The Case of the Mysterious Molt

Summer is winding down and the best season of the year is just around the corner.  Canning is in full swing,  cooler nights will make for great sleeping,  local produce is abundant in home gardens and farmer’s markets and……………THE EGG COUNT IS DOWN AT CITY BOY HENS!

018“OK Honda……….What’s going on?  I’ve only ever asked you to provide this City Boy with 1 farm fresh egg each day.  So what’s the problem?  I know that you take the occasional day off, but this is quite a stretch!  What is it?  Was there not enough watermelon on those extremely hot days?  Did you not get enough vacation time at the cottage this summer? 105 Are you jealous because you 3 ladies now have to share the limelight with the honeybees on the blog? 070“Come on Honda….out with it!   You did sooooooo GREAT over the last 12 months since that most excellent day back in July of last year when you laid your very first egg while vacationing at the cottage.  Since that day, you’ve hardly ever taken a day off and I know I wouldn’t be stretching the truth by telling everyone that you laid over 340 eggs in those 12 months.  You are a champ among champs! You always lead by example and Lord knows, Swiffer could sure use some learnin’ from those examples!”

“So what’s the problem?  You know that school will be starting up again shortly and those teenage kids of ours will be looking for some farm fresh eggs in the morning.  You know it’s important that they start their day off right so that they can hopefully absorb some of the lessons that their teachers are teaching.”

“Oh…and by the way……what’s up with those eggs you were laying just before you shut down the factory?  Were you gettin’ bored laying those beautiful large brown  eggs each day?  Just so you know…..I’m not impressed with the crinkled light-colored eggs or those soft-shelled ones that Swiffer has taken a liking to eating!”  Well…As Desi Arnaz would say… “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do”.002

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It turns out that Honda is the first of my 3 hens to go into molt.  During this time, the hormone levels in the hen dramatically change and enormous amounts of energy are used to produce new feathers.  Because feathers are made up of around 85% protein, something else in the “protein using department” has to suffer and egg production always takes the hit.  As a result, hens in molt generally ceases or dramatically slow down producing eggs.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was concerned in the beginning of this change.  At first, I thought Honda was sick.  You’ve got to remember that these hens are ISA Brown sex-links and they were bred to pump out eggs.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that these ISA Browns easily produce 340 eggs each in their first year of lay.

My biggest stumbling block  in not being able to recognize molt was that Honda was not loosing many feathers.  Sure, there were a few here or there, but nothing like I had read from other folks.  So after fretting for about a week (Ya…I’m ok with letting you know that I did worry about my chicken!) I contacted an acquaintance of mine who just happens to be a Chicken Vet.  Mike helped me rule out disease, suggested the strong possibility of molt and offered the following info on the change in Honda’s egg shape and color:  “The color is the last thing to be added to the egg, so the mottled egg, as well as the wrinkled shell indicates an interruption in her lay cycle….the egg didn’t travel through her reproductive tract at the speed it should have…..it went too quickly.  Eggs start out as membrane covered sacs of yolk and protein, then get filled with water and “plumped” out.  If the passage through the oviduct is too quick, the plumping out is incomplete, and this results in wrinkled eggs.  The excess speed also messes with pigmentation, explaining the color.”

In a nut shell, Mike was informing me that Honda was “rushing” her egg development on the days when her body was trying to muster up enough strength to create an egg during this stressful period. As a result, she ended up laying eggs that were either soft-shelled, crinkled, or lighter in color.  I guess this is a testament to sex-link hens.  Even amidst such  dramatic hormonal changes, my girl still tried her best to come through with the goods!

“Well Honda…..It’s been around 7 weeks since we’ve had one of your delicious offerings.  In case you forgot……here’s what you looked like when you were the starting pitcher at City Boy Hens………….  In the mean time…Rosie’s warming up in the bull-pen and Swiffer’s Ping-Pong ball contributions are lookin’ pretty good from here!  Oh…..and Mike….thanks again for your help.  You are “just down the road” from City Boy Hens.  I hope you’ll stop in and I can re-pay you with a beer or 2 and some homemade salami, olives & cheese.

Honda gettin' busy!

Honda gettin’ busy!

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Keeping Your Chickens Cool In The Summer

069Summer……….  A time to hopefully slow down, take a vacation and BEAT THE HEAT!  As I say to most people, I like the summer when there is no humidity.  Unfortunately, many summer days are accompanied by high humidity in Southern Ontario.  On those days, it’s hard to want to do much more than stay in the house where the air conditioner keeps us cool.

