Chicken Updates

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I realize it’s time for a chicken update. We currently have 15 chickens, all laying hens. The ones we hatched this year are varied in breed and coloring. They are beautiful! They aren’t work horses like our older chickens though, and egg production has been seriously lacking ever since the equinox in September. Many chickens need at least 12 hours of sunlight every day to lay eggs, and apparently our newer breeds fall into that category! We were so lucky the last two winters because our production breeds kept laying all winter long. That’s not the case this year. No, I don’t use a light in the coop. I believe in letting nature decide how to keep the hens happy and healthy.

Our older girls (there are seven of them) have all ceased laying this month. One by one they molted and stopped laying. Some are recovering from their molt but haven’t started the egg cycle again. The new girls (there are eight) are barely laying. We get about two eggs a day from our fifteen chickens.

We’ve had two sicknesses and one death this fall. First, the loss – Tocker was one of our New Hampshire Reds from the first batch we hatched. She was Ticker’s sister and was a nice, dependable hen. This fall she went broody, and since I don’t break my girls when they go broody, I let her sit. She sat on her imaginary eggs for a long time – two months – before she finally got up and went back to the business of being a chicken. All that sitting must have drained her resources, because she launched into a hard molt. I have never seen a molt like the one Tocker went through. ALL of her feathers fell off. All of them. The poor thing was so cold, and in so much pain as her feathers started to grow back. If she sat down, her feather shafts would bleed and hurt, so for days she didn’t sit down. I kept a heat lamp running and she stood under it at night. One night she stayed in a part of the coop that was colder, with no lamp. I couldn’t pick her up to move her because she was in so much pain when she was touched. I figured she knew what she was doing. The next morning we found her dead in the coop. Why? I wish I knew. Was she too cold? Too depleted of minerals and protein? Too tired from standing up for days on end?

Rest in peace, Tocker.

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Our two sicknesses resulted in full recoveries, thank goodness. Ticker was in very bad shape this summer, and I had mentioned her issues in this post. After she recovered from sour crop, things took a turn for the worse. By the end of the summer she was listless and her feathers looked awful. She would kind of stand still and hunch over all day, eyes shut the whole time. I figured out after I wrote that post that she didn’t have scaly leg mites, so I ended up with two big tubs of vaseline that I’ll probably never open. She did have something wrong with her crop and digestive system though. It was either worms or mechanical issues with her crop. I dewormed her and she improved slightly, but still did not recover fully. Then, on the advice of my neighbor, I fed her a handful of grit. She gobbled it up. Within days she was a whole new chicken. She had more energy and she went through a soft molt, losing all the old feathers and regrowing new, shiny ones. Since the chickens free range on our gravel driveway, I hadn’t considered lack of grit as a primary issue, but it turns out that it was. From that point on I have offered grit to all the chickens on a regular basis.

The second sickness involved Ruby, also one of our original hens. Ruby had some listlessness similar to Ticker’s, but different. She recovered on her own and I’ll never know what ailed her.

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At this point all the hens are doing well, thank goodness! Fuzzybottom, one of our best layers, is finally molting. She hasn’t molted at all in her 3 years, if I remember correctly. After watching Tocker molt (and then die), I’m concerned that Fuzzy will lose too many feathers so I’m keeping an eye on her. Aside from that, the girls are good! If they could change one thing, it would be the weather – the snow is a big drag for the chickens, as they prefer the lush green grassy pasture of the summer. And really, who doesn’t?

Around here we are giving thanks for good health!

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