Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Stew Pot

Motivation.  Everyone needs a little every now and then - even chickens.  We've recently experienced a significant drop in egg production; like to zero eggs per day.  When you are feeding 5 hens and you are getting, maybe two eggs per week, you begin to think "chicken dinner" vs fresh eggs. 

I tried my usual form of motivation -- a daily rant outside the coop with threats of "Coq Au Vin and chicken pot-pie" if someone didn't get busy. The pleading and cajoling didn't help either.  And, worse yet, I had to buy a dozen eggs from the grocery store - something I hadn't done in over a year!

I was at a loss as to why this was happening and what our girls needed to get back to work. No one was ill.  Had they run their egg-laying course already? We started the difficult discussions of "what's next" (which are good to have regardless).  Would we keep non-producing hens through the winter or would we send them to the big chicken coop in the sky?

I turned to Backyard Chicken's Forum and asked if anyone else had experienced this phenomenon. I got well-wishers and a few with similar problems, but no solid leads. Thankfully a general web search return better results, and we narrowed it down to two possible causes - old age and/or molting.

Then it hit me like a feathered pillow...our girls are molting.  I did see a small amount of feathers in the coop, but attributed those to pecking order dust-ups.  They were in "day-long" molt.   

Thinking it over, I realized we made a mistake last year by not letting our girls molt in their second fall season; and that, combined with turning the artificial daylight off in March, sent the girls into a spring molt.  You can't stop mother nature.

Last week we got 4 eggs total (Penny the hen-pecked Barred Rock was the only girl still laying). On Sunday I found 4 eggs in the nest - yes, 4 in one day!  Yesterday there were 3 beautiful eggs awaiting.  Seven eggs in two days!  Needless to say we are grateful for their good work -- and hope they keep it up.  

On a serious note, if your hens will be two next spring, it's probably best to let them molt this fall.  As for the age factor, hens reach peak productivity at about 35 weeks (greater than 90% productivity) when they are pumping out 9 eggs in 10 days. This peak lasts for about 10 weeks and slowly declines over time.  However, most hens will remain productive layers through age 3 - good news for our girls. 

Looks like we can put the stew pot back in the cupboard -- at least for the time being.

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Thanks for reading and sharing your comments! Candace

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