My flock needs help....chronic issues..

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by WIchickens, Dec 2, 2016.

  1. WIchickens

    WIchickens Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Hey everyone,

    Always appreciate all the advice I find on this site. I have raised chickens for a few years now, so I feel like I've got a general idea of what I am doing....but maybe I don't :(. I started with a small flock of 5 chickens and everything was great - laying great, healthy, everyone got along, etc. Then 2 years ago we moved to a bigger farm and I decided to expand my flock and start selling eggs. Needless to say - it's not going as well as I had hoped.

    Currently, this is what I've got:

    23 hens between 6mo - 1.5 years (ok - I have 3 that I consider pets that are 5 years old - they don't lay worth a darn but I love them)
    A few different breeds - light brahmas, cinnamon queens, easter eggers, RIR, white leghorn
    They live in the barn with about a 20x20 area inside with a 20x20 run outside
    We used to have 10 nesting boxes, but they only use 4, so now they have 4 boxes.
    They have a window in addition to the coop door, a couple ladders and chairs to climb on, plus their roost.
    Supplemental light in the winter
    Eating 16% layer feed agrimaster (our feed mill closed 3 months ago). Plus they get a little scratch and table scraps daily.


    Long story short - they were picking at each other all summer. I used to have a rooster, thought that was the problem - got rid of him. Nope. But since it has gotten colder they have settled down some, but a few off their backs are featherless from picking. I keep the coop clean, they always have food and water. They look and act healthy, but obviously I am doing something wrong.

    They have never really reached what I would consider their laying potential. In the summer I'd say on a good day I'd get 12 eggs a day from the 20, but usually 8-9 is the norm. As soon as October hit, all 5 of my eater eggers stopped laying completely!! Even my young leghorn has stopped laying.

    Oh and they have an egg eating problem too. we put their nesting boxes on a slight ramp so the eggs fall into a protected box so they can't reach. But they try their hardest to get to them and they usually get a couple a day, especially if they don't roll down for some reason. I have tried everything to fix this problem - so frustrating!!!

    In the meantime, I also have 6 silkies in a separate pen, and they are still laying great - even thought they aren't supposed to be good layers!!! What a crazy farm I have.

    Any advice would be much appreciated. My husband said he's had enough and wants to get rid of them all, and just keep enough to feed our family. I love my chickens - but they need to pull their weight in eggs. Help!!!
     
  2. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    Have you done a check for lice and mites? The first thing I'd do in addition to that is increase their protein. You can do so by switching to a Multi-flock feed, or adding an animal protein source to their daily diet. I'd also be sure they have oyster shell available at all times, even if they are on layer. Their behavior suggests to me that they are running a protein deficit. I'd also suggest that you try fermenting their feed. While they have plenty of space, I'm wondering if their run is bare soil? If that is the case, I'd immediately work on getting a deep litter into that run. Chickens who are busy digging for hidden treasures in a DL/compost are not as likely to be feather picking, beating each other up, and trying to eat their eggs. They will also meet some nutritional deficiencies if they have an actively composting DL available to them.
     
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  3. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Lots of Chickens Premium Member

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    I would too up your protein content in your feed. My birds did poorly on layer. It was too little protein to keep birds in good condition as well as keeping up production. I like at least 18%, with 20% being better. I don't do fermented feeds. I rely on a larger ranging area. Deep litter will also add microbes to the soil and boost nutrients they can get from scratching and pecking around. So if possible enlarging their outdoor space can help them balance their own diets better.

    Hens lay best during the first and second season than production can start to decrease with birds taking larger breaks throughout the year. Adding new birds each year can help to keep production up, and culling non productive birds as necessary to make room.
     
  4. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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    My Coop
    I agree on upping the protein.....and what does your coop and run look like?

    Sizes seems good....but are there a variety of roosts, platforms, stumps, logs, pallets leaned against walls or up on concrete blocks.
    Things to break line of sight and get up and away from aggressors can really help.
    Multiple feed and water stations can help too.

    I've found that supplemental lighting can screw up the molt...have had a few birds go thru winter with bare backs because of it.
    How do you apply the lighting? Times of year, times of day, durations, etc.
     
