Finding the Non-Layer

Crowded_Coop_WhiteIt’s not unusual for one or two hens in a small flock to eat their share of feed, relax, and rarely lay an egg.  Although most flock owners don’t attempt to make money selling eggs, spotting and eliminating freeloaders saves feed dollars and keeps the eggs coming.

The trick is figuring out which hens aren’t laying. There are several ways to spot the lazy hen, and backyard flock owners have an advantage. Unlike large laying operations backyarders normally only keep a few hens and visit the coop regularly. Even better, small flocks are usually composed of several different breeds with varied colored and patterned feathers. That makes it easy to identify specific hens and helps track down a nonlayer.
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How Many Eggs Should a Hen Lay?

The number of eggs a hen lays in each week varies greatly depending on the breed or strain, nutrition, weather, age of hen, and season or day length.

Hybrids developed for maximum egg production are laying dynamos as are many white egg breeds. If well-nourished and healthy, each bird will lay five or six eggs a week and sometimes more. In contrast fancy and exhibition breeds are often poor layers and may go for weeks without producing a single egg. Even when they are in full production two or three eggs a week per fancy bird is normal. Hens of any breed lay the most eggs during their first lay cycle and produce fewer eggs as they age.

Most backyard flock owners keep time tested standard brown egg breeds such as Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, New Hampshire Reds, and Wyandottes among others. They are good layers that may not be quite as productive as hybrids but each should lay four or five eggs a week.

Even the most productive breeds and hybrids sometimes include slackers. Here’s how to find her.

Observation

Anyone with only five or six hens of varied breeds can usually pinpoint the non-layer through observation.  Hens usually sit in the nest for several minutes before laying. Take note of which hens never seem to be in a nest and the culprit may be found. If the entire flock is of one breed they all look the same, making it harder to find a non-layer by observation. In contrast if a six hen flock is composed of six different breeds or strains with different colored feathers no bird has a look alike. That helps identify the individual that never seems to be in a nest.

An even easier way to spot a nonlayer is to configure a flock with birds that lay distinctively colored eggs. For example, Americaunas lay blue/green eggs, Rocks or Orpingtons produce light brown eggs, while the eggs of Marans and Welsummers are dark brown. Leghorns and Minorca produce snow white eggs. A flock of hens that each lays eggs of a different hue makes it easy to tell which one isn’t working.

Experienced flock owners use several techniques to spot a nonlayer, even if all birds are of the same color. Here’s how they do it.

The Eyeball Test

Hens that are run down, lethargic, and sickly looking usually aren’t laying. In contrast, birds that look great with complete healthy feathers, good size, and bright yellow legs and beaks may be prima donnas putting all their nutrition into looks rather than eggs. Hard working laying hens gradually get a little rough looking. As the months go by their feathers get worn. Breeds with yellow legs and beaks gradually see this color diminish as egg laying drains pigments from the body. It takes much work and nutrients to produce plentiful eggs and working girls show the strain. Good layers usually have healthy combs, while the combs of non-layers are often shrunken.

A Close Examination

Hens are easiest to handle when they are sleepy. So, the best physical way to locate a non-layer is to enter the coop at night with a battery lantern, flashlight, or headlamp so you can use both hands. Gently pick up each bird. Position her between your elbow and ribs with her head facing backwards. It may take gentle pressure from the arm to keep her wings from flapping, and by holding her feet between your fingers she’s not mobile and will likely sit quietly. Gently place the palm of the other hand on her pelvis. Bones that are easy to feel span the cloaca, where both droppings and eggs emerge. If a hen is not laying, the bones will be close together. If she’s laying they will be three or four fingers apart, providing plenty of room for the egg to pass out of her body. A laying hens vent or cloaca is usually moist and pale in color. A non-layer’s may appear yellowish.

What to Do With the Non-Layer

For many flock owners a non-layer is quickly destined for the stew pot. Usually nonlaying hens are plump and delicious but are old enough to have tough flesh. They are best stewed. Some flock owners would never dream of butchering a bird. It’s OK to let a non-layer stay in the flock, even though she’ll continue to eat expensive food without returning eggs!

