Episode 38 Show Notes
Our Second Chicken Emergency in Two Weeks
Cluck Norris, our Rhode Island Red rooster, has a favorite hen. Her name is Scarlett Crowhansson and being the object of Chuck’s obsession is not easy. Recently, she began developing bald spots on her back where Chuck stands to do his business.
Normally, we fix this with a chicken saddle (or chicken apron), a thick piece of padded material that protects the hen’s back and allows her feathers to grow back in. Unfortunately, our trusty chicken saddle broke when we used on the last hen, so Suzy had to order a new one.
By the time it arrived, Suzy noticed a large open wound on Scarlett’s back right at her bald spot. One of Chuck’s nails had ripped her open. We spend a good amount of time talking about how we tried to care for her wound.
Eggs Aren’t So Evil Anymore
Great news! The Washington Post and USA Today are reporting that the U.S. government is about to repeal its forty-year-old warning that eating eggs is bad for your health. They say that their is no direct evidence to support the claim that eating foods that are high in cholesterol, like eggs, causes an increase in your blood cholesterol level.
They also say, however, that people with ongoing illnesses such as diabetes should still moderate their egg consumption. When in doubt, ask your doctor what he thinks.
Most importantly, be aware that this new freedom applies to chicken eggs, not Cadbury Creme Eggs.
Egg Custard Pies
In the cooking segment, Suzy shared my mom’s recipes for Egg Custard Pie and Coconut Custard Pie. These are my favorite winter pies, and you can find links to them here:
Riley emailed us from California to ask why local hatcheries don’t have adult hens for sale so that customers don’t have to start with baby chicks.
In our case, it is simply that the simple answer is that all the baby chicks tend to sell by the time they are two weeks old. In this last batch, I wanted to hold back four Golden Laced Wyandottes so I could give General Tso a few more girlfriends, but we had a nice couple come by that really wanted some chicks, so we ended up selling them. I can’t even hang onto some baby chicks for myself!
Which Hens Are Laying and Which Hens Are Slacking?
For the main feature today, we are answering a question we received from Sally. She has six hens but is only getting three eggs a day and suspects one or two hens are not pulling their weight.
Fortunately, there are some physical signs that indicate when a hen is laying and when she is slacking.
If your chicken breed has yellow skin, legs and feet, you can judge how long she has been producing eggs (if at all) by seeing how pale her yellow-pigmented area have become. Chickens get their yellow pigment from their food. During digestion, the pigment is allocated to the skin, beak, legs and feet. That same pigment is also used to make eggs yolks a nice bright yellow. Therefore, during egg production the skin, beak, legs and feet don’t receive as much pigment and they begin to fade.
What’s really interesting is that the different areas lose pigmentation at different rates, so it is possible to judge how long a hen has been producing eggs by which areas have and have not lost their pigment.
The first area to lose pigmentation is the vent area. This will happen very quickly after a hen begins laying, so it is a good indication of recent activity.
Even if your hen does not have yellow skin, you can also look at the condition of the vent. A soft and pliable vent is an indication of laying, whereas a dry and shrunken vent indicates that your hen is not laying.
The thin layer of skin around the eye will lose its pigment nearly as fast as the vent, and is another indicator of recent productivity.
The beak will fade beginning at the base and work towards the tip. When the beak is fully faded, the hen has likely been laying for four to six weeks.
Bottoms of Feet
The bottoms of the feet are the next to fade, and this indicates a hen has been laying for around eight to twelve weeks.
The shanks, or legs will lose their pigment in fifteen to twenty weeks.
Tops of the Toes
Finally, the tops of the toes will fade, indicating that the hen has been laying for a good amount of time.
Condition of Feathers
Regardless of your chicken’s skin color, the condition of her feathers may give you a good idea of whether she has been laying for a while.
As a hen’s production cycle goes on, her body focuses on egg production and does not replace feathers as they become worn. A hen who has been laying for a while will have feathers that look ragged or damaged. If her feathers look in perfect condition, she is either not laying at all or has just recently started laying.
Below the vent are two pelvic bones. The distance between these two bones can give you a good idea whether she is laying or not. Use your fingers to measure the distance between them. If they are one or two finger-widths apart, it is unlikely that she is laying. If they are three or four finger-widths apart, she is an active layer. These measurements apply to standard size breeds and not bantam chickens.