Finally I’ve had to conceed that the chickens are moulting and there’s nothing I can do to get them laying again except wait for spring. Here’s the change in our Butter over the last two years. Her appearance, especially her feathers had me starting to think she was unwell –
We’ve had three chickens for a couple of years – Butter is about two and a half years old and the two Plymouth Rocks three or so. They’ve been great layers in the time we’ve had them (except for the broody incident with Butter the year before last!) with 5 or 6 eggs a week each and they’ve barely moulted in the two years we’ve had them (which is when they re ‘coop’ and stop laying). Then, for what seems like months, their production suddenly dropped. We went down to a couple of eggs a week total and for the last month or so – nothing. Fortunately our latest two bantams have just started laying and are going great guns with an egg each most days (just small!).
Because the two young girls have been laying I decided the big girls must be sick or feeling psychologically threatened by the latest additions and have been spoiling them with tonics, a change back to the more expensive organic pellets, fish frames, lavender in their nesting boxes and so on. I’ve also been checking their very large run for rouge nests and stalking them to see if they or something’s been eating the eggs. However, after talking to my neighbour who’s more experienced in the ways of chickens, I’ve learnt that these older girls aren’t sick or anything – they’re moulting. The reason I haven’t noticed much of a change in egg laying before, and why the young girls are laying despite the short days and it being nearly winter, is just an age thing. The less than a year old girls have just started laying and will continue despite these short days (which initiates the moult apparently) and my big girls probably didn’t take much time out previously because they were younger and do really have everything going for them in terms of food and environment (ie spoilt).
When I look closely at their combs (the top bit) and wattles (the bottom hanging down bit) I can see the difference from when they were laying – they’re now small with a lack of vibrancy to the colour. Their heads and backs look like they’ve been pecking each other but it’s just the feathers falling out.
Feathers about the show including this in the bottom of the coop confirms it.
On the plus side – they aren’t eating as much and sometimes finish up to go sit in the sun, leaving the two smaller ones to get in and get a decent feed for a change. What it has reinforced is the value of our eggs. We don’t buy eggs at all now so if the girls aren’t laying we don’t eat eggs. When we were getting a dozen or so eggs a week we could easily take soft boiled eggs for lunch, eat eggs in the weekend and make bacon and egg pie with the extras. Now I’m loathe to use an egg for a glaze or in anything that doesn’t showcase the egg. Which is how it should be I think – the eggs they lay are really precious and we should appreciate each one. I’m just crossing my fingers that the big girls do start laying again and we don’t have to start thinking about what we do if they’ve retired…..