Trick or Treat, Give Your Chickens Something Good to Eat!

There is a cool breeze in the air and the leaves are starting to turn rich hues in many parts of the country. Yes, fall is upon us. It’s that wonderful time of year that brings us many bountiful tidings, including pumpkin spice-everything, hay rides and trick or treater’s. But what does the fall season mean for your chickens? The answer, is likely already a part of your seasonal tradition!

If you are getting ready to carve those annual jack-o-lanterns, you can cringe a little less when scooping the slimy goo of seeds out, because it can serve a purpose this year! The guts of your pumpkins are in-fact a delicious treat to your chickens. Aside from your guys and gals loving the flavor of pumpkin contents, they are loaded with some great nutrients. Pumpkins contain vitamins A, B and C, as well as zinc. Vitamin E can also be found in the seeds. In addition, you can feed all parts of the pumpkin to chickens, just make sure the rinds are cut up some so they can easily eat.

After all the little ghosts and goblins have stopped by, you can even feed the jack-o-lanterns to your chickens! Just make sure there is no molding on the inside or outside. So get to carving, your ladies and gentlemen are awaiting a treat!

Molt Season is Here, but No Need to Fear!

Are your guys and gals looking a little bare right now? It’s likely the result of molt, a naturally occurring process in chickens from August through December. In the molt process, chickens can lose their feathers starting at the head and neck and working its way down the body. It can take 4-16 weeks for the molt process to be complete. But all of this is not in vain, the process actually serves a vital purpose in the health of your chickens, protecting them from skin infections, the cold and precipitation of winter.

But fear not, there are options to help speed the process along. Products like, Nutrena’s NatureWise Feather Fixer can help your birds get through molt quicker! Visit NutrenaWorld.com to learn how Feather Fixer can help you get through molt, naked but not afraid!

Chicken People – The Road to the Winner’s Circle

It’s that time of year again, we’re just under two months away from the Ohio National Poultry Show. It’s an exciting time in the competitive poultry world, not only are we coming up on fall show season, but much buzz has been made around the upcoming release of the documentary film, ‘Chicken People’. This film chronicles the road to Columbus, and what it takes to have that prize-winning entry. The film will be released on September 23rd, but in the meantime if you haven’t seen the trailer, check it out:

 We’d love to hear your poultry showing stories, so feel free to leave comments about your experiences and what you love best about exhibiting poultry!

 

 

