Tag: chickens

Molting backyard chicken

So, according to my dashboard, most of the people who check out my blog through a search do so because I have written about raising chickens.  I thought I would share this new chicken event through my blog in case you are raising chickens too and this has not happened to you yet.

About a month ago [?], not really sure since time sort of jams in and collapses in on itself lately, I noticed that there were no eggs in the laying box.  I thought this was because my hens had begun to roost in the Rose of Sharon tree [that is a whole other story related to a rogue, tree roosting rooster who no longer resides here], but I was not sure.  We set about looking for the eggs in case she was laying someplace else.  Right now I have two hens.  The Rhode Island Red the kids called Chipmunk is less than 6 months and has not begun to lay and my first-born Ameraucana, Uno, who is a beautiful gray who lays blue-green eggs is a year and a half.  I did have another RIR named Moe, who before she was attacked and had to be put down, laid brown eggs or brown speckled eggs.  So, there I was hunting for eggs in October like it was Easter.  I offered to pay my children if they could find where the eggs were being laid.  I was more than a little irritated not to have my daily egg from Miss Uno, but I was really too busy to put a lot of energy into solving the mystery.

Cut to this week, a cold snap following a very balmy spell, and I come home to find the porch covered in fluffy light gray feathers. I take a look at my girl, and notice they are missing around the neck area and ask my teenaged son if he knows what is going on with Uno.  He says ‘I think something got a hold of her and snatched the feathers out of her neck; look at her.’  I go out to pick her up and have him look and he says ‘gross… it is just yellow prickly chicken skin with some feathers poking through.’  We don’t see an injury, so we conclude that Chipmunk is plucking them out or something and I isolate Uno in the closed pen.  Normally Uno will pace back and forth when placed into the pen and make lots of noise because she hates to be confined, but this time, she just heads upstairs and rests in the straw.  I am very worried.

I start googling and I am struck by a thought– molting!  I google chicken molt and get all kinds of pertinent hits.  My chicken is molting and I am quite relieved!  I seem to have solved both the feather mystery and the missing egg mystery.  Apparently, chickens will molt after about a year of heavy laying, which fits exactly because Uno laid her first egg for my birthday in October 2010.  They will stop laying during this time, because the nutritional requirements for laying are the same for molting, so the protein and energy is going into making a fabulous new set of feathers instead of eggs.  This could take a month or up to 6 months but averages about 3 months from start to finish.  The molt starts about the head and neck area and goes down and ends in the tail feather area, so by looking at the balding areas and new growth you should be able to tell about how far into the process you are.  During the molt, the chicken is feeling stressed, as we would if our skin just started falling off in big patches and we looked crazy and left skin everywhere.  Just picking her up, feathers fly.  She seems irritable, more tired, and just plain frustrated with the whole process.  The end result of this horrible process should be that she ends up with a whole new set of prettier, fluffier, and warmer feathers.  She will commence laying again, and these new eggs will be of higher quality than her first year of eggs, although the quantity may be very slightly reduced [she may lay 5-6 a week instead of 6 or 7].  I will try to take a picture of her and upload it, although I am sure she does not want you seeing her like this.  She is starting to look pretty shaggy.

I feel really sorry for her, so I am about to go out and give her some bacon pieces and some cut up apple as a treat.  Hopefully, Chipmunk will lay before Christmas and they will both return to the coop to do their laying.    Leave a comment if you have some extra info about molting or if your chickens have been through it.  I am not sure if it is different for roosters, since I don’t keep roosters.

Chicken Lottery

Four days ago, on April 14th [tax day eve], my students and I placed 23 eggs into an incubator in the classroom and began studying embryology.  This is my very first foray into hatching chicks and so I am as excited or more excited even than my students.  Between researching the unit and entertaining a guest speaker this week, I am learning right along with my class.

Here are some random and interesting facts that I have learned.  We need to keep the incubator temperature around 100 degrees.  A hen’s normal temperature is 107˚.  The humidity in the incubator must be kept around 50% until a few days before hatching, when it should be raised to between 75 and 85%.  Most of the eggs you buy in the store are not fertilized– if you find a red dot on the yolk, then that egg was fertilized.  Once fertilized the eggs can hang out for days with the embryo in sort of a state of suspended animation until someone decides to either incubate them or sit on them.  Once they reach an internal temperature of 85%, development of the baby chick will commence.  Chickens need Roosters in order to lay fertilized eggs.  Chicken sex, however, is not what you would think it would be… it is really just an exchange of fluids between the rooster and the hen.  After they are born, baby chickens can live for like 48 hours with no food or water, but once removed from the incubator and mom, should be given baby chicken mash and plenty of water.  The water, however, should be offered in such a way that the baby chicks will not drown themselves, for instance in a shallow pan filled with marbles where they can drink around the marbles.  For some reason, perhaps their recent exit from a watery environment, the chicks are drawn to the water and will fling themselves into it and drown during the first days of life.

The chicks are due to be born on Cinco de Mayo, so we keep teasing they will be ‘Latin chicks.’  Of the 23 eggs, statistically, about 50-75% of them may end up with chicks developed and capable of pecking their way to freedom.  So, I wonder, almost daily, how many we will end up with and what they will look like.  The eggs were taken from four types of chickens:  Rhode Island Reds [whose chicks are sort of calico brown and yellow], Delewares [who produce the ubiquitous fluffy yellow chicks], Barred Rock Hens [dark brown chicks], and Bantams [I think also yellow chicks/white adults].  So, we could have any combination of breed and gender.

If you know me then you know that one of the items on my bucket list is to raise chickens, so I plan to take three hens home at the end of this project.  I live in a neighborhood and have no place to put three chickens, but I plan to order a portable chicken coop that looks like an A framed chalet.  I found it on the Internet and one of the places you can purchase it is, wow, Amazon.com.  You can really find nearly anything on Amazon.

It’s Sunday and I actually went in to the school three times yesterday to check on my eggs and make sure they are still at the right temperature and humidity.  Last week was spring break and it flew by, but now that we are hatching eggs, the time is creeping slowly by.  We are only on day four and today the embryos are about the size of butter beans.  We may get to candle them this week in order to see which are developing the way they are supposed to.