Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hen Pecked, Part Deux

Ok, so we have chicken issues.

The past few days we've noticed dried yolk on one or two eggs in the next boxes, but no visible signs of a broken egg anywhere. This is bad news...chickens enjoy the taste of their own eggs, and once they discover that wholesome flavor, they often will go to all lengths to get it...including breaking and eating their own freshly laid eggs.

Obviously for someone keeping chickens specifically to consume and sell eggs, this is a problem.

Coupled with the feather picking I wrote about yesterday, it's time to face the music...there's trouble in the coop.

Well...last night I went out to gather eggs as usual, and this time, in addition to dried yolk on two eggs' shells, I had actual physical evidence of what's happening: someone is pecking holes in the eggs! One brown egg had a visible beak-sized hole in the fat end, and a second pecked area in the middle. Now, who's the culprit?

Given that I commute 111 miles and two hours a day round trip for work, I can't exactly run home and check the nest boxes throughout the day. I do check the girls every morning around 6:00 after I lock the dogs in their kennel, but that's early enough that no eggs have been laid. Some of the chickens lay in mid-morning, others not long before I get home in the evening. I have no idea who's pecking eggs.

There are some common egg eating causes, which are eerily similar to those for feather picking: overcrowding, boredom, not enough protein in the diet, not enough calcium.

I know calcium isn't the issue...I free feed crushed oyster shell in the coop several times per week.

I don't think low protein is the culprit, although perhaps someone is having an issue. I will try adding feeding them cooked lean meat or canned tuna, or even some cat food, and see if that makes any difference.

I'm starting to think my coop design may be the problem, coupled with overcrowding. See, this coop was there when we moved in, just a semi-room on the end of the barn. It's about 8 x 10 feet, I think (I need to measure) with an access door from inside the barn on the north wall of the coop, an opening leading to the run outside on the south side, a window in the west wall, and no ceiling (chicken wire overhead instead, as the barn roof is several feet higher than the walls of the coop). There is a large three-tiered roost nailed into the west wall under the window, and the two somewhat rickety nest boxes sit on blocks in the southeast corner inside the coop. To avoid waste, the round metal feeder hangs from the ceiling, level with the backs of the chickens, but it is so close to the south wall that they can't really feed from that side. Their run is about 60 square feet, and they've eaten all vegetation they can reach with necks stretched through the holes in the chicken wire.

I think I might work on the following (as time allows, since we still have work to do in preparation for the cows' arrival next weekend):

  • Mount the nest boxes on the wall to free up floor space underneath
  • Lay another board across the ceiling to create a new spot to hang the feeder, one which would allow feeding all the way around
  • Add one nest box (I really should have one for every 4-5 hens, and I currently have 2 for 11 girls)
  • Expand the run from a square behind the coop to an L-shape that wraps around the side of the barn to allow more "free" space outdoors (this would also give them access to fresh growing weeds and grass, which would keep them entertained for at least a few days...long enough for them to trample and demolish everything in sight)
  • Go back to including AviaCharge2000 to their can't hurt anything, and may help if some of the other issues are resolved

I'll post coop photos soon so I'll have record of before and after. Here's hoping some minor changes can result in chicken harmony (and more eggs left intact!).


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