They grow so fast! The coop is so dusty! Don’t underestimate predators! Don’t keep your chicks in the house! Chickens ARE addictive!
My chicken adventure continues, and it just keeps getting better. I’m still soaking up chicken advice and information, and I learn something new almost every day. We now have one layer, with a second one due to start any day. I cannot fully express the satisfaction of finding that first egg.
It has been fun to observe the pullets as they continue to grow, establish their hierarchy and their personalities. My leghorns seem to be dominant, but perhaps that’s because they are reaching maturity and have become more aggressive. My two skittish, stand-offish easter-eggers seem to be at the bottom, and I am thankful that we haven’t had any bullying or pecking problems. Since I’m still learning so much, I decided to write a Part II to my first article. Here it goes:
1. Chicken crops can get huge!
So, ya’ll know what, where, and how a chicken crop functions, right? The chicken’s crop is above the breast bone and just below the neck, toward the right. You don’t really notice it until, well… until you notice it. Out of curiosity and to get the hang of chicken anatomy, I once felt around for a chicken crop, but didn’t find much because I didn’t really know what I was doing. Then one day I went out and noticed that my 19-week old leghorn who had been laying for about a week had a large, firm, egg-shaped lump on the right side of her breast just under the neck. My heart skipped a beat as I noticed that my other leghorns had the same thing. I admit that I actually wondered for a moment if it could be a misplaced egg. Fearing some kind of crazy disease, I hit up google, and found out all I could possibly want to know about crops. Crops can sometimes become impacted, pendulous, or soured, and these conditions can be serious and life-threatening, but the basic deal with crops is: it fills during the day as chickens eat and can get pretty large if a chicken gorges itself, and it empties at night. Apparently, only my leghorns, who seem to be super hungry as they are coming into lay, gorged themselves that day.
I didn't want to violate any copyright laws or anything, so I made my own diagram.
Here is my leghorn, with a huge crop. I hope you can tell from the photos. In the first photo, you can see how she's lopsided to the right (her right).
BTW- I just started fermenting my chicken feed and this happened on the second day they received it. Their response to the feed on the first day was lukewarm, but the second day they gobbled it right up. Perhaps they weren’t used to the feed filling them up so much. I wonder if that’s why they gorged. They still have access to regular dry feed all the time.
2. Tiny eggs, fairy eggs, rubber eggs…
So far, only one of my white leghorns has started laying. It became pretty obvious when she was getting close; she had all the signs: large, red comb that was starting to flop over, pelvic bones were separating, and she was doing the submissive squat. She also got much louder and more aggressive, and she would follow me around the coop looking for treats. She got super greedy and if I dropped in a handful of worms, she’d gobble ALL of them before the others could even swallow a single one. I prepared the nesting boxes, and stocked them with fresh pine shavings and wooden eggs to signal where to lay. Finally, I went out to the coop one afternoon and Ta-Daaaaaa! The first egg. It was perfect and solid and white, with a thick shell, orangey-yellow yolk and firm whites. But it was tiny! A little bigger than a quail egg. Since then, she’s produced five more of roughly the same size. Apparently, it could take a couple of weeks to a couple of months for them to get bigger.In the meantime, I’m grateful for what we get.
BTW- First eggs can also be malformed, wrinkly, rubbery, or lacking yolks (which is either charmingly called a “fairy egg,” or disgustingly called a “fart egg” – I prefer the former). All is normal for first-time layers. Also, I think the wooden egg really helped to get her to lay in the nesting boxes. I took it out after the first egg, thinking she got the point, but then she laid her next two eggs in the middle of the coop floor, so I put it back, and she immediately started laying in the nesting box again.
My beautiful first egg:
3. Chickens don’t actually eat EVERYthing.
Chickens have quite the reputation for eating anything and everything. They are definitely omnivores, and they will eat a lot of things, but my chickens, at least, won’t eat just anything. They have obvious preferences. My flock especially likes watermelon, dairy products, oatmeal, and meat. They went after some leftover French toast casserole like it was a six-layer wedding cake. But they are picky about their greens, and they don’t particularly like carrots or raspberries. Sometimes it takes awhile for them to catch on to new things.
4. The scoop on chicken feed.
Most commercial feed is comprised primarily of genetically-modified soy. Of course, they don't tell you that on the bag. In fact, the labels really don't tell you much of anything about the types of plants your chickens are actually eating. There is some controversy out there on whether soy is actually healthy for the chickens, as well as for the humans who eat them and their eggs. I won’t get into all the specific concerns here, but suffice it to say that I would prefer to feed my chickens soy-free feed that is organic and not genetically modified, and that also doesn’t rely too much on corn. This is a tall order. Organic feed seems to be rare in my part of the world. Azure Standard sells soy-free organic feed, and I’m looking into how much shipping will cost. I’ve also been researching homemade feed, but with ingredients like flax, lentils, kelp, and peanuts, that’s also getting pretty expensive. I’m willing to pay more for better feed, but I’ve also got a strict budget to consider. Bottom line: I do recommend to research the type of feed you’re using, as they are not all created equal.
5. Chickens are peckers.
Ha ha. Okay, this is pretty obvious, and most everybody knows that chickens can be aggressive, especially roosters. But my newly matured hen has me a bit surprised. As I wrote above, she has gotten much bolder, and she pecks. And it hurts! My almost 2-year-old son put his hand on the outside of the chicken yard fence, and she pecked him and drew blood.She follows me around and I have to really watch out for her or she’ll peck at my hands, my legs, my feet. She even jumps up to peck at my hands. I don’t think she’s being mean, but I’m not sure what her motivation is. I think maybe she’s demanding treats, or making sure she is the first to be noticed. Anyway, use caution around young children.
Check out the beak on this lady. Sharp and sassy:
And there you have it. Namaste, chicken keepers.
Part II Backyard Chickens from a Beginner: Still Learning
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