Category Archives: Crazy Chicken Lady

Lesson 321 – What to do when a hen stops laying eggs

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There are a few questions about chickens that I get asked all the time. By now, most of you should know the answers.

Do you need a rooster to get eggs?

Everybody? — NO.

What do you do with your chickens in the winter?

All together now – just like what war is good for – absolutely nothing. (okay we do use a 100 watt lightbulb and a water heater but you get my drift).

Another question that seems to be popping up more and more as people ponder whether to get chickens or not and one I got recently from a Mike, a reader from York Maine is:

What do you do when the hens stop laying eggs?

There is no easy answer to this one. At least for me, who sees our chickens as family pets. Yeah and go ahead and call me soft but if we didn’t have soft people, what a dreary place this would be.

Chickens lay eggs for around 4-5 years. Then they stop, they run out. They sort of go into a chick-menopause state (hopefully minus the need for the pounds of chocolate and glasses of red wine).

There is a caveat to this, however. A normal chicken will lay for that long. Chickens that are genetically bred to lay eggs (unimaginatively called layers) will run out of their finite egg supply faster.  Chickens that lay only occasionally (bantams and exotics) might lay longer as they only squirt out an egg when they feel like it.  And finally, birds that are induced to lay through the use of artificial light during the winter months will also wear out faster. In the eternal words of all mothers “there is only so much I can do.”

The point here is that even under the very best of conditions, at some point a chicken is going to stop laying eggs. She is going to stop being productive and when that happens you’re going to have to figure out what to do with her.

I’ve always rather blithely replied to this question saying that our chickens are welcome to live out their retirement days in our backyard (after all, no one turned me into Sunday Dinner when I stopped laying eggs) but I’m afraid it’s not that easy.

When chickens stop laying eggs they don’t sit on the front porch drinking iced tea and knitting baby blankets. Retired chickens are meant to be culled. It’s part of “THE WAY”. In a wild flock of chickens (and there are such things) you would never see any retired hens. They slow down the flock, they endanger everyone else, they don’t contribute, in short, they are not wanted.  They become the decoys that save the rest of the flock.

The other thing is that nature never really intended to care for older chickens. They lose their feathers, they tend to get sick, they start having health problems. They start to endlessly repeat stories about the good old days.

We have a dog – Digger who is a Maltese rescue from Tennessee.  No one knows how old he is except that he is very old. Until our house, he had a rough life living on the streets and grabbing what little food he could find. He is without doubt, though, one of the best dogs we have ever had. (The other being a rescued Greyhound – I think there’s something about being grateful that someone cares about you).

Anyway, these days, Digger is not doing so well. Trevor and I figured out that he sleeps about 22 hours a day. He has tumors on his skin. He can’t hear anything, his eye sight along with his teeth have long disappeared. It takes a bit for him to get going and in the cold New Hampshire winter, because he can’t seem to generate enough body heat he needs to be covered with warm blankets and kept near a heater.

But he does recognize our touch and he loves nothing more than to cuddle up next to us giving us a lick or two when it moves him.

He is still part of our family. He still eats, still makes it outside to do his business and perhaps most importantly he is not in pain.

I’ve warned the kids though, that the day he is in pain (and I’m talking about the un-retractable pain that signals oncoming death)  is the day I will take him in to have him put down. I love this little dog too much to let him suffer just because we are not ready to say good-bye.

I hope that I will be able to keep to the same standards when our chickens, our birds of wonder also wear down after their life of service to us is over. Their comfort need not be sacrificed for my inability to let go.

In another post, I’ll write about ways to ethically kill a chicken (you’ll not find me cutting off the heads of any of my friends) and what you can do with the carcass.

Our lovely Morgane

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Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, chicken care, Crazy Chicken Lady, Life Lessons, Personal, Project Chickens before the Eggs, The Family

Lesson 318 – The raccoon marauder in the henhouse

I messed up a little bit. Yesterday’s quote post was supposed to be today’s and therefore that “special post” I was talking about is going up tomorrow, not today. Just hold on to your horses a little longer.

Tuesday we heard a great ruckus in the henhouse. ALL (and I mean all) the chickens were screeching and squawking as loudly as they could and wouldn’t stop. I’d never heard them do this before so I went out back to see what was up. I figured that maybe there was a local cat in the woods near the coop or maybe that freaky neighborhood kid was milling about.

Instead what I saw absolutely floored me. Walking around the enclosed coop was a large and rather plump raccoon. At 4:30 in the afternoon.

In case you didn’t know, raccons like chickens. They like them so much that they invite them over to dinner, breakfast, and lunch.

This was not good. I grabbed the first weapon I could find which was a large rake with a bright red plastic head and proceeded to advance toward the raccoon while yelling.

raccoon in teddy bear's clothing

Note – the part of the raccoon is being played by a double. No animals were harmed (or frightened to death) in the filming of this reenactment.

