A Hurt Chicken Update

A number of people wrote to ask about my hurt hen after reading Dealing with Hurt Chickens. You’ll be happy to know that my hen is fully healed at this point and the infection is completely gone (without leaving any signs). Over the years I’ve found that hens are quite resilient as long as you get to the source of a problem quickly and provide at least a modicum of care. Getting the hen out of the coop when her mates can’t help her is the prime concern. Otherwise, the other hens will proceed to peck her to death.

Chickens aren’t particularly known for their long term memory. After almost a month, the other members of the coop had quite forgotten about the hurt hen, so I couldn’t just put her back into the coop and expect everything to work right away. The process involves putting the hen, cage and all, into the coop for a few days. Unfortunately, the addition of a relatively large cage made the coop seem amazingly small as I tried to get to the eggs. The hens took great delight in sitting on my shoulders and head while I tried to get past the cage. They also mumbled strange, dark chicken thoughts about how I’d be so much better off if I simply removed the stranger from their midst. I’m used to this little inconvenience because it happens every time I introduce new chicks to the coop.

What I hadn’t quite expected is the hen’s reaction to their new coop mate. Normally, the hens spend a good deal of time running around the cage, sitting on top of it, and attempting to peck the chicks. In other words, they’re active in their desire to be rid of the strangers at any cost. Not so this time! The hens took up a line around the cage and stared. Some sat, some stood, but all mumbled, and then mumbled some more. I’m not sure why a single adult hen should be different from five or six juveniles, but there is some point of chicken etiquette of which I’m most definitely not aware. After a while though, the hens simply started ignoring the cage and went about their business.

Because of the absurd initial reaction, I decided to leave the hen in her cage for an extra day, so the inconvenience of trying to get to the eggs lasted longer than I would have liked, which is where the trip comes into play. Imagine trying to get around in a coop that one wouldn’t normally consider spacious with a bunch of hens and a relatively large cage in your way. One day I went in and, as usual, put the eggs into my jacket pocket as I collected them. My sweatshirt jacket makes a fine place to put eggs most of the time, but not this time. Yes, I fell and did the Lucy act (see Lucy Does the Tango). Well, my jacket really did need to be washed anyway and a shower is always nice after working in the coop.

At this point, my hurt hen is no longer hurt. She’s running around with the other chickens, who have somehow suddenly remembered where she was at in the pecking order. Normally, when I introduce juvenile chicks, there is a lot of fighting until the new pecking order is established, but that didn’t happen in this case except for a little while on the first day. Otherwise, the coop has been quite happy. Let me know your thoughts on reintroducing chickens after they heal to the coop at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Dealing with Hurt Chickens

Chickens can get hurt in a number of ways. In some cases, the chicken will care for itself or its nest mates will help out. For example, it’s not uncommon for a chicken’s comb to get a little frostbite during colder than normal weather. The damaged part of the comb will eventually die off and the chickens nest mates will pick it off. The comb usually grows back all on its own (I’ve never seen it do otherwise, but have heard of situations where the chicken needs help). In some cases, you see blood on the other chickens, which is perfectly normal. They’ll clean themselves up. The best thing you can do is observe the chickens carefully, but maintain a hands off policy unless the chicken really does exhibit a need for help (you notice an odor, the flesh is off color, or the chicken behaves contrary to normal).

However, there are also situations where you need to be proactive in helping the chicken because it’s impossible for the chicken or its nest mates to do the job. For example, one of my hens recently laid an egg so large that it caused damage to the cioaca (essentially the chicken’s anus). The cioaca actually turns inside out during egg laying so that the egg doesn’t come in contact with the intestine or any fecal matter, but both eggs and fecal matter come out of the same hole. The damage caused bleeding, which brought the other hens, who pecked insistently. If the hens had been allowed to continue, the hurt hen would have eventually died.

I check all of my hens daily, but even so, by the time I understood what was going on, the hen had also developed an infection. In order to prevent problems in the coop and for the hen, you must have a hen-sized cage available. I recommend one about two square feet in size so that the hen can walk around a little, but not too much. Line the bottom of the cage with fresh hay every day to help keep things clean (hens are inherently dirty).

