Thursday, March 31, 2011

Silkie Fever

Even the stars have Silkie fever.  Here's a photo of Tori Spelling and her gorgeous white Silkie, Coco.  How precious.  Honestly, I was thinking it would be nice if Coco were to drop a big, stinky chicken load on her, but maybe she's so rich she can have someone fashion chicken Depends for her birds.  Seriously, props to Tori n' Dean if they're sincerely goin' Cali-farmer.  As the article reads, she was out walking her family goat a few weeks ago.  I just hope this isn't the next big fad after which the animal shelters will be spilling over with chickens rather than chihuahuas.  All I've gotta' say is if Paris Hilton shows up with a Silkie, I'm gonna' puke...for days. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chickens & Cats Form Peace Treaty

Anyone who lives in the country knows someone with ALOT of cats and most likely ALOT of chickens!  My neighbor, who happens to be my dear Mother-in-law, is the cat lady and I'm the chicken lady.  At first I was concerned her cats would eat my girls until I saw a chicken charging a cat as the cat ran frantically for its life.  Since they've had time to get acquainted, it seems the chickens and cats have formed a peace treaty of their own.  I think it goes something like, "Hey, if you don't peck me, I won't shred you to bits with my claws!"  Our girls even share their treats with the cats!

Here's Red and one of the scavenger neighbors on the prowl for treats!

It's always a challenge keeping the cats out of our yard and the chickens out of the neighbor's yard, so, for now, we've come to an agreement as well...until one of us figures out how to keep our livestock out of the other's yard, we're just gonna' deal with it!  I'm not certain how long this will last as my Mom-in-law's garden and flower beds are sure to be irresistible targets for our happy hens!  They'd have the garden obliterated before the Duke boys could get outta' Hazzard in The General Lee!  I'll post pics of that later...ha!    

Friday, March 25, 2011

Broody, The Easter Egger

I saw this cartoon and it made me think of our Easter Egger, who now carries the name Broody

Broody has decided that she wants to do nothing more than sit in the nesting box, day and night, with the hopes of hatching her eggs and any other egg that may be lying in wait.  Since we're not in the business to turn out eggs at rapid speeds, we've humored her diligent desire to spend hours on end attempting to bring to fruition this impossible task.  I have explained that the absence of a roo in the coop will keep her from ever succeeding since none of these eggs she's trying so hard to hatch are fertilized; however, I'm convinced that she's convinced she can do this! 

For now, we're watching to be sure she's eating and drinking as broody hens will often not leave the nest unless they absolutely must.  We've also made it a point to pull her from the nest and set her outside to free range with the others throughout the day, but she doesn't last long before high-tailin' it back to her nest to continue egg duty (eggs or no eggs).  We collect the eggs often, so she moves from nest to nest, sitting on any egg she can find until we come and take it from her.  Thankfully, she has yet to peck me as I pull her out or steal her egg.  She does let me know with her low clucks and raised feathers that she's not happy about being pestered.  I'm hoping that she'll eventually come to terms with the fact that hatching eggs is not in the stars for her, otherwise, I may have to call in a chicken whisperer to explain things for her!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Labels, Labels, Labels!

You may have noticed that there are more options at the local grocery for eggs these days...  Regular (conventional) eggs, Cage-Free eggs, Free Range eggs, Organic eggs & Vegetarian eggs.  Have you ever wondered what all these labels really mean?  I aim to satisfy the inquiring mind, so here's the skinny on all those labels...

These are the eggs that most consumers are purchasing.  They cost roughly $1.00-1.50/dozen and come in more generic packaging (no specialty labeling).  Many of the hens laying these eggs are given less space than a standard-sized sheet of notebook paper to live in and are often caged in battery cages.  There’s not even enough room to spread their wings.  Thankfully, after much public opposition, many egg-producers are moving from battery-cage systems to cage-free systems.

Cage Free
As stated, these hens are able to move about without being confined to cages. A significant improvement when compared to the confines of a battery cage; however, the absence of cages doesn’t always ensure high levels of welfare.  Cage free hens are often subject to crowded spaces (hens are housed together by the thousands), trimmed beaks (beaks are partially burned off to prevent pecking), no outdoor access, and early slaughter (slaughtered at approx. 2 years of age, less than ½ their normal lifespan).  There is no doubt that these hens live a less cruel life than caged hens; at the very least, they have the ability to spread their wings, lay eggs in nests and run about.  While I feel producers should do all they can to provide the best possible environment for their hens, to be fair, I must say that it would be near impossible for large producers to allow more luxuries than a cage-free system provides while continuing to supply the demand and sell eggs at a price most consumers are willing to pay.    

Free Range
This label gives the buyer a vision of chickens roaming freely on the green pastures of a rural farm.  Unfortunately, Free Range is an unregulated term and can be used by anyone.  All you need is a door that allows access to an outdoor area.  The size of that outdoor area could virtually be the size of a battery cage.  The only way to know that your eggs are laid by Free Range hens is to purchase them from a producer whose production standards can be verified or to raise them yourself.

