gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

A Whiter Shade of Pale

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The great thing about keeping hens is that when things are going well, reasonable weather, a balanced diet, plenty of exercise, the odd treat , brighter longer Spring days the hens just keep on laying. The eggy song which can be heard from quite a distance echoes around, heralding another oval masterpiece is sung daily. A fair amount of baking and a family favourite of bacon and egg sandwiches made with fresh eggs, crispy bacon and fresh white bread keeps on top of this eggy abundance.
And so dear reader, my blog has been silent. I hope you haven’t missed us too much. Consider that no news is good news as they say.
One mystery I did solve is that the layer of the elongated eggs is Colonel Saunders. They are whoppers.
The last few days someone (it can only be Apollo or Darling) has been laying ghostly pale eggs, as you can see from the picture, much whiter shells than usual. The egg inside is just the same golden yellow yolk and clear thick white thankfully.
I have consulted the chicken internet oracles and the general view is that this is due to a hen coming to the end of her egg laying season, preparing to stop laying and moult. Calcium levels in the shell are dropping. In fact today an egg was lying broken in the nesting box, showing that the shell was very weak at the time of laying. I need to remove broken eggs quickly as hens love the taste of their own eggs and I don’t want them to get into the habit of deliberately breaking them for a tasty snack.
Early readers of Mrs Gillybirds blog may recall that egg shell colour is determined mostly by the colour of the hen’s ears. Our girls have rusty brown ears and eggs are usually a nice pale brown colour, not these freaky white shells.
Over the next few weeks I will provide more oyster shell grit to increase calcium levels, and keep a close eye for the start of moulting.
Meanwhile we can all enjoy the Spring time sun as the garden comes to life after what was a mild but horribly wet winter. I look forward to being able to take a trip to the coop without the hassle of Wellington boots. And no more dirty dog paw prints on clean kitchen tiles!

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Bad News Days

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Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

So says Fredrich Buechner.
It has been quite a week for terror, bloodshed, death, destruction, fear and inhumanity. Fires, earthquakes, war and rumours of war.
Ordinary people rush towards danger, queue to donate blood, push through fire and debris to rescue the trapped and wounded.
Peoples’ lives have been turned upside down in an instant.
There was a point when I just had to avoid watching any more bad news.

Growing up in Northern Ireland during the time called “the Troubles” our lovely green island made too many bad news headlines. Since my children were born we have moved into more peaceful period, and yet the ripples caused by bombings and murders to families spread on to this day.

And yet the beauty and the cruelty of nature is that the world keeps on turning, buds are bursting, April showers are sparkling in the warming sun, and hens keep on laying.

Today Colonel Saunders, who is still moulting heavily, has been badly pecked by the other hens. This can often happen, the problem being once a hen sees the colour red, ie blood, it can go into a pecking frenzy. To give them all a bit of space from each other they are free ranging in the garden. The Colonel is sitting apart very quietly, not scratching or dust rolling or any of her other favourite activities. I have sprayed her again with Anti Peck, and treated her wound on her shoulder, but she looks sad and sore. I did pick her up for a cuddle, but hens don’t appreciate too much handling and it was probably more to ease my distress rather than hers. Tonight I will keep her apart from the other two hens in the coop so she gets peace to sleep. I’ve consulted the chicken manuals, and there is very little else I can do.
Let’s hope she recovers quickly and tranquility is restored to the Gillybirds Coop.

As for the rest of the world we should never lose hope, and do what we can to make it a better place for us to live in.
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it
Albert Einstein

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KFC (kuriously feathered chicken)

