I am pleased to report that my eight ducks have survived the great chill, when their pond was frozen over; for during all that time no fox ever ventured across the ice to kill them. And now that the ice has melted they are looking much more frolicsome and less forlorn. But strange things have been going on among my chickens. All eight of them, too, are alive and well (maybe all foxes now live in towns), but their laying habits have become very eccentric.
Finding eggs never ceases to be exciting, even for someone of my advanced age, but I got a nasty shock the other day when I picked up one egg to find that it was all soft and squidgy — no shell, just membrane. I put it down in horror and disgust. And then next day I found a tiny egg, no bigger that a quail’s egg, but which couldn’t have come from any bird other than a chicken because it had been laid during the night when the chickens were shut in to secure them from intruders.
Since then hardly a day has passed without my finding another miniature egg, though I still don’t know which of my chickens is responsible for this piece of whimsy. I decided to treat these eggs as if they really were quail’s eggs; but after boiling one, peeling it, and popping it into my mouth, I found that it contained no yolk (only white) and was quite revolting to eat. Then it turned out that none of the other little eggs had yolks in them either. What did all this mean?
Thanks to the internet, we can no longer kid ourselves that any experience is unique. If one of my chickens had three heads, I would doubtless find lots of people online who had one like that as well. And miniature chicken eggs are so common that Google throngs with people yearning to tell you about them. They are apparently known as ‘fairy’ eggs, or ‘witches’ eggs, or, less appealingly, as ‘fart’ eggs. They may be caused, one is told, by ‘disturbances in the reproductive cycle’; but since I know no chicken gynaecologist, I am pleased to hear that I needn’t be too concerned; for at some point the confused chicken is likely to start behaving normally again.
For soft eggs, those with no shells, one suggested explanation is calcium deficiency and another is problems with the mechanics of egg-laying among chickens new to this activity. Once again you are told that they will probably lay eggs with proper shells in due course. But the soft egg I put down in disgust was subsequently eaten by my Jack Russell terrier, Polly, who enjoyed it so much that she has now started eating ordinary eggs at every opportunity, cleverly dropping them first on the ground to break their shells.
I never knew that dogs ate eggs, but once again the internet revealed that everybody else’s do. A Northamptonshire neighbour advises that the best way to stop a dog stealing eggs is to break an egg, fill it with mustard powder, stick it together again, and then give it to the animal, which will not be clever enough to see through the deception. But I don’t think I would be able to do that very convincingly. My current policy is to keep Polly under surveillance each day until all the eggs have been collected.
I now realise that until I started keeping chickens not so long ago I knew almost nothing about them. I never knew, for example, that as pullets they start by laying small eggs (though not normally miniature ones) and lay bigger and bigger eggs as they grow into adulthood. I had always assumed that the first egg a chicken laid was of a size it intended to stick with. Also, I did not know, until my sister told me recently, that you could throw a raw egg as high as you wanted into the air, and provided it fell on grass, it would not break. I have since found that I have been far from alone in this particular bit of ignorance, and I advise anyone who still shares it to give it a try, for you can hardly believe that the egg isn’t going to break, yet it never does. It will also make a great impression on children, as well as on the more childish of adults.