Egg laying and other questions - long

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by MaineChick, Oct 9, 2009.

  1. MaineChick

    MaineChick Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 30, 2008
    Ok, I need help. New to keeping chickens this year, and have some questions.
    Background - Bought 5 Buff Orpingtons and 5 Speckled Sussex hatched April 29. They shipped fine including an extra BO. I read this board like it was the chicken bible, made a nice little brooder, kept them warm and happy and well fed. Played with them, trained them, several managed to name themselves. Samantha (BO) and Thumbelina (SS runt) in particular were very sweet, loving little fuzzy butts. They learned to jump up onto my hand on cue. Pretty stupid thing to do if you realize that in a few weeks one chicken foot isn't going to fit in the palm of my hand, but as I said I'm new to this.
    At about 12 - 14 weeks, my growing suspicions were confirmed when Samantha began to crow. He turned out to be an arrogant little twit, but we came to an understanding and the other chickens put up with him. Precocious, too - he was desperate to jump the girls, but the girls were just not interested. He never tried to jump one of the BO's, though - yep, a second roo. Sam was a good provider and guard for the flock, with Big Bird's help bringing up the rear. The chickens are cooped at night, but are totally free to explore our property all day. They stay near the house, within a few hundred yards usually. There's lawn, meadow, and scrub woodland with trees about 25-35 ft high and they like it all.
    We lost Thumbelina first, to a raccoon I think judging from the remains. I was hysterical. We buried her on the hill where our dogs are sleeping the long sleep. This chicken came when I called, sat on my lap for petting, pecked at the front door if she didn't think she'd had enough treats that day. She loved learning new things, especially when the trade off was mealworms. She was a pet just as much as the cats or dogs. We lost her between the hours of 4 and 6 in daylight. We spent a few nights laying in wait for raccoons to show up, as we had seen a mom and two little ones a couple of weeks prior to losing Thumbelina, but they never appeared again. We figured it was a single incident, and we were right. About the raccoons.
    A few weeks later, we heard a huge squawking and to-do behind the house while we were at the bottom of the driveway. I ran up to find a big puff of feathers on the ground, and very upset chickens, one of whom was terrified, wouldn't come near me and kept trying to hide in the woods. I finally got Barbie to come to me and found a huge gash in her back, which we washed and treated and put her in a dog crate for a couple of nights. My DH said that as I turned the corner to the back of the house, a huge hawk rose and circled around. We had never seen such a large hawk in the area, and identifed it as a Broadwing Hawk, one that migrates through this area in early fall. We had kept the chickens in the coop unless one of us was right there for a couple of days, but hadn't seen the hawk again so let them out all day again. Barbie was beginning to heal, so we put her back with the flock to range again. The next day we got home just at dusk to find that instead of 10 chickens we only had 5. There were some feather explosions around, and I don't think much else. Not sure as I couldn't go look, made the DH do it. He's sure it was hawks, plural, and it turns out they do stay in this area for several days, collecting into a larger group before continuing south. Good riddance. We bought a Mossberg and keep it by the door.
    Now, we have Big Bird the roo, Dirty Bird the BO (she keeps going under the Jeep and coming out with stains all over her tail feathers) and three Sussex girls. Yes, the hawks got Barbie before she was even healed. The flock dynamics have changed. Big Bird tries to keep them in line, but he isn't a very assertive roo, whereas Sam used to make them march, literally. They went where he said, ate when and what he said - he was a little Napoleon. They all seem to think I am the head rooster now, as they all come running full tilt whenever they see me. Sam seemed to instill them with more of a spirit of distrust, because now they come closer as a flock than they did when he was alive.
    So, first question - is this bad? I've taught them not to follow the Jeep when I drive away, but I can't go check the mail without them following me and I don't want them near the road. I can send them back, but they insist on following again once my back is turned. Do they think I'm the boss roo because I feed them and give them treats, or are they just being social as well as looking for handouts? They hang around my DH when he is working around the place, but don't mob him like they do me.
    Second question - when are these little remaining freeloaders going to start giving me eggs??? They are 23 weeks now. If they are laying them outside, they are well hidden. They are not under the porch, or the shed, or any of the places chickens have been observed to go. And they've been in the coop sometimes til late morning - does no one lay a morning egg? This morning some of the hay had been pulled out of one of the nest boxes and there might have been someone trying to make a little nest in it, otherwise no interest in the nest boxes. (I haven't curtained them off yet, but it's pretty dark and private in that corner of the coop anyway).
    Is it possible that the trauma of losing half the flock put them off egg production? Shouldn't they be laying by now? I know it varies, but by all reports both Orps and Sussex are early, good layers, and good winter layers as well.
    Question - do even breeds purported to be good winter layers need extra light to do so? I'm in Maine, so days are short and nights chilly already. And if they do need extra light to lay, I'm not sure I want to do that. I'm free ranging them and allowing them to live as natural a life as possible while still protecting them at night - isn't adding artificial light going against that idea? Are there any ill effects reported from lengthening their day? Does it shorten their life spans, reduce their useful egg-laying years? Or just keep them from having Seasonal Affective Disorder? (kidding).
    Last question - why isn't Big Bird trying to jump the girls? All he does is peck nastily at the other Orp sometimes, lets them all take treats from his beak, and get upset and holler for them to get back together when the flock becomes too separated for his liking. Not much in the way of leadership qualities never mind having sex on his brain. Does he not think he's entitled if he thinks I'm the boss? Oh, and the girls don't show any of the signs of maturity that I've read about - squatting and such. So, are my birds developmentally challenged, will they not lay til spring unless I give them light, and should I? And if Big Bird figures out the whole sex thing, are 4 hens too few?
    Whew! Sorry this is so long, but I've got all these months of chicken ownership and I've hardly posted at all. Making up for lost opportunities, I guess. Thanks in advance for any insights or suggestions.
  2. feathersnuggles