Organic eggs come from hens that were fed an organic diet.  Again, it is my belief, that the only way you’ll be absolutely sure your eggs (or any food labeled organic for that matter) are truly organic is to purchase them from a producer whose practices can be verified or to raise organic hens/eggs yourself (which would include organically growing the feed that they eat).  Unfortunately, some of the food items the USDA considers to be organic are questionable.  For example, artificial sweeteners like, Neotame, are among the ingredients approved for organic food processing on the USDA’s list of “Certified Organic” food items.  Not sure when “artificial” became the new “organic”, but that’s just me.  By the way, I am not a die-hard organic food buyer, eater, grower, etc…nor are my hens fed an organic diet.

These hens are fed a vegetarian diet (i.e. no animal fat proteins, meats, etc…). Let me point out that chickens are omnivores by nature, not vegetarians, and, if allowed, will eat bugs, grubs, worms, etc... If hens have access to the outdoors (which I feel is very important for the health and happiness of the hen), the chances of the eggs actually coming from a vegetarian chicken are slim to none.  So, if you want to ensure you’re eating eggs from girls that have seen the grass and mud of the Earth beneath their feet, Vegetarian labeled eggs are not for you.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What In Tarnation Is That?!?

I've often wondered what a hen thinks upon the arrival of her first egg.  Somehow, these girls must know what's going on... just as a woman knows when her first baby is going to arrive. 

It's really incredible how they know what the nesting boxes are for; they start laying eggs there right from the start.  And, they rarely mess in the nesting box which is a small miracle in and of itself considering the lack of concern for where they drop a load anywhere else!

The entire process, from the formation of the egg to the brooding process to the synchronized hatching of her clutch to mothering her chicks, is truly amazing!  The mother hen even communicates with the embryos while in the shell to ensure they develop and hatch at the same time.  This communication allows her to know who needs more or less heat to speed up or slow down their development.  She'll move those who need more heat to the inside and those who need less to the outside, often making changes several times a day. 

After learning all I have about chickens, I must say, I'd be honored to be called a chicken brain.  They are interesting, intelligent creatures that don't get the credit they deserve.  Give it up to the Mother Hen...   

*This is not one of our hens*

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Molt

Why do my hens look like Charlie Sheen after a weekend bender?  ...And, where the heck are all their feathers going?!?!?

I began wondering if our happy hens were sick, had a parasite problem, were missing something vital from their diet, etc...  At first only a couple girls were missing feathers and I suspected that they were being picked on by the H.C.I.C.'s of our flock.  However, once some of the girls at the top of the pecking order started looking just like those at the bottom, I began frantically researching for an answer.  After being in borderline obsessive research mode for awhile, I realized we were facing our first molt.  Because of their young age and the fact that they are still laying well, I believe our girls are experiencing a partial head/neck/tail feather molt. 

To give the girls some added energy and the boost of protein they'll need to replenish the feathers they've shed, we've added some soybean meal to their regular layer ration as well as a free-choice tub of Armour lard for them to enjoy.

Here's some helpful, accurate information I found on about molting.      

Each year chickens molt, or lose the older feathers, and grow new ones. Most hens stop producing eggs until after the molt is completed. The rate of lay for some hens may not be affected, but their molting time is longer. Hens referred to as “late molters” will lay for 12 to 14 months before molting, while others, referred to as “early molters,” may begin to molt after only a few months in production. Late molters are generally the better laying hens and will have a more ragged and tattered covering of feathers. The early molters are generally poorer layers and have a smoother, better-groomed appearance.
Early molters drop only a few feathers at a time and may take as long as four to six months to complete the molt. Early molters are usually poor producers in a flock. Late molting hens will produce longer before molting and will shed the feathers quicker (two to three months). The advantage of late molters is that the loss of feathers and their replacement takes place at the same time. This enables the hen to return to full production sooner.
The order in which birds lose their feathers is fairly definite. The feathers are lost from the head first, followed in order by those on the neck, breast, body, wings, and tail. A definite order of molting is also seen within each molting section, such as the loss of primary flight feathers before secondary flight feathers on the wings.
The primary wing feathers determine whether a hen is an early or late molter. These large, stiff flight feathers are observed on the outer part of each wing when the wing is spread. Usually 10 primary feathers on each wing are separated from the smaller secondary feathers by a short axial feather.
Molting birds lose the primary feathers in regular order, beginning with the feather nearest the axial feather and progressing to the outer wing-tip feathers. Late molting hens will lose primary feathers in groups of two or more feathers, whereas early molters lose feathers individually. Replacement feathers begin to grow shortly after the old feathers are shed. Late molting birds can be distinguished by groups of replacement feathers showing similar stages of growth.
Estimating Duration of Molt
The time a bird has been molting can be determined by examination of the large primary wing feathers. Length of molt can be estimated by allowing six weeks for the first mature group of primaries and two weeks for each additional feather or group of feathers. If the primary feathers are not fully grown, the time of molt can be estimated based on the feathers’ present stage of growth.
A primary feather reaches half its full length after two weeks, two-thirds its growth after three weeks, and completes its growth six weeks after the old primary is lost. The growth rate of the replacement feathers is the same for both early and late molting hens.
Often pullets undergo a partial molt, involving the neck and tail feathers. This condition can usually be eliminated by purchasing pullets hatched in April or later in each year and by following proper management practices. The length and incidence of a molt are influenced considerably by the bird’s body weight, physical condition and environmental conditions such as nutrition and management.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?