residents on the smallholding; eight pullets and one cockerel, were already installed.
Initially, we chose hybrid hens as we wanted our first experience of henkeeping to be successful and we had read that hybrid hens are both easy to keep and lay plenty of eggs. We wanted to give them the best organic feed and for them to be very free ranging. Our cockerel was Clarence, a Cream Legbar and he began our fascination with that lovely breed. We named all the ladies after suffragettes, the Calder Rangers Emmeline and Christabel, the White Sussex Sylvia and Adela, the Smokey Blues Ethel and Annie and the Speckledys Millicent and Mary. The hen house was Suffragette City!
Over time, we added Rhode Island Reds, Black Rocks, Welsummers, Leghorns and of course, Cream Legbars. At our optimum, we had 23 hens and 3 cockerels. When all the hens were laying an egg a day we had to quickly build up a customer base and cook lots of recipes using eggs! We bought a lovely new henhouse for the ladies from the egg sales profits. Naturally, we have had our losses since then. We lost poor old Emmeline to sour crop, some to the hard winters of 2010 and 2011 and sadly some to the two fox attacks we have had since we arrived here.
Now we have 15 hens and a young Cream Legbar cockerel, Cedric. However our Lint Mill egg customers have been disappointed for some months now as our flock has been laying fewer and fewer eggs. Those we do get are used in our own cooking and for the B&B.
It was time for some more research; I discovered that egg productivity diminishes after the first year; it is still good the second year, but then declines rapidly. At about three or four years, egg production is not very efficient at all. Most commercial and farm hens are culled after their second season of laying. Here at The Lint Mill we have no desire to operate like a commercial farm but we do need our ladies to pay for their own keep at the very least. So we needed a succession plan.
First, what to do with our original ladies? Ideally, we wanted to re-home them. A friend, who lost all his hens in a fox attack, wants some friendly hens that will just lay the occasional egg to delight his children, so he is taking the suffragettes. We will keep the younger Leghorns as they still lay well and the Cream Legbars for the sheer beauty of the occasional pale blue-shelled egg.
Now we need to build our laying flock back up. My sister bought us a fantastic fully automatic incubator for Christmas and we are on day 16 of our first attempt to hatch chicks. Meanwhile, at the Scottish National Poultry Show today, we bought a trio of brown Leghorn pullets who are the prolific layers of white-shelled eggs to get us back into production again.
Thank you ladies of the first generation and here’s to the pleasures of the second generation! (I may have to name this lot after the legendary successors to Pans People, for those of you old enough to remember!).