For the chickens…….it’s a whole other story.  Imagine someone telling you to go outside in 90 degree heat, continue your daily routine AND WEAR A DOWN COAT that must cover you from head to toe.  Oh…I forgot to mention…lay an egg while you’re at it!  Whew… I’m getting hot just thinking about it.

So….here’s a few tell-tale signs to let you know that your chickens are getting over-heated.   When you see them walking or resting with their wings spread out, you know they are hot.   When you see them this way, they are trying to expel some body heat from  underneath their wings.  This is definitely a place where heat collects on a chicken. If you don’t believe me, stick you hand under the wing next winter and feel how toasty that spot is on a chicken.

Secondly, they will continue to keep their mouth open as another way to dispel heat.  It’s kind of like the way a dog  pants when he/she becomes too hot.  Below is a picture of Swiffer who is definitely hot.  She has found a spot on the deck where she is attempting to cool off underneath a deck chair.

Holy @$#! It's HOT

Holy @$#! it’s HOT

So here’s a few things you can do to make your chickens more comfortable during the dog days of summer.

1)  Make sure that they remain hydrated by providing lots of fresh water.  You may be surprised at how much water they will drink on a very warm day.  The volume can almost double on such days.001

2)  Make sure they have somewhere to go in order to get out of the sun.  Our backyard has plenty of shade from large trees and the hens spend a lot of their free ranging time in this location on those days.001

3)  Substitute daily vegetable treats with some watermelon.   But, remember….the treat is only a supplement to the daily feed.  Too many treats and the egg count could go down.  As well, too much watermelon and you may have a chicken that gets the trots.  In the picture below, my hens breezed through the watermelon wedge in a few minutes.015

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4)  Withhold from giving any scratch on hot days.  On most mornings, I like to throw some scratch into the run because the hens do not have the opportunity to free range.  This thing called work  gets in the way. Anyways,   the scratch allows the chickens to do some foraging throughout the day.   But, scratch is high in calories and has the effect of increasing internal body temperature.  Hence, it is great to use on winter mornings and evenings to help your hens stay warm, but it is not a good option for hot days.

5)  Head up to the cottage for some R&R.  You’ll continue to get fresh eggs and the hens will get the chance to hit the beach.  What????  What else am I suppose to do with them?   Leave them behind????  For more on taking your chickens on vacation, click HERE.050

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6)  Finally, when the wife isn’t home……..let the girls in for a little free ranging in the comfort of your air-conditioned home!  Before you know it, they’ll be up on the couch consoling you as you watch  The Blue Jays blow another attempt at The Division Championship..  Ok……I was just joking about the chickens in the house.   ” I promise Hun, the chickens have never been in the house! I was just writing this for dramatic effect.  You know…..A great way to keep your reader interested…………………….  I know there was that time when Stanley (our dog) managed to open the screen door by himself …but I’m working on training him to close it!”.001

Death to the Horse Flies!

030A decree has been sent out from the Lord Of The Cottage Manor.  He has grown tired of the horse flies inflicting pain on his loyal subjects and himself as they frolic around the rejuvenating waters of the cottage lake.008  “From now on….. the Horse Flies will no longer be allowed to feast on the King and his loyal (well…mostly loyal) subjects. 039  There will be NO MORE free lunches while the family and I are out frolicking in and around the cottage waters.  No more swatting, shooshing, or pleading for your departure.  From this day forward, ALL horse flies who are caught feasting on the King or his subjects will meet their demise via………………………………..041

DEATH-DEALING,……………….BLOOD-THIRSTY…………..

FEROCIOUS……………………………….CHICKENS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

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Whew…..I feel better already.  Now just another 5, 653, 241 more to go in order to rid the kingdom of these pests!

 

Ah….Hello???? Easter was a while ago SWIFFER!!!!!!

002The egg count has been a little low for the past  few weeks and guess who’s not putting forth a regular contribution to City Boy Hens.  If you guessed Swiffer.. then you are correct.  Now, I know there’s going to be a few of you out there who will be sure to defend Swiffer by asking how I know that it is she that is not laying.

Well…as any self-respecting chicken owner will attest, I can tell which hen lays each particular egg. It also helps that I only have 3 hens on my urban homestead.   At City Boy Hens, Honda lays a large egg that is slightly elongated.  Rosie’s contribution is gigantic (extra-large) and Swiffer lays an egg that is not too far off from the size of a Ping-Pong ball.  Okay…I may be exaggerating a bit, but it is definitely the SMALLEST egg each day!011

So.. in the last few weeks, some of the “smallest” eggs have been missing from the coop. Initially, I thought it was odd that Swiffer would be slowing down so soon, considering that she only began laying last October.  But then again, nothing that Swiffer does is too surprising because she has always been a bit of a strange chicken.