    feathersnuggles Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 4, 2009
    First of all, I am terribly sorry you lost your Thumbelina and Barbie. That is so sad. [​IMG] I feel your pain, because I have an adorable little pullet who acts a lot like your Thumbelina and I'd be grief-struck if she was attacked and killed. And so sad that your little survivor, Barbie, was taken as well. [​IMG]

    But, to your questions. I don't think I can answer the rooster question, because I only had a rooster for 12 weeks. However, here's my take on a few of your other questions.

    About whether the remaining pullets should be laying by 23 weeks of age? ... check out the thread called "How old was your hen when she laid her first egg?" There's good info there and you'll probably find a range for your breed that should give you a better guess whether your girls have actually started or not.

    About your being rushed by the flock?... I think anyone who feeds the birds will be mobbed by them because of their treat-obsessed little minds- LOL. [​IMG]

    About the extra light? ... Some people do, some don't. Some have added light in years past, and now they don't. Some didn't do light before, but now they do. The consensus seems to be that 12-14 hours light per day is necessary for hens to continue laying consistently throughout winter. You can check how much daylight you get in December, from sunrise to sunset. And check out the thread called "How many hours of daylight do you get?" for more details, facts, and opinions on artificial light during winter.
  3. MaineChick

    MaineChick Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 30, 2008

    Thanks so much for the links. I know every question has probably been answered someplace, but I can't always find the right thread. Those two are great, and most helpful.

    And thanks for your sympathy. I had no idea I would get so attached/involved in these little feathered dictators! A part of me cannot believe that I put a chicken on the burial hill...but it was Thumbelina!

    Hope your happy hens continue in good health!
  4. feathersnuggles

    feathersnuggles Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 4, 2009
    You are very welcome, MaineChick! There's another thread about artificial light, that I remember here. As you'll see, when you research this topic, there are very strong and differing opinions. And a few facts to consider, too. Personally, here in Seattle, we get 8 hours total daylight during December, so I plan to add maybe 2 or 3 hours before dawn, after November. That should give the girls about 10-11 hours of light during the darkest days. It's just something I will experiment with, I'm sure, to see what works best for them.

    Here's the other thread about light:

    Thanks for your good wishes for my birds! And I wish your remaining flock lots of good health and safety! They (and you) deserve it.
  5. PortageGirl

    PortageGirl Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 8, 2008
    Portage County, Ohio
    Hey MaineChick, Sorry to hear about your predator issues. I too free range my flock and it is a risk for them. It sounds like our terrain is very similar too, part yard, some shrubbery, some woodlot space, mine's pretty hilly though. The risk is a trade off to having them stuck in a little pen all the time. By having them run free, my hope (so far so good too with a few exceptions of course) hope is that they learn to be afraid when and where they should be, and of course the eggs taste so much better for it! Having a good watch-roo does help also IMO, it may be worth looking for a few more hens and a matching roo to go with em! [​IMG] Now that Sam is gone, there may be some arguing at first, but 2 roos usually find a way to get along, and their competative natures keep them more alert when there's two of em.

    It sounds like you got the other questions you asked one way or another, so I'll leave it at that. Take care! P.G.
  6. MaineChick

    MaineChick Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 30, 2008
    Thanks for the ideas. A better roo might be a good idea in the spring, but I am really hesitant about adding adults to the flock.

    But my egg problems are over, at least for one Sussex. [​IMG]
    She was fussing one day, nowhere near the other 4 chickens. My DH found two eggs nearby, near the coop, hidden in some construction debris. We put them in one of the nesting boxes, and an hour later found this one next to it. We don't know if it's still just the one Sussex, nor do we know if there are other eggs out in the meadow or the woods. But it's a start, and I am so proud of my little girl! Plus, relieved that there is nothing wrong. Thanks for the support, all.
  7. schellie69

    schellie69 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 8, 2009
    sorry about your loss, [​IMG] i love my girls and would hate to lose any of them. I am new also so might not be able to answer your question but I have learned one thing chickens lay when they are ready our 1st bantam laid for 3 weeks before the other girls started so all in their time. I let mine out when there is some one to go out with them when no one is out they are in their pen which is good size for them. I worry about hawks since we live in town and stray cats but I just a worry maybe hatching some others or getting some more chickens would be good I have 10 maybe the rooster being used to having another rooster is not sure what to do with out the other just a thought good luck with your chickens.
  8. card5640

    card5640 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 27, 2009
    Bangor area, Maine
    Hello Fellow Mainer, Orono here. I add light to extend the day and it seems to jump start the laying. I would put some fake eggs about the coop and boxes o they will get a hint. You can get cheap ones in the childrens toy Dept. I have 12 that are 6 months old and just started laying fairly regular last week, I do think my Brahma and EE have not laid yet......not making me happy. Best of luck with the predators.

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