Winter blew in early this year with two major ice storms before December. A lice outbreak this fall created a super molt. Poultry lice is common in flocks kept near high populations of wild turkey––like ours is. That, in combination with the rapidly dropping temperatures and high winds up here on the mountain, dropped egg production to zip-zilch-zero for nearly a month.
Instead of shaming the freeloaders, I caved and switched from layer pellets to higher protein grower crumble mixed with 1/4 cracked corn and 1/4 scratch grain. This blend boosts feather growth, promotes weight maintenance and gain, and the slower to digest corn and whole grains keep their digestive furnaces burning through the whipping winds howling around their coops at night.
Our White Laced Buff Polish, and White Splash Ameraucana with their rooster Magic have been moved to their pre-breeding rooms in our remodeled utility truck boxes. There the six Polish and four Ameraucana are separated for 14-days from all other birds to insure the eggs will be purebred. They receive a layer crumble diet after having been on the feather grower/winter mix as I described above. It’s warmer and we installed two full length double paned glass doors as windows over the weekend for both warmth and light. Kitchen scraps are withheld and crushed egg shells are mixed in the feed. After their 14-day period comes to an end, they are let out into a new run on days it’s over freezing and not raining.
Our Black copper Marans are also prepping for their breeding program. We butchered the last of the cockerels and suddenly, the very next day in fact, we found the first egg after almost two months on strike(see photo below). I win. The darkest is on the far right in the photo above, all four laid were laid by our spring hatches. Our spring hatchlings, as well as two pullets I purchased from a reputable show-stock breeder, and our 2-year olds have all been given the full health check-up. We also took in a 3-year-old from a local retiring flock.
In this health check beak tips, spur ends, and nails were trimmed (I do this a few times a year as needed), the bottom of their feet were checked for bumble and cleaned. Any scratches were coated with Blue-Kote, wing feathers were re-clipped on one side to stop flight.
When the feathers are all in from molt and they are in optimal health their nutrition is adjusted accordingly. The grower crumble in their feed mix has been replaced with layer crumble. They will continue to be fed 1/4 scratch and 1/4 corn, in addition to crushed egg shells mixed in. Kitchen scraps are still offered daily. Mostly vegetable peels, bread heels, and often served in a pan with warm pot-roast broth or mushy cereal.
A few of the hens lay far too light of a colored egg and will be removed from the breeder coop once identified. Those hens will be placed in the Olive Egger program. One hen, whose eggs are ridiculously light, will be going into the mutt coop. The only way to figure it out is to separate one at a time and wait for them to lay an egg. Once it’s rated on the Marans of America official color chart (seen in a photo above) each hen will be banded with a number to keep track of them for breeding purposes. They are already marked with colored wire ties to indicate their lineage.
Our mutt pen, with Rumplestiltskin as their rooster, consists of French Bresse, leghorn, Easter Eggers, Olive Eggers, Partridge Cochin x SexLink crosses, and other beautifully marked mutts. This pen is generally for market and kitchen eggs. Our half-grown EE, OE, and Marans have been moved into this coop since moving the Polish and Ameraucana out.
Sun porches have been added to the sides of the Maran and mutt coops. This will give added shelter for the chickens to venture outside, and more windbreak for the coops. They are simply double paned from sliding glass doors. I picked them up roadside and found some on Uncle Henry’s. There are two leaning against each coop and two on the grow-out and breeding program prep walk-in house.
My grandfather, Conrad, is building cabinets for our Dream Homestead we finally moved into this fall. I designed them myself and drafted them out to 1/4 of an inch accuracy with two pages of notes. He has a hard time hearing and is too good for confangled hearing aids. Shavings from planing the lumber for our cabinets created masses of fluffy pine shavings. They have made great lofty, insulating bedding. My grandfather was kind enough to bag them up in grain bags he’s saved for over a decade, since he had cattle last.
My chicken sitter Laurie watched all my littlest chicks while we made the move. She really put her heart in it and they are doing amazingly thanks to her spoiling them. They have fully feathered out, but are still quite small.