Anyways, this morning I went out to feed the hens and collect the eggs.  As I walked past the cedar hedge, something caught my eye.  There, nestled around some dried leaves was…..an egg….THE SIZE OF A PING PONG BALL!!!!!!   There was no second guessing.  This was Swiffer’s egg!002

Well…Swiffer, you’ve managed to lower the bar AGAIN!!! Now….. you’ve taken it upon yourself to not even bother to lay your egg in the coop.  What’s the problem?  Are the “digs” not good enough for you?  Feel like your slummin’ it at City Boy Hens?092It’s bad enough that you won’t use the nest box, but now you’ve taken it upon yourself to just start dropping your eggs around the backyard where ever you see fit!  Ah…..Hello???? The backyard is not even that big.  I’ve seen how far you can run when I come out with some vegetable snacks.  Surely, you could waddle your lazy ass back over to the coop in order to deposit your egg.

Is this some kind of joke??????  Do you think I’m going to start a covert operation every day in order to find your egg?????  Is this some kind of Easter Egg prank????  It’s bad enough that you picked on Rosie for a month, that you took forever to actually start laying eggs and that you lay the SMALLEST EGG every day, but now you are going to hide them for me to find.  Let me tell you what’s coming down the pipe.  Look into the crystal ball.  Do you see a large soup pot with a fresh free-range chicken flavoring the broth?  No???????????……………..  LOOK CLOSER!!!!!!

In the mean time…all free-ranging for you will be strictly curtailed until one Ping-Pong sized egg appears in the coop each day.  No egg………no recreation time!  The decision is yours.  Man…I can’t believe you……….even after I wrote a great post about you last week!006

The Dreaded EGG SONG Has Arrived!

006That damn hen is going to blow our cover.  I don’t know what the heck is going on lately but Swiffer has started to do the EGG SONG.  This morning, the “song” (it’s kinda like a cross between a goose in distress and a car alarm going off in your driveway) began at 5:38!  Why now??????? After 7 months of laying like a champ, why the hell are you now making all this racket?  You DO remember that you and the other 2 hens are illegal?????  Did you forget that only our IMMEDIATE neighbors know that you 3 chickens live in our backyard????????? Are you aware that your so-called “song” can be heard way down the street past those IMMEDIATE neighbors???? Why must you have such a big mouth??????

OK….lay on the couch and tell me what’s really troubling you.  Does it have something to do with my post on Rosie from a few weeks ago?  You’re right….she was in the spotlight that week and we did get some good “views” for that post, but you didn’t hear Honda kickin’ up a fuss.  Besides…….her eggs are enormous and she deserved a little “shout out” for her daily accomplishment.  By the way…..you are still laying the SMALLEST EGG!!!!

Guess who's on the right????

Guess who’s on the right????

Ya know….Maybe the soup pot is not a bad idea.   Now that I think about it, you were the one who bullied Rosie for a month when she first came to City Boy  Hens last November.   You were also the one who taught her  NOT to lay her egg in the nest box, but right beside yours on the floor of the coop.  You were also the one who took 7 long months and 13 days to lay your first egg, which by the way, was 3 months behind Honda’s initial offering.

So…….What’s it gonna’ be Swiffer?  You want the By-law Officer to write me  up?   Just to let you know….it’s not me that will be going???  IT WILL BE YOU and the two quiet hens!

So maybe…86 the song.  There’s no need for this racket.  OK…..You win….I’ve written a post about you.  But….don’t come crying back to me if we don’t get as many views for this post as we did for the one with Rosie.  People aren’t generally impressed with such negative behavior……. So…In the mean time ………SHUT IT!003

A Year in Review

Well…..we made it through a year.  The hens have officially been at City Boy Hens for the last 13 months.  For me…it’s a big deal.  Not because the hens are 1 year old, but rather, I or something else, haven’t managed to kill them in that time.   In the last 12 months, they have survived cat and owl attacks, an attempted break in by a raccoon, one weasel close call at the cottage and two red tail hawks that continue to circle the backyard at home looking for a take-out chicken dinner!

The hens have also moved from their first accommodation – The Chicken Ark- which I made last Spring, to  permanent swanky digs that didn’t have to be moved around the yard each day. They, like the Jeffersons, were “Movin’ on up!”

