Friday, June 3, 2011

Chickens make their own snacks

I have some disturbing news to report regarding egg production: It appears that the chickens have discovered that they create their own tasty treats.

Last month, Mr. Baker and I discovered that toward the beginning of the month that egg production was unusually spotty. Since Garuda started laying in April, we'd had especially consistent laying, with R.E.D. and Garuda coughing up just about an egg a day, and Checkers trailing closely behind. (As an aside, it appears that I track my girls' cycles more closely than my own...ahem.)

We theorized at length about the disrupted production. We'd seen an errant feather here or there. Were they starting their yearly molt we'd heard so much about? Surely not. Most of the literature clocks the molt to happen around fall/winter (at which time, we will surely submit photos to this contest).

Mr. Baker and I'd seen the chickens (well mostly Checkers, that troublemaker) rolling the eggs out of the nest from time to time, and thought little of it. Then, one terrible day, I walked out to the coop to find shards of egg shells in the run area with the ladies remorselessly smacking their beaks, braying for more treats. They'd discovered what we've known all along: they produce tasty snacks. Since then, we've employed some modest approaches to squelching their negative behavior.

I knew they were beyond most behavioral training and therapeutic techniques I'm familiar with in my day job (cognitive behavior therapy? solution-focused? electroshock??), so we looked to the internets for guidance where we discovered that they probably needed more protein and/or calcium. We'd recently bought our second bag of layer pellets, and apparently the ladies were not having the new brand, so Mr. Baker trekked across the greater bay area to find the preferred pellets. Since the hens have constant access to high-protein pellets and oyster shells for calcium, we tried adding some gourmet supplements to these staples. Long blogpost short, we essentially started spoiling the little brats to bribe them into saving their eggs for us.

Their new, improved higher-protein diets consist of the following delicacies:

-daily multi-seed scratch (pffft. cracked corn is SO middle-America)
-frequent offerings of cabbage tether ball to quell boredom (post coming soon)
-daily King meal worms (that's right, we hand-feed the little brats worms)
-occasional cups of milk (which they guzzle down until their necks are milk-streaked)
-fancy table scraps (pasta with fresh organic peas anyone? cooked lentils?)
-home-grown bean sprouts (again, post coming soon)

Alas, the remainder of the month was spotty still (though sixty-five eggs in May is nothing to sniff at). Mr. Baker is a Negative Nancy, insisting that every day we get less than full production is a day of chicken cannibalism. I'm more optimistic that their slowed production is simply in protest to the cold weather (clearly summer has forgotten about San Francisco this year). At any rate, humans have still done far more disturbing things with the dregs of the reproductive process, as seen here.

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