the chickens love it- back to several hours outside a day, lots of dusting. The silly things all found the "Perfect" spot yesterday, and all tried to dust in it at the same time. If you've never seen a chicken dust, they lay over in a wallow of dirt, flap their wings to throw dirt around and onto their backs, stretch their wings and tails out to the sun, and get this look on their faces that's a cross between beatitude and stupification. You can pretty well do anything to my chickens when they are in this state; it's how one go stepped on in November by the mostly blind dog! All is well there - Pip was a bit startled and came to sit by me for a while after the offended madam jumped up and squawed in her face, and then proceeded to stomp around the yard bellowing, her ego the only thing hurt.
So happy chickens the past two days; sadly nothing green poking out in the run, but a great deal of dusting, and pecking and scratching has been had.
So happy have they been, that today EVERY chicken laid an egg. All seven birds, even the one who has not laid in over a month due to her molting. Now that her feathers are growing back in quite well, she decided to give it a go, Just like when they started laying, the egg was rather small and had a trace of blood on it. The chicken is quite fine - she was checked - it's just what happens sometimes when the vent isn't used to having an egg squeezed out of it. Seven eggs. We've not seen that since early November, when it was warm then too.
But the warmth has nothing to do with it. What matters is the LIGHT. Chickens lay a lot in the later spring, summer and fall. Why? Because the days are long in terms of sunlight. Chickens are used to 12-14 hours of sunlight. If left to their own, during the darker time of year, there will be fewer eggs and sometimes no eggs at all.
The way to combat that is what I've been calling the light method. You put a light on in their coop to emulate a summer light cycle. The light goes on around 6 am, stay on until 6 pm or later. Now, you DO have to give them the cycle of darkness too. If you do not, they get weird, and will not settle down on their roosts to sleep. How we've been doing it here is light on early morning, off when the sunlight is coming in through their windows, and then the light goes on about 4 pm. Since they are in the coop in the garage, we have the light inside the coop, and the light in the garage. When I turn off the light inside the coop, I leave the light in the garage on for about a half hour so they have enough light to move about the coop, get settled for the night. I come in, check to see if they are all settled, tell then goodnight, and the garage light goes off.
This method has been effective. This week, we've had four or five eggs everyday - until today, when we got seven. That's pretty good for only seven hens! That is fall numbers for us.
So if you have hens that aren't laying like you would like them to, give them some more light.
Tomorrow, we shall try the front/side yard free ranging again while I give the coop a good cleaning - last time we were out of the fence, that did not turn out so well for one of our girls. Since we want to keep the seven we have now, I think the dogs will get to come out to play as well. They're good with our chickens - Pip follows them because she wants to lick them and treat them like puppies - and the other two will guard them.
Wish us luck! Maybe we'll even have a spare human out on guard duty getting some sun too. I'll also put the Christmas tree down for the hens - several people have said chickens will eat the needles - I'm curious to see if that is true of these girls.