Thursday, December 26, 2013

Renewed Interest!

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by Meredith Chilson

The late December temperatures are hovering in the single digits, and snow covers the ground here in Western New York.  We don’t heat our chicken coop, so fresh water must be carried to the chickens first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon.
Snowy day in WNY
It’s not a problem—I like to do afternoon checks on the coop anyhow.

In the summer, I carry a basket with me when I do the 3 PM check.  On the way back to the house, it’s filled with nice big, brown eggs that the ladies have laid in the nests. 

Since the girls began molting in earnest a couple of months ago, a basket has not been necessary.  This year, I haven’t had to (gulp) buy eggs for our family – I saved some from the summer bonanza (see post HERE), and one or two hens have not entirely stopped laying eggs.  We’ve been averaging about one every other day.  Until last week.  On the day with the shortest amount of daylight, there were FOUR eggs in the nest boxes.

I wasn’t totally surprised; I’ve been watching for signs of renewed interest in the nests.  Many of the hens going through their first molting season have regrown their feathers.  I’ve been doing what I could to help them through their molt by providing them with extra protein in the form of mealworms or the occasional handful of sunflower seeds or dry cat food.  I’ve made sure they have fresh (non-frozen) water, too, and if I used plastic water containers I would have added a little apple cider vinegar to the water.  They’ve had greens and commercial feed, too.

Young birds were introduced to the flock in October, which coincided with the beginning of the molt, so commercial laying feed was gradually replaced with the “grower” feed that the pullets needed.  This week, the young birds are 20 weeks old, and the layer feed has replaced the grower feed.  Calcium in the form of oyster shell is freely available in the coop, too.

Are you watching your hens for signs of renewed interest in laying eggs, too? Or, do you have some pullets that might be ready to start laying eggs?  Do you know some of the signs to watch for?

Copper Maran pullet
Young female chickens, pullets, are physically mature enough to lay eggs by the time they are about 22 weeks old.  Every female chicken is born with two ovaries, but by the time she is old enough to lay eggs, only the left ovary is functioning.  (I just think that’s fascinating—the reason for it is, of course, that it takes a lot of room inside a chicken to create an egg.) Hormones that induce ovulation begin doing their jobs, working together to make healthy eggs, preparing each one for fertilization and then sending it down the passageway—the oviduct—and on out into the world.

A few days before a chicken lays her first egg, you may notice a submissive “squat” –particularly if you reach your hand out toward the chicken.  This squat is instinctual--a signal that the chicken is prepared to submit to a rooster; the lowered position helps her keep her balance. 
Pullet is showing signs of heightened color on comb and wattles
 A good laying hen will very often have a bright red comb and red wattles.  I watch the combs on the pullets for color, just as I watch the combs on the older hens.  When a hen is molting, feathers, combs and wattles are faded in color.  As they recover, colors are brightened and renewed.
 
This Barred Plymouth Rock is a great egg layer!
Finally, I watch for interest.  I have noticed that before a chicken begins laying eggs for the first time, she often checks out the nesting possibilities.  Sometimes she actually enters a nest that another hen is in, other times, she merely peers into the nests, but she shows interest. 
 
Hmmm…interesting!
I provide the cozy nests filled with clean shavings, and I wait for the hens to produce their eggs.  I’ve noticed that just in the past week, the shavings in the nest boxes are often fluffed and arranged differently in the afternoon than they were in the morning, and of course, every so often, there’s actually an egg tucked down in.  It won’t be too much longer and I’ll have to start taking a basket with me again when I head out to the coop in the afternoon.

And that’s interesting!!

3 comments:

  1. We have 26 chickens and continue to get over 20 eggs a day and our temps have been down to single digits? When do they slow down??

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    Replies
    1. That's great! My guess is that you have fairly young birds--a year or a year and a half old? Just commenting from my own experiences, younger birds--once they have begun to lay eggs--will lay fairly consistently until their first molt. It does, of course, depend on the breed of bird --some are better winter layers than others, too. Maybe yours won't slow down much at all this year. Yay!

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    2. If you are having trouble eating all of them; sharing with your local food shelf would be greatly appreciated by others in need!

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