Portable chicken ark.

Portable chicken ark.

The Run

I kept the new digs toasty throughout the Winter by constructing a well insulated coop which generated heat via a 100 watt lightbulb.  The light was on for the better part of the day and this kept the eggs and drinker from freezing. If you would like more info on these accommodations, check out my page: https://cityboyhens.com/laying-eggs/coop-run-requirements/

There are still no signs of  lice or mites on the hens and our dog, Stanley, has yet to develop a taste for raw chicken.  The transition to the cottage in the summer was pretty easy except for some stinky poop on the way up and some aggravated hens who wouldn’t stop squawking when we stopped for a burger.  As I have said before, they love meat!

As Spring continues to tease us with the expectation of warmer and dryer days, I look forward to returning to the cottage in the months to come and watching the hens free ranging down at the beach.  In the mean time, the neighbours at home continue to get the freshest of eggs when there’s surplus and my friend Ted continues to call me the Chicken Man.

I guess it’s like anything in life.  You reap what you sow.  With that said, wouldn’t it be easier to just get some eggs, salami, cookies, pickles or whatever at the grocery store?  From a time perspective, the answer is yes.  But, I’ve learned a lot in my trade-off with time.  Satisfaction, pride in accomplishments, successes with small failures, and the opportunity to share with family and friends have made every moment worth while.  I’ve also met a lot of great people all the way and it is great getting to know you all.

My blog has been up and running for the last few months and I am amazed at the interest.  It has gone to places in the world that I will never reach.  Thanks to all for spending some of your valuable time at City Boy Hens.  As Spring unfolds, I look forward to sharing the progression of my  vegetable garden at the cottage and  some canning posts on making jams and preserving asparagus, peaches, pears, olives, peppers and more as we move into summer.canning

So….the hens are one year old.  Though they all started laying at different times, I think we’ve received around 650 eggs and counting since Honda got the ball rolling last July!  In the end, we’ve all survived.  In fact, I believe we thrived!  My only regret…….the odd Saturday sleep in to 8 o’clock would have been great!

1 Week's Work!

1 Week’s Work!

Saturday Morning Education

Over the past few weekends, both of my kids have had friends sleep over for the night.  For my daughter, it was more of an orchestrated event with a particular movie, snacks and sleeping bags.  For my son, it was just a place for his buddies to crash after a party.

Before going out to the party, my son asked his friends if they wanted to see the chickens.  “You have chickens?” said one of the teenagers, as he gave me “the look”.   If you have backyard chickens, I know you have received “the look”.  It’s similar to a polite smile that screams “This guy is crazy!”

As we entered the coop, I watched their reactions to the chickens.  It’s generally the same for most people : 1 part caution, 1 part fear, 1 part interest.  Maybe it had something to do with me possibly saying something about “attack chickens” that fostered more of the fear part.

For my daughter’s friends, the fear part must have dominated their reactions because nobody even asked to see the chickens.  Not even after I promised fresh eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast.  Maybe they just didn’t care. Maybe the movie JAWS was too captivating. Maybe, they were just being kids.   Anyways, it got me thinking more about our alienation from our food source and the fact that most urban kids (and adults) have very little or no connection with the food that they eat.   I’d bet that most of these young people have never even seen a chicken up close and they have a preconceived notion that chickens are just dirty barn yard animals.  That might explain why the girls had no interest in visiting the hens.

It’s too bad that we’ve created such a disconnect from our food source over the years.  I know it’s easier to just go to the grocery store to buy those eggs, sausages, olives, canned peaches or whatever.  But, with that convenience, comes a lost opportunity to learn, create, share and take pride in your accomplishments. DSCN4970

Camera Shy!

Camera Shy!

So, with that said,  I got up earlier than usual and prepared breakfast for our guests. The menu included “backyard fresh” eggs, homemade potato hash, bacon,  and homemade biscuits with last years’ blueberry and strawberry jam. Everyone got their first taste of “farm fresh” eggs, though I’m not sure if they were really impressed.  Afterall, they are teenagers (or soon to be), who live in the moment, and are more interested in stuff   that I do not understand or no longer hold of value.  But, I  do hope that our brief “lesson”  regarding our food source stays tucked away somewhere in the archives of their brains.

Maybe, when they become men and women, the memory of our breakfast together will come back and they, too, will want to plant a vegetable garden, raise some chickens, or take an interest in making sausage or canning some pears, or…………    “OK Dad…… stop talking so much and pass the potatoes!”