Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Skunk Visit

Early August has been tough for the girls...they are hardly laying any eggs and at least Eunice and Delores are starting to moult and there are feathers everywhere. Moulting is the yearly ritual of shedding feathers and growing a new set. It normally happens in the fall but the girls are getting a jump start and Eunice is starting to look more scrawny than usual.
And now skunks... Two weeks ago Naomi sighted a couple of skunks in the yard one morning. Following the advice of one of our kids she called the police in case the skunks were rabid as they are not usually out during the day. The police weren't that concerned and after the initial visit the skunks disappeared.
But today we saw a very bushy skunk wandering up the sidewalk about 1 in the afternoon without a care in the world. As soon as it I saw it I ran for the back to put the girls back in the coop but they were already there and screaming away. They really are an early warning system for all kinds of prey but they normally don't head into the coop if I've left them out in the yard. They'll either scatter to the bushes or stand still and scream. Not much of a defense when the hawk is scouting out its next meal. I was very grateful for their protective instincts today.
A couple of neighbors had already called the Animal Control Officer to report the skunk and I did the same as we were all concerned about its behavior. I didn't want him to think this was related to my keeping chickens as the skunk was wandering in several yards and in the street. Basically, since the skunk didn't appear to be rabid (no wandering in circles or menacing behavior) there wasn't much the officer could do as the skunk was more nuisance than anything. Since a neighbor had earlier seen the skunk with its kids we certainly didn't want to separate them. The officer said it wasn't uncommon this time of year for raccoons and skunks to come out during the day to forage for food for their children.
My feeling is that we need to co-exist with this skunk as it's her neighborhood too though I'd prefer she return to her more nocturnal habits. I'll just have to be more careful about letting the girls outside the coop. I'm thankful they alert me to every potential danger in the yard, real or imagined.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Where Have all the Eggs Gone?

It's now early August and we're experiencing a strange phenomena...very few eggs.. from a high of 4 a day in the spring we are now getting 1 every other day. I'm not sure if it's the weather, Eunice's broodiness, or something else.

I consulted my favorite web site,, and it looks like the heat is a big factor. Stress can also be an issue and that probably explains Eunice's problems. Soon the girls will moult, when they lose most of their feathers, and egg production will be low as they use their resources to make new feathers and not eggs.

I'm looking forward to the cooler weather when the eggs come back..I miss them.

Eunice Goes Broody

While on vacation in July we got a call of 'concern' from Andrea, our vacation chicken sitter supervisor (Lauren's mom) that Eunice wouldn't leave the nesting box inside the coop.... I knew right away she'd gone 'broody' - that maternal condition when a hen sets herself on the eggs for hatching. Unfortunately for Eunice, all the setting in the world wasn't going to hatch those eggs as there's no rooster in their lives. We thought about coming home early from vacation but a reassuring call to Sharon, Naomi's daughter, and mother to many chickens, convinced us that Eunice would be fine, she just needed access to food and water until we returned.

So, armed with the gloves and determination, and with the neighbors to watch, I faced off with Eunice in the coop, prepared for her maternal instincts to defend her nest. Instead, all I did was give her a little prod and she fluffed her feathers and squawked and then got up from the nest where 6 eggs (none of them were hers) sat, warm and unhatched. I sadly threw out all the eggs since they probably were no good to eat and closed the coop door to keep Eunice out. She was miserable, Delores was unhappy, and after a few hours I opened the door and they went back in to the nest.

For the next week Eunice was in and out of the nesting box, some days spending most of her time there, but eventually she lost interest and returned to her normal behavior. But she hasn't laid an egg in over two weeks...

The Girls Have Their Healthcheck

One of the requirements of the Board of Health was that the girls be inspected by a representative from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources within the first year. I never did understand if that was the first year of life or the first year of living with me or of laying eggs but in early May I did contact the inspector and had someone come out to see the girls. There are pictures posted of the inspection here.

Basically, chickens need to be certified that they are free of several diseases in part so that they may be freely transported without fear of disease being spread. This especially applies to folks who want to show chickens (not me) and it ensures that a chicken that is sold is in good health. I found out that the hatchery 3 of the girls came from qualifies them for automatic passing and they did not need to be tested. But since Eunice came from the Topsfield Poultry Auction she needed her blood tested.

So, on a lovely May afternoon the woman from the inspection department came, dressed up in a protective suit and drew blood from the girls for testing. A week later I received their certificate of good health and no sign of Avian Influenza or Pullorum. Each hen has a leg band certifying her good health. The state takes poultry disease prevention very seriously and I am glad I followed through with the exam.

From what I have heard from other chicken owners in other towns Beverly is more strict about poultry testing and I am glad for it.