Once upon a time, eons ago, when we only had five hens, I knew which egg belonged to each hen. Grace, our Buff, laid plump pale tan eggs. Charlotte, our Australorp, laid almost round pinkish eggs. Orange Chicken, our Rhode Island Red, laid bullet-shaped tan eggs. Lucy, our Marans laid dark speckled eggs. PeeWee, our Easter Egger, laid mint green eggs and PJ, our other EE, laid pale green eggs.
Then we got more chickens, sometimes two or even three of the same breed. It became a bit more difficult to match each egg to a hen, but I started to realize that even within a breed, there were subtle differences in the shape, size and even shade of an egg and after I 'caught' a hen laying even once, I could then generally tell which eggs were hers. Most hens also choose a favorite nesting box so I could count on their egg in that same box each morning.
Then we got more chickens....and then a few more. We were up to 33 laying hens (mostly brown egg layers) at one point this summer, and I gave up completely trying to figure out who was laying what. It was impossible to tell for sure, so I just enjoyed the bounty of all the beautiful eggs in the coop each day.
Then at the end of the summer, we found new homes for ten of our older layers. Shortly afterwards, the other girls started molting - and stopped laying. And all of a sudden, we were left with just our five new pullets laying eggs.
It was deja vu of sorts. Once again, I know exactly who's eggs we are eating. Of course it helped that they were a mix of Marans, Ameraucanas, Sussex and Olive Eggers so each lays a distinct color egg, but even comparing our two Olive Eggers' eggs, it's clear which is Amy's and which is Abigail's contribution to our egg basket.
I love the connection I feel with each hen as I collect the egg she has laid for us. I love being able to identify each egg's 'mom'. I know that come spring when everyone starts laying again in earnest, I will once again be unable to match the egg to the hen, but for now, I am enjoying our reduced bounty and the connection I am able to make with each of our girls individually.
(There is also a practical reason to be able to identify a specific hen's eggs. Often a cease in laying is the first sign that something is wrong with a hen, or if you start seeing soft-shelled eggs, that can indicate illness or a calcium deficiency. So being aware of who is laying and who is not can also be a forewarning to an illness or other problem.)
I love each and every one of our girls and love collecting a full basket of eggs each day, so I am excited for spring when not only will everyone start laying again, but we'll also be getting more chicks! I know, I know.....but I do miss the days of having a small flock. I felt a closer connection to each one and was able to spend more quality time with each hen, something that is impossible with two dozen - especially if I also plan on putting dinner on the table, doing laundry or getting anything done. They don't seem to mind tho. They love each other's company and probably prefer it to my company,especially since so often a visit from me is comprised of 'posing' them for photos!
Due to the 'addictive' nature of chicken keeping however, I know I will never again raise only a half dozen or so hens. So I fear the days of identifying each hens's eggs are over for good. It would be so much easier if each would just sign her egg as it plops out into the nesting box!