Free Range Poultry, the Inside Scoop

free range chickensA hen lounges in the grass soaking in the sun, on her side with her wing partially open. The rooster pecks, watches, pecks, watches, then circles the flock, always on alert. A pullet scoots through a cluster of hens after a grasshopper, scolded by one of the older ones. Just a snapshot of the flock dynamics from a few minutes watching chickens in a large run or while free ranging.
If you enjoy this view like I do, free ranging or pasturing chickens is a pleasant way to raise your flock. The added food the hens or broilers pick up while foraging can help save on your overall costs, once fencing and predator prevention has been paid for.
When considering nutrition for free range or any poultry, first consider your overall goals. Are you raising for meat or eggs? Are you working to maximize egg production, size and eggshell quality? Do you have a flock for eggs and perhaps meat for your family and enjoy watching the flock more than you care about the number of eggs you collect? Are you rotating your flock maximize the nutrition from the pasture? What are your winters like and do you expect egg production in the cold seasons? Your answers determine your nutrition program for your flock.
Pastured or free range chickens pick up as much nutrition as the pasture has to offer, until they are full that day. If you have ever built a new run, delighted at the lush green grass and plants as you let your chickens out the first few days, only to be horrified at the decimation they caused in a short time, you understand how completely chickens will take advantage of the food sources in an area.
Here’s where the old adage, you are what you eat, comes in. Chickens will get the nutritional value of what they are foraging on. So, if they are free ranging on a fairly well-manicured lawn, the variety of species of plants and insects is quite limited. If they are being rotated weekly within an electric netting fence in a large field that’s mowed twice per year, housed out of a chicken tractor or hoop house, the variety will be much wider.
charlie barred rockNo matter where you raise your poultry, their nutritional needs are pretty much the same. They’re all individuals, just like us, so one hen may need more calcium, for example, than another to keep the same eggshell quality as another hen. Whenever we take away feeding consistency, we change what we know the poultry are receiving as far as nutrition. So, you can change how much nutrition they are getting, but their needs are the same. Whenever these needs for calories, vitamins, minerals and amino acids are not met, a bird will have a deficiency which can cause health issues. These health issues can range from minor to severe; from dull colored feathers and poor feather regrowth after molt or hen pecking, to decreased immune system that leads to susceptibility to respiratory infections.
So, does this mean you cannot raise your poultry out in nature with a varied diet? Absolutely not! Just keep in mind that the commercial feed and supplements that you’re feeding are that much more important because your birds are consuming a much smaller amount of them. For example, a chicken’s diet in a coop and small run is 90% layer feed, like Nutrena® NatureWise® Layer Pellets, and 10% a combination of scratch, calcium chips, unlucky insects that wander in and vegetable scraps. Since 90% of the hen’s diet is balanced for egg production, feather quality and overall health, the hen is healthy and produces large, thick-shelled eggs.
If we take the same hen, open the coop door and let her free range from 7am-7pm, the percentage of the layer feed she eats will dramatically decrease. Let’s say now 80% of her diet is free ranging, and 20% is layer pellets. Now, keep in mind, depending on where the flock is going, she can eat some yummy and nutritious things like insects, worms, frogs, all sorts of plants, flowers, vegetables, even mice. None of this is bad for her, chickens are omnivores and meant to eat all these things. The result we may see is that since the hen is not eating very much layer pellet, she may be deficient in vitamins, minerals or amino acids if she is not getting those from her environment.
Think about it like your diet. If you are eating three balanced meals a day, you’re most likely getting everything your body needs. If you are on the run and your meals are unbalanced and inconsistent, you may need to add a multivitamin, protein shake, meal bar or other supplement to prevent a deficiency.
So, give your free range hens a concentrated diet in addition to their free ranging and you will ensure that they get everything that they need in the smaller amount of feed they eat. For example, Nutrena® Country Feeds® Egg Producer is a concentrated formula that is high in energy, amino acids, vitamins and minerals that hens need to stay healthy and lay beautiful eggs for your family or customers. This type of feed is also helpful if you’re mixing in whole grains, fermented feed, compost or large amounts of vegetable scraps from your kitchen. It’s like giving hens all the amino acids, vitamins and minerals they need in a small amount like a meal/energy bar that we humans would eat.
Use nutrition as preventative medicine to keep your hens healthy and laying. And keep enjoying the sight of your flock and their antics outside!

Pecking order and water care, what do they have in common?

In any flock of chickens, there is a pecking order, ALPHA on the top, Omega on the bottom, and everyone in between. Basic flock psychology, is the flock is only as strong as the weakest member. We see this initially with baby chicks, if there is a weak chick, the rest of the flock will eliminate it from the gene pool. “Vote her off the island”, so to speak.

They may do this as adults as well, there may be a bird that they sense needs to be eliminated from the gene pool. This may be a healthy, egg producing hen. One of the ways they do this is to not allow the hen in question to drink. In hot weather they expire pretty quickly. I get phone calls from customers every summer, after the birds were posted, in most cases they died of dehydration. Adding a few extra water stations can easily prevent this, by allowing more options for birds to drink from. This simple step can be the key to keeping the entire flock healthy.

 

Test your Layer IQ and WIN!

Nutrena Layer IQ Quiz Enter Now!

Welcome to the 2016 Layer IQ Test! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to answer the following questions to the best of your eggbility. Many dangers lurk within these screens, including poultry puns, corny jokes, and weak attempts at chicken humor. Proceed at your own risk. Click the image above to get started!