Production at an all time low: Part 1

Around my house, if one talks about production being down, it’s usually in relation to the recent output from The Layers and Crew.  (It seemed appropriate since the flock is now a combination of my girls and his girls and our girls, that I needed an updated title for the group.  What do you think?)   In layman’s terms, how many eggs did we get today? Production has been down.  Last year at this time the girls were giving me about 8 eggs a day form 13 hens.  My guy was getting oodles from his girls.  He didn’t gather daily (eeks…I know!!! I gather a few times a day most days) and so there would be a couple dozen when he would go gather.  He was giving them to all the neighbors and they loved him for it.

The decrease did not come overnight.  It has been like this for months.  When we (The Layers and I) were still out at the farm and they were free-ranging, they were giving me nearly 6 dozen a week.  That was out of the dozen girls that were old enough to lay.   The first change for them came when I changed their food.  They had been having Rogue Quality Feeds Layer Pellets when I got them in October and I kept them on that until late spring.  I changed it to the Rogue Nature’s Harmony Organic Layer Pellets.  They are both 16% protein.  The only difference is that one is made with grains that had been certified Organic by the Oregon State Dept. of Agriculture, per the packaging.   I noticed a slight drop in my daily egg counts. Then, in May, when things began blooming and I came back from a trip, my landlord asked me to pen them.  They were getting into her pretty flower beds.  I understood.  So a pen was built around their coop by none other than my most favorite hardworking handyman..my boyfriend.  He even made the gate cute for me.  🙂  Right away, there was a significant drop.  In  April I had been getting about 9 or 10 a day and then it was down to about 6.  I felt they were crowded.  The enclosed area was plenty large enough by the standards you see when you look to find out how much space a chicken takes.  I had 17 chickens and they had a 16×8 foot coop and their run was at least twice that big.  So maybe around 350-400 square feet of ground space for them.   That’s plenty for certain.  But I felt they had given up too much space.  They had been roaming 3 acres for the last 8 months.  So I decided to re-home 5 of the original Layers.  And the eggs skidded down to a mere 4 or 5 a day. But wait a minute.  4 or 5 a day out a of dozen chickens?  Oh…wait a minute, let’s evaluate.  I had 13 Layers, one died.  That left a dozen.  Then I got 5 baby chicks.  So 13-1+5=17 chickens in the flock.  Am I right?  Please check my math.  Then I sent 5 of the “original” flock to a home where they could free range once again.  Out of the babies, which none of them were old enough to lay eggs yet, was a rooster!  So, I was down to only 7 Layers.  Having 5 eggs a day was pretty good production. Then the heat came in early June.  It was in the 90’s daily by mid June.  Egg production down to about 3, but I did start getting itsy bitsy cutie patootie little eggs in July!  The Littles were laying.

In July I moved, and in August, the girls were transplanted into the city.  Boy oh boy, did production drop then.  They were in a very small coop/run with a whole new flock of chickens.  For a bit, we were getting about a dozen eggs a day from The Layers and Crew.  A dozen isn’t bad, until you do the math.  Damn chicken math!!!  I had my dozen, of which 4 of them were The Littles and not laying regularly yet.  There was the flock my guy had with 12 that we think were laying, but he didn’t know for absolute certain.  He used to have 17, but we re-homed 5 of his before we brought mine.  So let’s look at the math.  17(his original Crew) + 12 (My group) – 5 (The Littles)=24 Layers – 5 (the ones he re-homed before mine came) = 19 Layers.  I’m getting lost in this chicken math.  I know we re-homed a few of his and a few of mine to get to where we had 1/2 dozen of each and by putting them all together we had a flock of a dozen.  Then we got the two Red-Laced Blue Wyandottes.  We are on our way back up.  Or so we thought.  We are up on chickens but DOWN on the number of eggs.  We only had 8 that were Laying and we’re getting about 4 eggs a day.  Hmmm….that sounds similarly close to how it was last winter.

Did I tell you I noticed in late August or early September that my Polish hen had different colored feathers in her bonnet.  Some new white ones.  She was never a white head before. Before we got the newest Littles (we will always be having Littles I think) my guy again took out his tools and gathered up a bunch of stuff from around this piece of property and he made us a new coop/run that was more airy and larger and more secure and so much nicer.  So again, they became upset.   They were moved.  Production went down again.  There were a few days that we’ve had only 1 or 2 eggs.

I know that in September I started noticing a lot of feather laying in the chicken run.  They were molting.  I believe that is why my Polish hen, Miss Donna, had a change in her bonnet.  A few of them became pretty rough looking over the next few weeks.  Even my gorgeous Austrolop, Sweetie, was not her usual full feathered self.  Fortunately that only lasted a month or so and they are looking much better now.