The raccoon (let’s just call him Rocky and get it over with) slowly turned, looked at me, laughed in my general direction and then continued to case the chicken joint. This was not good. Raccoons are supposed to be nocturnal, they are supposed to be afraid of advancing humans wielding red plastic rakes, they are not supposed to laugh at you and they are not supposed to have eyes so rheumy that one was almost shut. Continue reading

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Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, chicken care, Crazy Chicken Lady, New Hampshire, Personal, Project Chickens before the Eggs, The Chicken Challenge, The Family

Lesson 316 – The restraint of Wendy

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This past weekend (the second Saturday of the month) there was a chicken swap at our local Tractor Supply Company (along with Disney Land – one of the happiest places on earth).

“Uh oh”, my daughter Addy said as I turned into the parking lot. “Mom, remember. We already HAVE enough.”

“I know, I know, I’m just looking”, I re-assured her. “But just look how cute they are!”

There were only a few vendors there (the season is still young). Among the breeds on display we saw some frizzles (exploded feather dusters), silkies (cross between a chicken and a dandelion head gone to seed) and a showgirl (just a perversion of nature, I mean please, can someone get that chick some good moisturizer?).

Although we saw many adorable chicks I showed restraint. After all, in a few weeks, if all goes well we are supposed to be getting some new babies. I can wait. I can. Besides, these chicks were not sexed and with our luck, we would be looking at a future rooster no matter what signs we’d try to follow (larger feet, larger in body size, the pendulum swings counter-clockwise).

But, but, but, these were here now and they were so cute.

“Be strong.” Said Addy. “And remember that Dad will kill you if you come home with another chick.”

Pshaw.

And then we saw some baby ducks. Tiny yellow baby ducks. With elongated bills and minute webbed feet. One baby duck can sit comfortably and then close its eyes in the palm of your hand (ask me how I know).

“Oh my” I whispered as the little wonder snuggled down to the heat of my skin. “Oh my.”

“Come on, pleeease?” I looked at Addy with my best puppy dog eyes.

“Mom!” Addy sharply barked desperately trying to break the spell under which I’d been placed. “No baby chicks, no baby ducks, no bunnies. Let’s get out of here while we can.”

“Oh all right,” I said gently placing the duckling back in the tub to be reunited with her siblings. “But if we don’t get a lot of chicks from those eggs, and I mean a lot. I’ll be back here next month.”

“You just wait and see.”

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Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, chicken care, Chicks, Crazy Chicken Lady, Project Chickens before the Eggs, The Chicken Challenge, The kids

Lesson 294 – Empty nest

Stephanie Piro, the cartoonist who drew the lovely chickens on the poster she made for my chicken talk last week at the Goodwin Library in Farmington sent me another chicken cartoon to share with all of you.

I’m afraid that this cartoon rings of more truth than I’d like to admit. 🙂

You can see more of Stephanie’s fabulous artwork at her website:  www.stephaniepiro.com. Continue reading

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Filed under All things chickens, All things local, Backyard Chickens, Chicken art, Chicken fun, Chicken talks, Crazy Chicken Lady, New Hampshire, Project Chickens before the Eggs

Lesson 281 – That thing on a turkey is just gross

People ask me all the time if I have turkeys or if I plan on ever getting a turkey. I suppose when one has chickens, one is assumed to be interested in all things fowl. (which if we’re going to be honest here, I kind of am – so no harm in the question).

Although I have thought about turkeys, in the same way I’ve thought about ducks and yes, even a peacock, the answer is no. The only domestic turkeys I’ve heard of and seen are those that are being raised to be “Thanksgiving Dinner”. In a major case of hypocrisy, I’m willing to eat turkey on Thanksgiving as long as it’s not one that I know personally.

And although turkeys must lay eggs (that is of course, how we get baby turkeys) I haven’t heard of anyone raising the roof about eating turkey eggs. I have to the contrary heard about the gastronomical delights of duck eggs which are supposed to be denser and fuller flavored than chicken eggs.

I’ve also heard that turkeys are the only birds that get ticks but I’m not sure if that’s true or if it’s just some bad news that is being spread around by the anti-turkey society. If this is true, one of the benefits of chickens is that they eat ticks, so if I had turkeys would the chickens eat the ticks off the turkeys?

I do know that domestic turkeys are not the brightest birds in the world, unlike their wild cousins who are sleeker, darker, and who have enough sense to literally get out of the rain, domestics are large, plump, and from what I saw this weekend when we went to a poultry farm – don’t know how to get down from the top of the hen house (although they somehow managed to get up).

A face only his mother could love

Continue reading

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Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, Crazy Chicken Lady, Everything Eggs, Personal, Project Chickens before the Eggs, The Family, Traditions

Lesson 277 – It’s what mothers are programmed to do

I’ve been having some email discussions with a friend of mine who has chickens. One of her four birds has become broody and is refusing to move off of a clutch of eggs. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing (they have no roosters so the eggs would never hatch and would eventually just go bad) but the problem is that a brooding hen is a hen who won’t eat or drink. She, instead, gives all of her energy over to the eggs.

It’s what a mother is programed to do. Continue reading

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Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, chicken care, Crazy Chicken Lady, Eggs, Inspiration, Life Lessons, Project Chickens before the Eggs, Teaching kids

Project Chickens before the Eggs – Lesson 228 – Chicken literature

Friday Literature of Chicks

We take our friends into our lives, their quirks and flaws and all.

David Baird

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Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, Chick Literature, Crazy Chicken Lady, Life Lessons, Project Chickens before the Eggs