Our ladies have been faithful layers ever since they started laying back last January. While I was reading up on hen care I once read that they will slow their laying or stop all together during molting, which is when they lose older feathers and grow new ones. But the specifics of molting vary from hen to hen and usually don’t affect them until they are at least 12 to 14 months. Which is our gals exact age.
When we decided to get chickens it was really important to us to have a mobile chicken coop so we could move them all over the property to fertilize the grounds and do their natural job of cleaning up of various bugs, etc. The only downside to having a mobile coop is that we need to have some kind of electric fence that could protect them from potential predators. We got a 40 foot some what light weight fence that we could encase the ladies in that would give us piece of mind. Unfortunately, over time we got tired of having to move the coop and the fence every time we wanted to move them to a new location so we decided to let them be ‘real’ free range chickens and put them back in the pasture out by barn to roam freely with our sheep and goats. We knew the potential for loss was greater but we also realized they would be a lot happier having a huge chunk of land to explore rather then a 40 foot diameter of space. So, we parked the coop in one spot and its been there ever since.
All of our animals act somewhat out of what we’d considered to be normal character. Our goats, well, they I suppose act normal. Those crazy little guys. Goats are notorious for jumping fences, getting into trouble and causing their owners lots of headaches and ours are no different. Our sheep are very independent. They separate, sometimes wandering off by themselves to the far corners of the pasture and it stresses me out. Sheep are prey animals but they are also very intelligent. At least in my opinion.
Our chickens are very independent. When we first put them back in the pasture and let them roam freely they stayed pretty close to home, venturing only as far as the first little pasture but no further then the gate. As time went by I observed them getting increasingly braver moving into the second pasture, further away from their coop and the barn. But, I told myself that chickens will be chickens and at that point we were still getting our four eggs daily and all was fine and dandy.
Our egg production started to decrease significantly over the past month and I naturally suspected that the ladies were starting to molt. I didn’t think much of it until the other day when one of our chickens went missing. Golden Hen is our favorite. Her sweet disposition paired with approachability makes her the perfect hen. And she always laid great quality eggs. So naturally we were both saddened when we thought we lost her.
D was out checking on the animals when he called me from his cell phone and told me that Goldie Hen was missing. I quickly ran out to help look for her. The other three hens were hanging close to home and we both thought it was abnormal for Goldie to leave her lady friends. If they do venture off they are usually all together or one hangs back by the barn or in their coop. Not the reverse. They never have ventured off into the other pastures by themself.
We searched all over for her but drew the conclusion that something must have gotten her and headed back inside with heavy hearts. It’s never easy losing a pet and our ladies are pets to us.
Later that afternoon I went back out to the pasture to check once again. Just to be sure and low and behold there she was. Just walking around, pecking at the ground. When she saw me she ran frantically, crouching down signifying to me that she wanted pets. I knelt down and softly stroked her back just happy she was alive and well. I decided that she must fancy one of the sheep and followed it out to the back pasture while it grazed and came back when it did.
The next day I let the gals out of their coop in the morning and headed back into the house to take care of a few things. Around mid-morning I headed back out to the barn to meet the mobile vet who was checking on one of our lambs and noticed Goldie missing again. Where the heck is she going I thought to myself. Once the vet left I walked the pasture once more to see if maybe I could find her. I went everywhere. In the woods, by the pond, to ever far corner but still nothing. As I walked back to the barn it hit me. I had noticed that the hens were crawling under the big long feeder that we have against the wall in the barn to feed all the goats and sheep. Maybe, just maybe, she’s under there.
This is a picture of the long feeder on one of the walls.
And I was right. As I crouched down low and behold there she was. Goldie Hen was tucked back on the far left corner, obviously brooding on something. I stuck my hand in to try and move her but she nipped at me. Crap. How the heck am I suppose to get her out? I realized this may be harder than I thought and I needed to see if she was laying her eggs there or if she was just nesting. I stuck my hand in once more bracing myself for her beak to meet my hand but this time she actually let me feel under her. What I found was horrifying.
Not one, not two or even three eggs but as I moved my hand around under her I could feel up to 20 eggs. Holy crap. Not only has Goldie Hen been laying under the feeder but Gwen and Big Red have as well. We had been getting green eggs consistently in their chicken coop so I knew Mary was laying hers in there. But all the others, they had made a nice nest under the chicken coop and were taking turns laying there. UGH!
A feeling of anger swept over me. How dare they! Then I broke out in a fit of laughter. I realized we needed to find ever last egg that could possibly have been laid under the feeders otherwise they could potentially rot and attracted rodents and I don’t mess with rats.
So I called D’s cousin to come down and help me since D himself wasn’t home. If you remember my post about the lamb a week or so ago you may remember me talking about how something ALWAYS happens when D isn’t home. See, I wasn’t lying!
Joel came down to the barn and we slowly began removing the eggs one by one. In total, there were 53 eggs. That’s almost four and a half-dozen eggs. Eggs that people have been asking for but I hadn’t had any to sell.
Moral of the story? Chickens are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Needless to say, we are boarding up the feeder so there are no more holes they can fit through. Hopefully, when all is said and done they will start laying in their coop again.
One could only hope.