Here we are now, with mid November upon us and still production is down.  We put up a light for heat and well…for light after daylight savings time ended.  Even with 24 hours of light we still only are getting 3 or 4 eggs a day.  I am starting to think that a few of my guys Crew are much older than 2 or 3 years old.  If that is the case, we may be rehoming a few, or making chicken stock.  We decided to give them 2 weeks to ante up, or off they go to a new home or the stew pot.  That is part of chicken math too!  When you have the bulk of a flock that isn’t laying for months on end and you are spending money on feed and not having anything tangible in return, then something has got to change.  At least at our house it does.

On the up side, the Blue Red Laced Wyandottes should be laying anytime now.  I haven’t noticed any tiny little eggs yet, but they are just about the right age for those cute first little round eggs.  I’ll be sure to share it with you all when it occurs.

The Littles give little eggs.

The Littles give little eggs.

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The year of the chickens.

A year of learning.  About chickens and eggs and what goes with them.

What came first?  For me it was chickens..but for some it's the egg!

What came first? For me it was chickens..but for some it’s the egg!

What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Well, at my house that is an easy question to answer.  The chickens came first. It was a year ago to be exact!  One year ago this week  I went and brought my first flock to live with me on the farm I lived on out in Applegate.

I caught the chicken bug the first month or so of 2012.  I had been told where I had been living that I was going to have to wait at least until spring of 2013 before my desire would come to fruition. Then, the end of the summer of 2012, I moved.  I no longer had any constraints to keep me from getting the object(S) that my heart desired.  My landlord gave me the thumbs up and I went to work cleaning out and renovating an old coop that was next to my barn apartment.

It was my first time doing any construction of any kind.  Fortunately I had a friend who came to help.  He brought his tools and his strength and his knowledge, but the ideas were all mine and I did my fair share of measuring and cutting and hammering and setting screws. Of course I had cleaned the coop out before we started renovations.  There was old straw and chicken poop all over that needed to be shucked out and scrubbed down and disinfected.  That’s right.  I learned you need to disinfect the coop when you are going to be bringing in a new flock.  So…it was sprayed down with Basic G from Shaklee and I let that dry for a couple of days before adding bedding.  I decided to do the deep litter method using straw on the bottom and pine shavings in their nesting boxes.  Every so often I would add more straw and also some shavings to the floor.  I had no smell and didn’t have to clean the coop from October to May.

I had never even held a chicken before the day I went to pick them up.  The gal I bought them from was going through some really rough times and needed to move her kids to California and couldn’t take the girls.  She was so sad about it and I did the best I could to reassure her that they were going to be loved and loved and loved.  And they were.

So, things I had learned before I even retrieved my girls was that they needed to have a place where they were safe from predators, especially at night.  They needed their coop to be dry and not have chilling drafts.  They needed food specific to their age and calling in life (mine were on Layer Pellets) and fresh drinking water.  I had read they needed to have roosts and laying boxes and ladders to get up in the boxes and special treats and lots of other things.  I quickly found out they don’t.  The will find anywhere to roost or sleep if they feel safe and the same can be said with laying eggs.  But I made sure my coop had plenty of laying baskets and they had plenty of roosting space and a locked coop for night-time.

I had decided I wanted my Layers to be free ranged.  That means that they were free to roam as far as they chose to.  Since we lived on a 13 acre piece of property they had quite a wide expanse of territory.  They mostly stayed in the 3 acres close to my barn apartment and the main house.  While letting them free range during the day does increase their risk of being struck by a predator, I felt it was a more natural and kinder life for them.  I did loose one of my hens to a hawk about three months after getting them.  RIP Grace.  I realized that was part of the deal.  Life and death.

So, the chicken came before the egg, but once the eggs started….woah Nellie did I have eggs!  It only took a few days from their relocation before I think each Layer had laid at least one egg.  They do not lay an egg EVERY day.  Each breed has an approximate number of eggs they will lay in a lifetime.  Most of them lay an egg about every 24-30 hours during their peak laying years.  So with a Bakers Dozen girls I would get about 5 dozen eggs a week when they were all in prime laying.  I have learned that their laying habits can vary based on many things.  When they molt (lose their old feathers and grow new ones which occurs once a year) they generally don’t lay.  Some chickens have a hard molt and they look pretty rough.  Miss Donna, my Golden Laced Polish hen, hardly looks any different during her molt, but she hasn’t given me any eggs during her molt.  I’ve also learned that stress will decrease egg production. Decreased light will also cause low productions.  Over the hardest part of the winter I was only getting one egg every other day per hen.  Also, this summer when we were having so much smoke from our fire season and the temperatures were soaring above 90 degrees and into the low 100’s for weeks on end, I did not have good production.  Moving them stresses them.  Adding new chickens to the flock is stressful.  Essentially I have learned that hens like things to be constant and the same and not to be upset if you want to have good output.

