Posts tagged ‘laying hens’
The hens were making such a racket yesterday that I rushed out to the coop to see what disaster might have befallen them. Fortunately, it was only a mini-disaster: as in greed = gridlock.
It all started with Coco and Lucy. Coco had the “preferred” nesting spot. Now, mind you, they have an entire nesting counter upon which to lay their eggs, but for unknown reasons, the right-hand corner is currently considered to be prime real estate. And, as you know, it’s all about location, location, location. Coco had commandeered the top spot and was not budging.
Apparently, the concept of sharing the throne was not an option. Both hens were cackling and carrying on about who had rightful claim. And no one was backing down, unless you count this:
And then Pippa got into the act. Each of the hens has her own “voice” and little Pippa’s may be the loudest. Think of a band saw. I always thought hens were quiet and only roosters made noise, but I have learned otherwise. Laying eggs can be serious and loud business, especially when there are disputes over property rights.
Surely someone would just lay an egg and move on, right? But instead, the fracas escalated. Mama Hope decided to weigh in!
Did I tell you that Hope is laying again? Bless her heart, she’s raised five kids and gone through two molts, but here she is making breakfast for us again. At this point, it was so loud I worried the neighbors might complain, so I scurried over to our closest neighbors with some fresh eggs and an apology. Lucky for us they were blissfully unaware of the rumble going on next door.
I finally just had to get away from the noise for awhile. When I came back, things weren’t quite as loud, but three was still a crowd:
I don’t know who claimed the throne in the end, but later in the day we were certainly living like royalty with five freshly-laid eggs.
But wait, you say, don’t you have six hens? Affirmative. Princess Luna is apparently still too important to be bothered with anything as plebian as egg-laying.
Lily laid her first egg! She settled into the nest in earnest this morning when Hope hopped up there to show her how it’s done.
It will be very hard to tell her eggs apart from from Hope’s and Amelia’s.
Hope’s eggs tend to have tiny white flecks on them and Amelia’s are just slightly darker than the others, but in general, we will only know who has laid what if we are on hand to see it happen.
Autumn took the day off – she was too busy exploring. I’ve taken to leaving the hallway door open so the girls can free-range while I’m working in my office. That way I can more or less keep tabs on them. Typically, Autumn prefers to hang out with the humans, and she invariably wanders into my office to see how things are going. Today she was apparently waiting to have a fax delivered…
Remember how quiet my chickens were? Not anymore. They are currently making such a racket I heard it upstairs on the other side of the house. It’s mostly Lily, who sounds much more like a goose than a chicken. She does not bawk, she honks! We think she’s getting very close to laying, which may explain the agitation.
Hens are known for singing an “egg song” after they lay – sort of a “hey, look what I just did!” proclamation. Sometimes – in the case of Hope, for example, she will remain demure and quiet after laying, but Amelia will sing the egg song for her, announcing Hope’s great accomplishment. Lily has been singing the egg song and lurking around the nesting counter all morning.
I’ve left the golf balls in the nesting area to encourage Lily, who, at 28 weeks, will be the last of the four to begin laying. I believe she is very close, because in addition to her increased interest in the nesting area, she is doing what is called the “squat”. When you pet a mature hen, she will instinctively lower her body and slightly spread her wings. The purpose of this posture is to allow a rooster to have his way with the hen.
One rooster is sufficient for 8-10 hens – some say up to 20 hens, but interestingly, roosters do play favorites, and will repeatedly seek out a beloved hen. This can be tough on the hen, thus the market for hen “aprons” or “saddles”.
Since our four girls live a convent life, their feathers all remain intact. It also helps that they live in spacious quarters – hens will aggressively defeather one another when they are kept in too-close surroundings or denied adequate nutrition, light or freedom of movement. In other words, like all the other animals who live here, these hens have hit the lucky lifestyle jackpot!
Thanks to me, you’ll now be channeling that old Donna Summer song all day.
“She works hard for the money, so hard for it honey, she works hard for the money, do you better treat her right”
The girls have produced five eggs in two days, and who knows, Amelia still has time to lay again today, which would bring us up to six.
I let the girls free-range a bit while I cleaned the coop. with lots of “help” from Autumn, who insisted on standing wherever I tried to work. Since I was in a rush to get to a meeting, I was relieved when she finally hopped down so I could concentrate on finishing the chores. Except that a few minutes later, I heard a ruckus outside the coop – the girls were making such a racket I thought they were being attacked. When I went outside to investigate, I realized that Autumn was missing, and the others were loudly protesting her absence.
Since Autumn is the smallest of the hens, it’s easy for her to flap over the fence, so I knew she could be anywhere. The gardeners were working nearby and joined me in searching for her, but after ten minutes she was still AWOL. I was getting worried, and so were the other three chickens, who continued to call out loudly for her. Finally we heard a muffled response to their cries, and we tracked down the little wanderer. She had found her way into the garage where she was scouring the corners for bugs. The gardeners, the three other ladies and I were all very happy to find her!
After her adventure, she rewarded us with her second beautiful egg, which the neighbor kids discovered when they stopped by yesterday afternoon.
