Monday, October 11, 2010

Where Oh Where Have My Eggs Gone?

No, I didn't pluck her feathers and no, the other hens didn't either. She's moulting, along with the other chickens born a year ago last May.
That typically happens in late July or early August but maybe because we live far enough north and our weather warms up to late around here, my hens always wait until late August to moult. That means as the weather is cooling down the girls are shedding their coats. Stupid, huh, but that is what my girls do and when they moult, they also nearly stop or do stop laying eggs. We are getting one egg a day right now. Last week we were really excited on the days we got four though most it was two. We have six hens of laying age. The rest I butchered as replacements would swell the ranks again.
Now there is promise on some of the hens that feathers are coming in. And despite what many of you think, I've never had a hen freeze that was missing her feathers. We had a pretty cold October last year and by the ninth of October there was over a foot of snow at my husband's hunting camp that sent the Game Wardens scurrying to persuade people to leave the mountain as more was expected.We had a good share down below also. I worried about the girls that whole cold month but no one had frost bite. I know about frost bite as it gets the combs if they are too big and I've seen loose roaming chickens loose their toes and feet.
Of course not all the feathers are lost during moulting, just a majority of them. And the pretty little hen in front is a pullet born this May and she doesn't look like she is any where near ready to start laying. Drat!!! I need eggs. How do I know she isn't about to oblige me? Look how light red her comb is. I'm guessing this hen is a Buff Orpington-Austrolorp cross because of the brown. Hope she does a lot better than the straight Buff Orpington hen we had last year that quit laying when it got hot and quit laying when it got cold. Hopefully she takes after her dad the Austrolorp or else she's chicken noodle soup.

If that wasn't bad enough the Buff Orpingtons are a couple months behind the Australorps in starting to lay. Equate all that and you've a whole lot less eggs for the amount of feed they consume. I have hope that eggs will soon start popping up in our coop in greater numbers as our straight Austrolorps's combs are turning a bright cheery red and I'm expecting pullet eggs by the end of the month. Not early enough to keep me from needing to buy eggs from the store but hope is a wonderful thing. With my Red Stars I've always had a few eggs being laid during moulting time to tide me over but they are a cross and I'm trying to keep some chickens with pure blood going for breeding purposes. .

I did hit the Internet to look up a couple questions you might ask as I have only my experience with a few different breeds to draw on. So here's what I found.
How long does the moult last?
4 to 6 months.

You don't want a hen that completely quits laying this long as she runs up quite a feed bill as you are twiddling your thumbs waiting on eggs. And yes, since feathers are mainly protein, it is wise to increase this in the diet during the moulting period. Wheat is high in protein as is alfalfa hay.

There are Late Moulters which lay for 12 - 14 months and then moult. That's my hens and they only completely stop for a short time. Then there is the Early Moulters which can moult after just a few months of laying. Yes, they are poor layers. So is that hen that looks so pretty plump and preened. She's all looks and few eggs.

As for me, I'm not having a hen that moults for six months loosing a few feathers at a time and isn't laying. I also learned that they can moult twice a year. A hen tries that with me and she's chicken noodle soup. Needless to say, I've never had a hen do that. And what works well in my neck of the woods won't necessarily work well in yours as we each have different weather to contend with and different feed options.

So if your hen looks like someone mistook her for a goose and is trying to live pluck her feathers for a pillow, don't despair, she'll gain them back in time.

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