My girls and their eggs have brought so many new and wonderful things to my life.  I started my community Facebook page and have met so many interesting and knowledgeable people who enjoy chickens and sustainable living and healthy eating and many things I enjoy also.  I started doing this blog and the Layers and Littles, or their eggs, had a star role often.  I sold some of my eggs, which led me to meet others who sold eggs and had chickens.  And of course…with all those eggs…I did a LOT of egg cooking.  I made stuff for myself and for others.  The eggs became the basis for my Barter Basket that was my payment for my physical therapy once a week.

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About 4 months after becoming known as “that crazy chicken lady” by my friends, I bought some day old chicks.  I decided I wanted to start from scratch.  My first batch was 2 Silver Laced Wyandottes (SLW) and a Welsummer.  The following week in February I bought a pair of Speckled Sussex (SS).  My landlord bought 35 babies and let me tell you..that many babies makes a real racket and a stench if you don’t keep up on them. My five Little’s were kept up in my apartment with me until they were 5 weeks old.  I just used a clear plastic tub and had their food and water and a heat lamp hanging above it.  You have to help keep them warm, so a heat lamp is the easiest and least expensive way to do it.  From the first week of having the SS chicks I knew they were different.   From each other that is.  There was just something about them.  Low and behold, about June, the one that had a bit larger comb began to crow!  I had a pair that I could breed and I was excited to think about hatching eggs.  I had a rooster!  And what a handsome cocky boy he was.

I started introducing the Littles to my Layers when they were about 6 weeks old.  I would take them outdoors and have them in a pen where the big girls could get a look, but not get at them.  Then when they were about 12 weeks old I moved them to the coop, but kept them sequestered in an area of the coop to themselves and only let them out when I was in attendance.  I did this for about a week and then one evening after they had all been outdoors for the late afternoon, I let them all go in to find their spots at bedtime and they all just were together after that.

Then life changed and I needed to move.  To town.  I knew I couldn’t bring a rooster to town and so I relocated Pumpkin and 5 of my older Layers with someone out in the country.  I  packed up the 4 Littles and Miss Donna and Sweetie (she’s an Austrolop) and brought them to town and they joined my boyfriends motley crew of 14 hens.  We ended up rehoming 8 of his and were back down to just a dozen.  They haven’t been as happy here and our production as been down.  They have to be in an enclosed chicken yard and I don’t think they like that as much as running free.

I have learned that chickens LOVE treats.  In the winter I would give them warm oats with apples or raisins in them.  Sometimes I would add some scrambled eggs for extra protein.  Some people think you shouldn’t give chickens eggs or chicken meat.  My girls love both!  They have yet to show any signs of cannibalism, but they love having some warm scrambled eggs on a cold morning.  I also started growing and giving them sprouts when they weren’t getting out to free range.  They also like scratch, sunflower seeds and fruit and veggie scraps.  My girls get a wide variety of diet with their base being Organic Layer Pellets from the Grange.  I love using the bags to decorate their coop as well as I used them to line planter boxes this summer!

A few other things I’ve learned this year about raising chickens.  Sometimes you forget that you’ve put an egg in your pocket and it gets squashed.  Sometimes they don’t have “fluffy butts” but rather have nasty butts and need to get a good washing!  I wasn’t sure, but I found out that they will go out in the snow.  And they LOVE to take dust baths.  Those are just a few things I learned just by watching and enjoying my girls.

We inherited two new pullets a month ago.  My boyfriend’s cousin raises Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes and we are hoping when we are able to move back out to the country that we can start breeding them.  They are a beautifully marked bird and I have read about many  people who are trying to fine tune the breed so it can be added to the American Breed Standard.

Our Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes...all the way from Utah!

Our Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes…all the way from Utah!

So, while the chicken did come first for me, the eggs will be coming for quite some time.  And what does that do for me the most???  It makes me smile.  I love my chickens.  They fill so many areas of my life.  They give me food.  They are one of the things I do in my life towards being self-sufficient.  They are a wonderful conversation topic.  They have brought me new friends which has opened doors for many other new things.

My next post will explain why I need them.  You see…production is at an all time low for me.  And I’m not talking about eggs.  Check back soon and see what I mean about low production!  Thanks for reading friends.  Now go pet a chicken or eat an egg!  It will improve your day…trust me…I know it for a fact!