Friday, February 11, 2011

Trouble with Chickens

That's right, I said trouble with chickens.

Since getting my own "flock," I've been pretty snobby about the fact that ours are true Free Range hens. Legally speaking, someone can claim to be raising free range hens as long as their chickens aren't confined to a tiny cage - if they never see the light of day, have their beaks clipped to keep them from pecking their eggs, and are injected full of hormones, they can still be called "free range," and everyone thinks that their meat and eggs are completely healthy. Anyhow, my chickens get let outside every morning to range around the 3 acres eating bugs and grass and rolling in the dust (chickens LOVE to roll in the dust) and having all sorts of other chicken shenanigans. From what I've read, this produces much healthier eggs, and of course the chickens are happier.

Well. Over the last month I have realized why anybody hoping to make money off their eggs, or anybody hoping to have eggs for their family, or basically just anybody hoping to preserve their sanity might consider caging their chickens into tiny boxes. We've got chicken trouble. It all started when one hen, my most faithful layer, decided that after she laid an egg, it made perfect sense to take her sharp beak and punch a huge hole in it. This annoying behavior quickly snowballed into her punching holes in everybody else's eggs too. You can't eat an egg with a chicken-beak hole in it - gross. So every day I was collecting maybe one intact egg, and 4 broken ones, not to mention cleaning raw egg out of the hay and chicken food that it had run into.

Attempt number one at extinguishing this behavior was to modify the nesting boxes. Chickens are very instinctual and will lay their eggs in nesting boxes (boxes full of hay) without even being trained - it is like getting a cat to use a litter box. This way you can control where they lay their eggs, which makes life much easier for everybody. Brett decided to give our existing nesting boxes slanted floors so that when the chickens laid an egg, the egg would roll to the back of the box into a little compartment that the naughty chicken couldn't fit her beak into. This was a great concept - except that the eggs rolled only if there was no hay in the nesting box. Kind of like trying to get your cat to use an empty litter box. Not gonna happen. Only, we didn't realize this until about 2 weeks later. At first we thought we had succeeded - all of my eggs were intact! Gradually, however, I went from collecting 5 eggs a day to 4, and eventually I was down to only 1 egg per day. Where were the other eggs going?

Well, let me shorten the story for you: the eggs were going EVERYWHERE. My chickens have gone wild and now lay their eggs anywhere in the heck they feel like it all over their glorious free ranging 3 acres because the nesting boxes no longer feel like nests to them. And chickens are not like the Easter Bunny, either. They aren't laying their eggs where somebody is sure to find them, and they are not laying fluorescent blue eggs. They lay brown eggs inside of bushes or under rocks or in holes that they dig in the sand. It is almost impossible to find these eggs, and once you DO find one and take it out of the nest, the chicken won't lay another egg in that same spot because it is obviously not a safe location (never mind the fact that she laid the egg and promptly got up and left it there unattended for an entire 24 hours). Are you getting a feel for how our afternoons have been going? Yep, we have a daily egg hunt. The kids love it. I hate it.

Oh, and did I mention that "stupid chicken lady" (that's the one who pecks the eggs, not me) is still punching holes in eggs, whenever she manages to find them before we do. Now that we ruined the nesting boxes by making them peck-proof, all the eggs are vulnerable again and she's on the prowl. I plan on turning her into dinner soon, but the problem is that she looks exactly like all my other black hens and I haven't been fast enough to mark her before she escapes. That's right - I've been stalking a chicken around my dad's property for weeks with a can of spray paint hoping to identify her for later slaughter. These chickens are turning me into a maniac.

SO, if you are reading this and happen to have any experience with chickens, particularly with wild egg-laying ones, or the egg eating type, could you give me some advice? I'd sure appreciate it...


Brodd Family said...

my mom has chickens too and they like to lay eggs anywhere which is a bit tricky. she put golf balls in there boxes which seemed to help. Now her best egg layer is brooding and won't let you get to the eggs and my mom is getting pretty fed up :)there always seems to be something new and crazy with the chickens :)

pam said...

No,NO, NONOOOOO! IT's a chicken fiasco!! I'm hoping you get some good advice quick before your sanity and all the tasty eggs are history. I must admit, it does make for a pretty funny post. Sorry. :)

Heather said...

Ooh - GREAT idea about the golf balls! I will definitely try that, but being attacked by a broody hen every time I try to collect eggs doesn't sound too fun either. :) Thanks!

Cindy said...

your saga reminds me of trying to toilet train our cat. everything was going so well then it spiraled out of control and he started peeing anywhere there was a hole. the ending to that story was that I gave up trying to make him be a human. but you shouldn't give up trying to make your chickens be chickens. and eat that pecker!