Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Chicken Conundrum

Raising chickens is new to our family.  We have three hens, plenty to give enjoyment and eggs (usually) for our family.  We studied up before getting the girls, but I've discovered being a chicken owner is a learning process.
Here's a picture of them leaving the cinder blocks.  Usually those are lying flat, but, from time to time, I pull them away and the girls race over to see what bugs have been hiding beneath the blocks.  They eat, peck, and scratch in a frenzy, then move along to other parts of the yard when they've decided the area has been picked clean.

One thing learned, for example, is when we first got birds, I'd read about Diatomaceous Earth (DE) being used to control pests.  It's non-toxic and therefore not supposed to be harmful.  When I first located it at a local feed store (I'd asked for food grade) the girl pointed me in the direction of what they had which ended up being an ag or horticulture grade.  I asked if it was safe to sprinkle in the run, and was told it was.  What I learned later, much later, was that it is not.  It turns out that food grade DE is the way to go.  The flour-like texture of the powder is made up of the fossilized remains of diatoms whose structure is very sharp...which is good for cutting the exoskeletons of insects thereby causing them to dry out and die, not so good for chickens.  I wouldn't want that grade of DE cutting up anything in my gals; whether it got in their eyes, crop, or lungs, the outcome would be the same, bad.

Another thing I'm learning about is the pattern of egg laying.  We got our hens early March.  Only one was old enough to start laying and she did begin by the end of March.  Up until three weeks ago we enjoyed an egg a day from Shelby.  Now, nada.  I know the heat has to have something to do with it.  I asked the lady behind the HenCam blog for her advice.  There's a lot to consider.  Here are some of the questions she posed and the answers I've given... 

Is the nesting box too hot?  No hotter than the rest of the run, but all is completely shaded and a breeze does cross through.  They roost in a box at night and it is ventilated, but our temps are 98 degrees Fahrenheit.  It's hot.

Too sunny?  No

Is your hen panting? Yes, sometimes

Is she so hot she doesn't want to walk across a sunny patch to get water? There are no sunny patches in the run and the area we keep water and food is as shaded as the rest of the pinned area.  They walk about happily.

Or, she might have decided to hide her eggs. We've searched and there are no hiding eggs.

Or, there might be a snake eating them (uggh, but it happens in your neck of the woods.) Lord, I hope not!  We haven't seen signs of a snake.  Fingers crossed that we never do.

Or someone has become an egg eater and you haven't caught her in the act.  I haven't seen any evidence of cracked egg anywhere so I don't think this is it either.

There are feathers around the run so I'm beginning to think that the hens are experiencing a heat/stress induced molt, more to come on that theory later.

I also learned that cracked corn is not all it is cracked up to be.  Cracked corn doesn't have nutritional value so should be used sparingly, as a treat once in a blue moon, and not daily as you would provide laying pellets/crumble.  Hmm, wish I'd known before I bought the big bag of cracked corn.  It's a good thing that we've only offered it to the hens twice.

The same goes for meal worms, so I've read.  You can read more about that on Terry's blog, here.

I've got to do more investigating on this molting issue to see if this is what is happening to my hens.  If you've got good advice to share about your experiences raising hens, please share.

In the mean time, here are some tips I've read about keeping chickens cool in the high Texas heat.

  • Place ice cubes in the water to keep it cool and replace the water daily so that it is as fresh as possible.
  • Place the water up above the ground so that less dirt gets in it.  It's best to keep the water clean.
  • I use electrolytes/vitamins once a week to replenish the birds.  There is debate about the effectiveness of this.  It seems it is a matter of choice.  I know some people can't fathom the heat of my area and so find the supplements unnecessary.  For now, I'm giving electrolytes a try.
  • I place frozen water bottles in the run to cool things down.  The birds seem to push water bottles aside and lay in the condensation that's cooled off the ground.
  • As the heat increases, I plan on placing a boxed fan at the entry and just outside of the run to cool the birds.
  • I toss vegetables/fruit with a high water content to aide in hydration.  The gals love tomatoes and watermelon wedges so I feel that if they're not drinking as much, at least they're getting hydrated that way.  I do this sparingly, not as their sole diet.
  • We placed the pinned area for our birds in complete shade and in a spot good for a cross breeze.
  • I have a area of loose dirt for the hens to dust bathe.  I water this spot, sometimes, because the hens like scratching and settling into cooled ground.
That's all I've got for now.  Have a good day!

1 comment:

GardenofDaisies said...

By next year, you will be a pro at this! It can get stinkin' hot in the summers and I'm sure the hens feel it. Sounds like you are doing a lot of things to try to keep them as cool as possible.