Monday, August 27, 2012

How Do You Know?


Really, how do we know certain things in life? Like, how do we know the cat really loves us and wouldn't eat us in our sleep if he was just a little bit bigger? How do I know I'm not just wasting my time writing about chickens twice a week? How do I know I won't end up the loony bin some day because of those chickens? And more importantly, how do we know those crazy birds are even laying eggs? (Well, besides the obvious 20 I find nightly...that means 5 others are what we like to call, freeloaders.) Unless, those 5 are just recouping and are gearing up for the next round.

I just read a really interesting article in Backyard Poultry about identifying the birds in your flock that are either producing eggs, or those who are not. Break out the gold medals and the stew pot! It makes me want to go out and get a little "closer" to my birds...

One can determine egg production, or lack thereof, in a hen based largely on her appearance alone. The hen's combs and wattles are a good place to start. If a hen is laying, it is said the combs and wattles are bright and healthy looking and larger in size. This is due to higher estrogen levels.

Other signs are a bleached out complexion. Now some chicken breeds are white skinned thanks to genetics. These include the Sussex, Dorking, and Orpington. Other chicken breeds are by nature yellow-skinned like the Barred Rock, Wyandottes and Rhone Island Reds, so it may be easier to watch for a washed out complexion on these birds. Losing yellow pigment starts at the vent then the eye ring, the beak (which fading begins at the base), bottom of the feet and then the shanks. If a hen has lost coloring in her beak, it can be estimated that she's into weeks 4 to 6 of her production. Same with the shanks, by then she's into weeks 15 to 20. Pigment is lost due to the blood supply it takes to support laying eggs. After a hen has stopped laying for the season, the yellow pigment will reappear in the same order it was lost.

Feathers are something else to look at. They may appear ragged looking because of less blood supply in making them look pretty. A hen could be missing feathers at the top of her head due to the rooster (um...doing what roosters do...) and this is cool, once a hen has had a visit by her man, a rooster's sperm "packet" can make the hen fertile for up to 10 days. It may also take longer for a hen to replace feathers since that egg takes top priority over anything else...especially material things. Most hens won't lay during a molt, but there are a few overachievers out there who will do both. In this case, feathers won't grow back. I'm telling myself thing since some of Flock 1 still look terrible and aren't re-growing their feathers, though I see a few of those girls in the nest box.

All in all, laying eggs takes it out of the girls. They may look a mess, while others still maintain a pretty appearance. Body fat may also decrease.

A sure way to tell if a hen is laying or not is to check the pubic bone. A laying hen will have a 3 to 4 finger width pubic bone (about 2-1/2 to 3 inches). A non-layer, or a pullet who hasn't reached laying maturity has a pubic bone width of about one finger.

Chickens will usually lay one egg per every 24 hours, with the majority of eggs laid around mid morning. Though not all chickens are the same and they aren't machines.

All in all, it might not be so easy being a chicken. You are either looking a mess and working hard, or off to the dinner table you go!

                                                                                                   ...cluck... cluck... cluck...

Cressler, Joy. E. "Don't Save the Pretty Hens." Backyard Poultry Aug./Sept. 2012: 40+

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