I’m sorry for the situation you’re in.I ony have four chickens...well...now I have two, but after all the money we've spent and all the work I've gone through, I'm not sure this is a good idea.
Four lovely chickens about a season old came to us in April, Easter Egger having been bullied in the larger flock they came from but the sweet, calm other three were always so good to her and they were doing great.
We built the coop out of all scraps and cabinets doors but spent some money on 2x4s to add a secure pen. Then I managed to build a chicken tractor from 1" PVC pipe which was only ridiculously expensive because of the connecting pieces. The tractor was so they could be out of the pen in the yard safely.
They had to be moved constantly so we decided to use it to take them to a fenced in side yard they love but found out they could scale a 4 foot fence anyway. So it was money somewhat wasted because they run around anyway and we just hope a dog won't get them.
Meanwhile, we can't afford layer pellets (we live on a very low income as seniors) after that first bag and I don't think highly processed food is food anyway (used to work for the USDA and I know labels are based on the raw food) so switched to fermented wheat, millet, and black sunflower seeds adding eggshells for calcium and other stuff and they ended up free-foraging most of their food anyway. And they loved foraging and were laying well.
But they hated the wheat and left it behind, which is most of the fermented food so I just switched to sprouting it into fodder, which they also don't like. I have two 50# bags of wheat now which was only $20 and they hate it. I'm screwed. I can't find barley in this town and I can't afford to keep trying different things for them. PLUS - my fodder system I started this week now has FRUIT FLIES all over this second batch. HELP!!! So, I have no feed for them? Um.....
That's the feed problem. Here's the behaviors problem:
The Barred Rock started molting massively so the Easter Egger who had been hen-pecked in their other flock decided to become a bully to the mainly the Australorp and a bit to the Speckled Sussex and try to move up the pecking order. I separated EE - into the tractor so Yay! some use for it after all - for four days so they could reesablish their pecking order and when we let them out together that last afternoon, all was well and the Australorp had fully come back to herself and was outgoing again and seemed fine. We let the EE go back in the coop that night with the others.
The next day, I fed them, then we had to be out all day and at 2 pm when I went to let them out to forage, the Australorp was lying on the ground unable to get up with the Speckled Sussex and Barred Rock trying to protect the A from the EE. I let them all out and the A hobbled over to one of the pieces of watermelon I had left earler so she could eat. She ate a bit and I carried her around and checked her completely but I think she was chased and injured her leg. She wouldn't eat since but had a little water.
I put the A in the chicken tractor to get well and in the evening the other three went back in the pen but the EE wouldn't let the Speckled Sussex in the coop to sleep and she also wouldn't let her eat! So back she went into the tractor and the A into the coop.
Now we're up to yesterday: I gave the EE away to a flock that has roosters to keep her in line.
The Australorp died last night. So we're down to two chickens, one not laying as she's molting and the other not laying because of the stress.
We've spent about half a month's income for us over the first few months getting them settled, finding food we could afford, etc. We have food they don't want to eat and fruit flies all over the food I am sprouting into fodder.
I'm feeling defeated. We got chickens for eggs. We cannot afford to keep chickens as pets. I don't want to bring in new chickens while my sweet barred rock is molting and they've been through so much. So I suspect we'll have to wait until spring now to try to rebuild the flock. BUT I still have the food issue to deal with. All of this "they love fermented food and fodder" is out the window, although I'm still feeding them this week's fodder because it's what we have (It's in the fridge). But if they don't eat enough, they'll die, too.
Help. I'm about to cremate one lovely sweet chicken and dump a load of gnat-filled fodder in the compost and will run out of the fodder in the fridge in about two days. I can't afford to try something else that won't work. We are literally doing this because we have to become somewhat self-suffcient. I'm 62 and hubby is sick and I can't make enough money in this town to do more than barely pay the utilities, taxes and food. We don't have TV or cell phones or extras. Internet is our concession because his kids live in Australia and mine in another state so we do need a communication tool. We're okay and no debt, but I can't do more than I already am. I'm stuck between needing the eggs for food and wondering if I can afford to keep them for the food. Especially if they don't eat their own food.
Can you hear the slight hysteria? I'm exhausted trying to solve these problems. I don't remember my grandparents having these issues. That's for sure, but I can't remember them doing anything other than free-foraging and throwing cracked corn at them. Have we made chicken keeping just too complicated or am I doing everything I can and it's just not working?
I think maybe it’s time to rehome them. If you can’t afford feed or care, they should be with someone who can. What you’re feeding sounds like it would work for a bit but it’s not a proper diet. It’s even possible that it’s gonna cause lots more health issues. Layer food is definitely real food - it may be processed, but it is a perfectly balanced diet for hens and they will have problems if you try to use other things.
If you want chickens so you spend less on eggs you’re going down the wrong path.
It’s going to cost more just to keep these birds that it would to buy eggs.
I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. I feel for you, really. I understand that you’ve done your absolute best and I’m sure they love you for it. But I’m also not thinking this was a good fit for you.
These hens will be costly. They need proper food and care. They won’t lay eggs in the winter, they might have all sorts of health problems you can’t help them with…
I’ve been in desperate situations with my girls that were costly, both in money and resources. I had a hen who had a drastically stuck egg and was in agony. She was scared, suffering and barely conscious at points. I had to stuff her full of meds and stick her in a steamy shower, all the while crying and fearful. We were both ready to faint by the time she got the egg out. I never want to do that again. And I can’t imagine what would’ve gone down if I hadn’t had the supplies. I might have had had to bury my favorite hen that night.
I don’t want YOU to be in that situation. I also don’t want you to find yourself in deep trouble with hens you can’t afford to keep. So whatever you think is best for the hens and you, do it.