Out here in the country, life revolves a little differently than it does in the city. We put hard, long hours into making our homestead a self sufficient haven for our families. Homestead Hints will be a series following things that we've learned over the last several years on how to make our homestead living a little better. Welcome to the Little Homestead on the Prairie...
Walking through the soft, sometimes crunchy grass you head up the path to the chicken barn. The path under your feet is starting to get well worn from your shoes walking it everyday. A slow breeze lifts the hair off your neck and tangles it up a bit as you get closer. The grasshoppers are already singing their summer song and a bird and it's friend fly out of the tall grass on your left.
You finally reach the chicken barn and you pull open the old wood door. The hinges complain just a bit as you open the door all the way. You can hear the faint clucking of the chickens outside in their fence and the few that are in the chicken barn give you a quizzical stare.
You reach the nests, piled high with soft wood shavings. You get closer so you can reach in and collect the eggs but then to your surprise....there isn't any.
Your thoughts are:
- Somebody stole them!(Ok, not rational, moving on...)
- The chickens stopped laying!
- The chickens are laying them elsewhere!
- The chickens are eating them!
Let's move through these one at a time. (minus the first one)
1. The chickens stopped laying. Although unlikely in this case that the chickens would stop laying all at once, after a few years it does happen. If your chickens are a few years old and you are noticing egg production waning, it's probably a good time to get rid of the chickens. It's good to rotate your chickens about every 2- 4 years, depending on if they aren't laying or have slowed down on egg production. Chickens can lay longer than 4 years but if you planned on butchering the meat won't be very good, it will be too tough and stringy.
2. The chickens are laying the eggs somewhere else. This is also unlikely in this case because they wouldn't all start doing it all at once. Although I have found eggs in other places than the nest it doesn't happen very often. If you've created a good nest for them with wood shavings or something soft they will keep coming back to it and laying their eggs there. However, if they don't have a good nest they will find somewhere else to lay and it's not a pleasant surprise when you walk through the tall grass and step on a pile of eggs.
3. This is the most likely scenario in this case. It's hard to stop them when chickens start eating their own eggs but fortunately there are several different things you can do to prevent this from happening, and hopefully to stop them if they've already started. First, never ever feed chickens egg shells. Chickens do need calcium in their diet to create the shells on the eggs but feeding them their own shells is not the way to do it. Buy a bag of oyster shells at your farm store. They are only around $12 - $14 for a 50lb bag and that will last a long time. In fact I think we bought ours over a year ago and we still aren't out yet. Just mix a little in with their regular feed each day to get them to lay nice, hard shelled eggs. This will also prevent them from accidentally cracking if they eggs get dropped too hard when they are laid, and when a chicken finds a cracked egg, they will peck at it and eat it. Eating eggs could mean that the chicken has a lack of protein in their diet. You can check this problem by looking at the color of their beaks. If they are purple or have a purple tinge to them you can be sure they need more protein. Free range chickens have less of a chance of getting a protein deficiency because they are outside and can eat more bugs. To get more protein in their diet you can also feed them clabber, which I talked about in my article about making clabber from milk.
Chances are that if you have chickens, one or more of these things will happen to you over the years and it's good to know how to fix the problem when it arises. Eggs and chickens are an excellent source of protein or a little extra income and are fairly easy creatures to keep. But like anything else, there is tricks to keeping them, and keeping them well.
Have you had any of the above happen to you? How did you solve the problem? Do you think chickens are a worthwhile animal to have around?
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