They brought their homework along and the CE set up a table for them in the roofed pen since it was raining. They visited the chickens for quite awhile, staying toasty dry and drinking hot chocolate while the rain fell all around. Another good day in the kingdom of chickens…
Mystery solved! Came home this afternoon to find a second egg on the nesting counter - this one definitely from Hope, as her eggs are perceptibly lighter in color than Amelia’s. This means that Amelia, bless her feathered little feet, is figuring out how to lay in the right place.
I had cleaned up the coop this morning and was surprised to see the other countertop in complete disarray – pine shavings tossed and newspapers shredded – when I stepped closer to survey the mess, look what I found!
I opened the coop door yesterday morning to discover that Hope was up on the nesting box counter all alone, tearing up everything in sight and complaining loudly. She seemed – well – hormonal, to say the least. I closed the door and left her to her tantrum, hoping it might result in an egg. No such luck, but there is definitely something going on with Hope.
After I cleaned up the coop, she went right back up to the nesting counter and started tearing things up again. Moreover, I think I observed the “squatting” behavior that presages egg-laying. When newbie chickenkeepers like myself ask the pros when our chickens will lay, their first question will be “is the comb and wattle developed and turning redder?”. The second question will be “Is she squatting?”
Because Hope seemed so agitated, I instinctively reached out to pet her. The girls usually don’t like being pet all that much – they flap away as quickly as they can. But yesterday was different. Instead of moving away from me, Hope stood still and lowered her body as I pet her. I’m pretty sure this is what constitutes the “squatting” behavior I’ve heard so much about.
We’ve been more or less resigned to the likelihood that the girls might start laying while we’re away on our trip, but now I’m hopeful that we might see an egg or two before we go. Anyone want to start a pool?
In other news, Taylor and I were baking the CE’s annual birthday carrot cake yesterday afternoon when we heard a ruckus outside. At least a hundred crows had congregated on our front lawn and were cawing loudly. Most of them dispersed when I opened the door, but I did manage to get these pictures:
Why the crow convention? Perhaps a protest against my interchangeable use of “crow” and “raven”. As www.wisegeek.com explains, “all ravens are crows, but crows can be ravens, jays, or magpies.” A raven is significantly larger than a crow, averaging 25″ tall to a crow’s 18″. There is also a color differentiation: according to WiseGeek, “A raven’s feathers shine with a blue or purple tint when the sun hits them. Crows can fluff their feathers into a mane to show off, while a raven’s individual feathers are larger and pointier. Finally, if you see the bird with its tail spread, a crow’s tail curves evenly like a seashell while the tail of a raven meets at a triangular point.” (Jessica, I hope this makes you happy!)
I suppose it’s possible that the crows are gathering to plot an overthrow of our Chicken Kingdom, but more likely it is a typical autumn ritual of flock re-grouping. According to www.extension.org, “One important and spectacular aspect of crow behavior is their congregation into huge flocks in fall and winter. Large flocks are the result of many small flocks gradually assembling as the season progresses, with the largest concentration occurring in late winter.” One of the largest communal roost sites in the country is at Ft. Cobb, Oklahoma, where several MILLION crows congregate each winter.
No crows in sight this morning; perhaps they’ve re-grouped and moved on. No eggs in sight, either. I’ve got my hopes set on Hope setting soon, but then there is that old yolk about not counting things before they’re hatched…
Coming-of-age rituals are common in the human world. Celebrations and solemn ceremonies abound. For chickens, however, things are less exciting. No engraved invitations. No limos or live bands. Poor dears, all they get is a new bag of food that LOOKS just like the old bag of food, which basically looks like little pellets of corrugated cardboard. The significance, however, is profound: at the appointed time, a hen is changed over from “starter” ration to “laying” ration, the operative verb here being “to lay”. As in an egg.
Like many other aspects of chickenkeeping, there seems to be a fair amount of disagreement about when this momentous change should occur. Some people switch their chickens over to layer feed as early as 14 weeks. Most seem to favor a switch somewhere between 16-20 weeks of age. But there are also those who insist layer feed should not be given until pullets are actually laying eggs.The advice I was given at our local feed store was to change the ration when the girls turn 20 weeks, which just happens to be today. Coincidentally, as I was filling their feeder this evening, I noticed that I was scraping at the bottom of the bag of grower ration, so I will take that as an omen.
From what I understand, the biggest difference between grower and layer feed is the percentage of protein. According to the Animal Science department at UC Davis, pullet grower feed consists of 14-16% protein and should be fed between the ages of 6 and 20 weeks of age. At this point, it is recommended that the birds be switched to laying ration, which has a boosted protein content of 15-18%.
There is a survey on the Backyard Chickens web site where subscribers have shared the age at which their hens first laid eggs. Here is the data on our four breeds, including earliest and latest age at which the bird laid its first egg, color of the egg and size of the egg:
BREED EARLIEST LATEST EGG COLOR EGG SIZE
Brahma, Light (Amelia) 19 wks. 39 wks. lt. brown/cream/pink med. to extra large
Easter Egger (Autumn) 17 wks. 31 wks. mint/pink/olive/ small to extra large
Delaware (Lily) 20 wks. 22 wks. light brown medium to large
Orpington, Buff (Hope) 19.5 wks 28 wks. light brown (no data)
As you can see from the above chart, the girls are statistically in egg-laying territory. I poured the last of their old food into their feeder tonight, and tomorrow they will be officially on layer ration. Let’s hope they get busy and start laying eggs soon!