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Colonel Saunders continues to moult, under her belly is as bald as a freshly plucked chicken, (quite shocking) but she is still laying, which can occur but is not usual. Hens have around 8500 feathers. Moulting is not like in the cartoons, one sneeze and all the feathers fall off at once, leaving a very embarrassed hen…this has been going on for some weeks now. where once she was rusty red, she is now getting quite white, almost frosty looking.
Feathers are almost pure protein, so I’ve been adding extra nutrients to their diet. In days past, farmers added bone and bits of meat. Meat attracts vermin and predators, not to mention the dogs and also, bacteria and diseases can be transmitted through meat. Some people add dry cat kibble to their hens’ rations. Since most commercial pet food is made from meat of questionable sourcing this maybe isn’t the best plan for my organic girls either. I heard of a woman who feeds a tin of tuna everyday during the moult. I wouldn’t try this as the eggs may well taste fishy, and it’s quite expensive.
Bugs are a great source of protein, so if you allow your hens into the garden, they’ll clean up pests hiding in the old vegetation and at the same time get the additional nutrition that they need. It has been dry and bright for several weeks now, but extremely cold, and the girls have been enjoying roaming round the garden and dust rolling in the bare soil.
You can buy freeze-dried mealworms, they are 50% protein and the hens love them, but I’ve learnt recently that too many can trigger kidney failure. A teaspoon a per hen is plenty! Besides, mealworms are very pricey. Hulled sunflower seeds are an excellent source of protein and essential fats. Another option is to purchase a supplement formulated for moulting pet birds, like canaries. It’s high in protein and the nutrients needed for feather growth. With the added hope that after a dose or too of canary food the Gillybirds might start singing!

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New Spring Outfits

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I have noticed that the Gillybirds have been looking a little tatty and untidy and realised that they are actually starting to moult, ie lose feathers, particularly around their necks. In fact, Colonel Saunders looks like some one has tried to strangle her. A careful gentle inspection had revealed that already there are little pin feathers growing back already.
Many household poultry keepers, particularly people keeping poultry for the first time, are puzzled because egg production markedly declines or ceases despite their laying birds appearing healthy. This seasonal decline in egg production occurs when birds go into a condition known as the ‘moult’. Moulting is the process of shedding and renewing feathers. During the moult, the reproductive physiology of the bird has a complete rest from laying and the bird builds up its body reserves of nutrients.The provision of new feathers or a coat (a feature inherent in most animals) is a natural process, designed by nature to maintain a bird’s ability to escape enemies by flight and better protect against cold winter conditions. Under usual conditions, adult birds moult once a year. Some may moult twice in one year and, rarely, once in two years.
Moulting takes place in a particular order. Feathers are confined to definite tracts or areas of the body surface, with bare patches of skin between. The first plumage is lost from the head and neck, then from the saddle, breast and body, then from the wings and finally from the tail.
When the first feathers drop from the neck and body, good layers often keep laying. However, when the wing feathers begin to drop, laying usually ceases. The presence of ‘pin’ feathers (new emerging feathers) usually indicates a short or partial moult. Some birds moult continuously and can be easily detected in the flock by the spotless condition of their new feathers. These birds are poor producers and should be culled. Thankfully our girls are still laying their quota of eggs. Time will tell if this is a partial or full moult, but I hope the girls will be back to their full glossy rusty plumage very soon. Still wearing many layers of clothing myself I long for warmer Spring weather so I can cast off a few woolly items and pack them away until next winter.
Natural moults can occur any time of the year if birds are subjected to stress. A bird becomes stressed when the environment or management presents a challenge to which the bird cannot respond without suffering a harmful effect. If a hen is subjected to a mild stress condition in late spring when in full production, she will suffer a drop in egg production; whereas, if a hen is subjected to the same stress condition in autumn, it will cease laying and moult. Common stress factors that can induce moulting include disease, temperature extremes, poor nutrition, predators and poor management. Or as experience has taught me – hot weather, cold weather, rain, change of food, days of the week ending in “day” (that’s a wee joke), will put a hen off her job of laying!
Interestingly, cockerels also moult and, while in this condition, are nearly always infertile because they have lost weight and their reproductive physiology is in a resting phase. Hopefully the same thing can’t be said about balding men 😉

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It’s been really dry here so the girls have been out and about the garden and have discovered my Spring bulbs which they enjoy eating. As the pots of bulbs are near to the house they have grown very brave and bold coming up to the back door, despite two frantic barking dogs going mad on the other side of the door.

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Poor Mr Buttons is having a moult of his own due to a skin condition on his back, it’s not very pretty at all. Where his waggy tail rubs across his back all his fur has rubbed off.
Finally, I discovered during my research for this blog topic, that scientists have bred a featherless chicken. I think this may be one of the cruellest things I have ever seen.

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