Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Egg production slowing down; could the hens be molting already?

Well, this is interesting. We've noticed a slow but steady decrease in our chicken egg production recently. True, we did lose four young hens to bobcats earlier in July, but we don't believe this alone accounts for the slowdown. We've also had several hens who seem fairly persistently broody, and as you may know, when a hen goes broody she temporarily stops laying. We keep taking the hens off the nests, and don't let eggs pile up under them, hoping to get them out of mother-hen mode. I always feel a little guilty when I take eggs away from a broody hen; the poor things just want to hatch some babies. Then there's that pathetic sort of whimpering noise they make, which doesn't help a bit.

Still, our guess at this point as to why the chickens aren't laying quite up to par (the ducks are still laying quite well -- we get 8-10 eggs per day from our 10 laying ducks) is they may be going through an early molt. Certainly a number of chickens, as well as the adult turkeys, look as if they're molting. Generally our experience has been that the birds molt in mid- to late fall, say October or early November. I wonder if it has anything to do with the unusually cold, wet spring and summer we've had this year?

Those of you with chickens, what is your hens' egg production like this summer? Generally the longer days of late spring and early summer mean the highest production rate, although unusually hot weather can cause hens to slow down or stop laying briefly. I remember the egg laying dropped significantly last fall, following a series of bobcat attacks; stress can certainly be a factor. Anyone else notice signs of early molting?

Frankly, I hope we're wrong about the molt. We don't want our egg supply to drop too low during the summer; this is the busy season for the Alder Wood Bistro, and they buy nearly all our eggs. Our teenagers (the 10-week-old New Hampshire pullets) won't start laying till probably early November, so we'll just hope for the best. Thank goodness the ducks are still going strong.

Speaking of eggs, I have been getting more questions lately about what all the labels on egg cartons actually mean. In my next post, I will try to define these terms for you and clarify some (to me) confusing points.

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