Scooter knows how to celebrate Father’s Day.
Chickens in perfectly healthy flocks once in awhile lay thin-shelled eggs. As the yolk progresses down the reproductive tract, white surrounds it, then a membrane, and then the shell. It takes about 20 hours for the shell to form, and if during that time the hen is stressed, the shell might not fully develop. Sometimes there’s a glitch in that conveyor belt and the egg comes out too soon.
But, if your usually perfect egg-laying hen starts consistently laying thin-shelled eggs, something is amiss. They might need more calcium in their diet. They might be diseased. They might simply be so old that their body is depleted of shell minerals, and they’ll never lay a sturdy egg again.
Here at Little Pond Farm, my older hens were on the antibiotic Tylan, and two were on doxycycline. Antibiotics will cause thin-shelled eggs. The wife of a vet commented that doxy prevents calcium absorption, so Maizie and Siouxsie were especially lacking in shell-making ability. I fed them yogurt. I tried to keep them as stress-free as possible. Siouxsie laid that one, bloody thin egg, but then the next day laid a perfect, thick-shelled egg. I think she’s out of the woods. Maizie is still not well and not laying.
Yesterday I found yet another odd egg. It looked and felt like a deflating balloon.
I think that one of the Golden Comets laid it, but I’m not sure. I collected three brown eggs. Two were from the Golden Comets and one must have been from one of my older, rarely laying girls. If you catch one of the hens in the act, let me know! (I don’t eat these eggs, as the shell and bloom are not there to protect the egg from bacteria.)
Meanwhile, Betsy is still broody, and doesn’t budge, even when a larger hen gets into her space.
There must have been a thin-shelled egg under her this morning, because when I checked her later in the day, she was covered in yolk. I gave Betsy a bath. It’s easy to blow-dry a broody chicken – she just sits there.
By the way, the funny ridges you find on eggs, and those with odd shapes, are usually unique to each hen and are dictated by genetics. You don’t have to worry about those eggs or the hens that laid them; enjoy their quirks.
It’s a day to be optimistic. The sun is shining, but it’s not too hot. A walk around the yard is all it takes for stress and tension and worry to dissolve into the breeze. There are good things all around.
Soon to be delicious things. I’m hoping I’ll be able to harvest these blueberries when ripe before the chipmunks and birds do.
Swimming things. The Beast and her entourage are languid in the sunshine.
Slithery things. A baby garter snake is warming herself on the rocks by a back door. Stupefied by the heat, she stays put while I step around her.
Running things. The boys have been grazing in the back meadow. Lately they’ve been avoiding that area, despite the tall grass and briars that they so love to eat, because it’s been too wet and buggy. But today is a grazing day. Still, when they hear me by their stall they come running. I might have popcorn. Popcorn trumps all.
Old friends. Edwina is my regal old lady.
New friends. There’s always one in a lot that distinguishes herself. Agatha Agate, of all of the new birds, is the friendly one. She’s calm, she sidles up to all visitors, and she likes to be stroked. She’s not too bright, but she’s very sweet. I can already tell that Agatha will be the next hen that I bring on school visits.
There, I feel better all ready. Do you?
My flock has survived their bout with the respiratory infection. However, a side-effect of antibiotics is that the treated hens lays thin-shelled eggs. I knew that some of the girls were laying such eggs when broody Betsy broke the eggs she was sitting on, ate what she could, and got coated with the rest. I’ve also noticed sticky wet spots in the shavings – likely thin eggs that the other hens noticed and ate.
Thin-shelled eggs are a messy, wasteful problem, but they’re also a health risk. They’re more likely to break inside of the hen. A couple of days ago Maizie, uncharacteristically, sat all day on the dirt floor of the pen. I picked her up and felt her abdomen. It was filled with fluid, which could indicate many things, none good. My heart sank. I put her in the isolation coop to check on her manure production. After a day it was clear that her appetite was gone and that she had greenish/white diarrhea. My best guess is that an egg has broken inside of her and that she has peritonitis. I don’t think that she can handle another dose of strong antibiotics. I think it’s just a matter of time until she is gone.
Today I found a thin, empty, bloodied shell on the floor of the outdoor run. Agnes had just finished eating the yolk from inside of it. It was a medium-sized white egg, so I knew it was laid by one of the Polish hens. I picked them up and looked at their vents. Siouxsie’s was bloody. At least her eggs are coming out whole.
The two hens laying the soft eggs are the ones treated with doxycycline. The hens that were treated with just Tylan are fine; I collected three sturdy eggs from them today. I don’t know if I’d use doxycycline again. It saved Maizie and Siouxsie, but also might, in the end, kill them. It’s never easy, is it?
To end on a more optimistic note, the new chicks are looking like chickens, not Easter toys. They’re learning to roost. Here are three on the the outside roost, quite pleased with themselves.
This past week my oldest son graduated from high school (I am ridiculously proud of what a wonderful person he is, but I promised him that this blog wouldn’t be about him, so that’s all I’ll say!) Next fall, he’ll be going to college in San Francisco. I’ll be flying out to so settle him into his dorm on August 22. As long as I’m in the Bay Area, I thought that this could be an opportunity for me to do a program on the West Coast. Perhaps there’s a library or school who would like me to do a Tillie Lays an Egg storytime? Or, maybe there’s an urban farming or gardening group that would like me to present my Chicken Keeping Workshop? I’m willing to stay an extra day to do an appearance (or two.)
I do charge a fee for my talks, but if you can get me to the event and back to my hotel (undecided as yet, ideas?) I won’t charge for other expenses. Email me if you’re interested.