  5. WIchickens

    WIchickens Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks for the ideas! I never thought of deep litter or compost outside. We are expecting snow tomorrow so that idea might have to wait til spring. Our run is on bare ground.

    Our light we use roughly oct - April when our days are shorter. We use a 60 watt bulb in the corner, up high. I know some people use Christmas lights, is that more appealing to them lol? We leave it on long enough so they get 15 hrs of daylight.

    Definitely going to increase the protein. I have about 12 bags of 16% to use up - any ideas what I could mix with it? Like feather fixer or calf manna? Hmmm...

    Keep those ideas coming!!!
     
  6. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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    Might not be too late to gather up some leaves and toss them in the run.
    Wood chips, a bit of straw, etc. Doesn't have to be real deep to help a bit.
    Here's a great description of contents and how to manage organic 'bedding' in a run or coop...and there's a great video of what it looks like.
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/1037998/muddy-run-help-please#post_16017992

    15 hours may be a bit much...12-14 is plenty.
    Do you ramp the light up slowly or all at once?

    12 fifty pound bags?!
    You could get some high protein chicken feed and mix it to get up to the percentage that you want.
    1 part 16% plus 1 part 20% divided by 2 equals 18%.
     
  7. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    I think I see the source of your problem. How many bags of feed are you using per month? Feed has a limited shelf life, and a good part of that shelf life is already passed by the time you bring that feed home from the store, unless you are buying direct from the mill. A well known feed expert states that by the time feed is milled 42 days, it's on it's way to becoming rancid. Rancid feed is unpalatable, and has lost much of it's nutritional content. Not to mention any moisture issues you might be having with long term storage of that much feed. When my flock size has been 25 - 42 birds, I estimate that at most, I was using about 2 bags/month. (free range time available, and fermenting the feed.) You can find the Julian date (mill date) on the bottom of the bag of feed. If feed is not within 2 weeks, and at most 3 weeks of mill date at the feed store, I walk away and visit their competitor. I've seen feed at the FS that was well past the 42 days.

    As for the DL, it's not too late. If you can get your hands on some compostable material, it can be tossed right on top of the snow. If you get a lot of snow, you might want to move a bit of it out of the way, and start a compost pile right in the run.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2016
  8. Percheron chick

    Percheron chick Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Calf Manna wouldn't be a bad choice. Extra vitamins and minerals on top of extra protein. Mixing it 3 parts feed to 1 part cm will up the protein to 18%. I would be shooting for closer to 20%. I wouldn't up the calf manna. You could add a bag of game bird starter (26-30%) or soybean meal or chips (40+%). Feather fixer is only 18% so not going to make much of a difference.

    Don't put too much thought into the dl. Throw bags of leaves down, a few bales of straw or hay (alfalfa is a good protein source as well plus it provides endless entertainment), kitchen waste... Keep adding all winter long. Throwing it down on top of the snow will encourage them to spend time outside.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2016
  9. Weehopper

    Weehopper Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Nothing is quite as much fun is to pop open a bale of straw in the run, push the flakes apart a bit, and watch the hens having a blast digging and scratching those flakes apart. Put some inside too.
    When I switched to Flock Raiser feed, I was mixing it with the last of my layer feed, but the hens liked the Flock Raiser so much they left the layer pellets on the ground and just ate the Flock Raiser. I didn't care. The improvement was great [​IMG].
     
  10. azygous

    azygous Chicken Obsessed

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    Is there any way you can return the unused bags of layer feed for credit? It's worth a try.

    I have had the experience of having my hens ignore layer feed, and go crazy for Purina Flock Raiser. Chickens have taste preferences. You really do not need layer feed as long as your layers get oyster shell free choice.

    I also recommend fermenting your feed. I've had layers that I was certain were past their laying career come back into full regular lay after being on fermented feed. The transformation has been truly stunning.

    But, please do not try fermenting Feather Fixer! The stench is absolutely gagging! There's something in that formula that releases a tremendous amount of sulfur gas as it ferments.
     

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