To combat the infection, it’s important to keep the hurt area clean. This means cleaning the area once or possibly twice daily using a product such as hydrogen peroxide. You can use the 3% hydrogen peroxide commonly available from your drug store, but I’ve found that a 12% solution is far more effective. You must use it with care because a little goes a long way. In addition, make absolutely certain you get food grade hydrogen peroxide or you risk killing the chicken. Gently wipe the area after cleaning with a clean cloth (a soft paper towel works well). Discard the cloth afterward—you really don’t want to reuse it. You’ll need to hold your chicken firmly, but gently during this process.

Cleaning is a good first step. To help the area heal faster, apply triple antibiotic cream. Don’t even think about trying to bandage the area. All you’ll end up doing is frustrating both you and the chicken. Leaving the area open will generally help it heal faster.

Check your chicken several times a day. Make sure you keep things as clean as is possible, but otherwise let the chicken rest. Depending on the kind of injury, your chicken may spend a lot of time standing—this act is perfectly normal. Hens won’t lay any eggs when they’re hurt due to stress. Chickens generally won’t talk to you either. In fact, you know that they’re starting to feel better when they do start talking to you again.

If you find that your chicken is pecking at the wound, it often means you need to look closer. In many cases, a chicken will peck when an abscess develops. When this happens, you must carefully pop the abscess so it can drain. Use alcohol to clean the area first and make sure you use alcohol to clean both your hands and any instruments you use. Focus on keeping things open and clean.

Your chicken may not want to eat or drink at first. This is also perfectly normal. However, make sure the chicken has fresh water available. In addition, you can provide other sorts of high protein treats to encourage eating and drinking. For example, most chickens love milk, which contains protein and vitamins that will help the chicken heal faster. In addition, you can get the chicken meal worms, which are easier for it to digest and are considered a delicacy by chickens too.

The most important thing to remember is that you must wait until the chicken is completely healed before returning it to the coop. The other chickens will treat it as a new arrival and the usual hectic activity will occur while everyone decides on a new pecking order. Let me know your thoughts on helping hurt chickens at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Spring and Happy Chickens!

It’s getting toward spring and my chickens are definitely happy about it. I’ve discussed winter egg laying beforeproduction really does decrease. This is the point in the year where things start to turn around. My twelve birds really have become much happier and are now starting to lay six eggs on average per day. Some of those eggs still have calcium nodules, but I’m finding that even the number of calcium nodules is decreasing. The point is that they’re laying more eggs. Of course, this is the human view of happiness.

The chicken view of happiness is different. I can let the chickens out on most days now. When I enter the coop in the morning, I put down their food and then open the coop door. Now, you’d think the chickens would eat breakfast first and then run out of the coop. However, that isn’t what happens. They forget all about the food and fight each other to get out of that door designed for two birds at most as quickly as possible. It really is quite insane looking. They go out and stand around the water bucket discussing chicken events of the day (not that I quite know what to think of their discussions).

Of course, there is always an exception. Violet, the oldest chicken in the coop, just watches the fracas bemused, waits to be petted, and then calmly enjoys the quiet while she eats breakfast without the jostling of other birds to contend with. It’s hard to believe that chickens can become wiser with age, but somehow it happens. This old bird has gotten set in her ways over the years and many a fledgling has felt her beak where the feathers are fewest. Just watching my chickens each day reminds me of how individuals appear in every environment and that the need for individuality is universal. Let me know your thoughts on chickens with wisdom at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Enjoying a New Buck

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m quite careful with my breeder rabbits. They become pets, for one thing, so the older bunnies go to the retirement home when they’re past their prime. Of course, everyone gets a hug every day. However, I also realize that my rabbits are animals with particular needs and that I need to exercise care when they have specific requirements. One of those requirements is ensuring the breeding rabbits are actually healthy enough to do the job. So, it was with heavy heart that I bid adieu to my buck, Spartacus, this past winter. He’s just too old to get the job done anymore.

I obtain my new does from my stock. When the kits are old enough, I start monitoring the does for good potential. The doe of choice is alert, quite active, robust in protecting her territory against the other kits, and large. I’m always looking for the best possible breeding stock to ensure that future kits have the best possible chance of succeeding. I tend to prefer does that are a bit on the aggressive side so that I can be sure she’ll protect her kits, but I don’t want a doe who is overly aggressive. I learned that lesson the hard way with a doe that would actually charge me when I tried to provide food and water. She’d actually bite. Yet, she was pretty mellow once her kits were fully grown.

My new buck, Oreo, is a gift from a friend. He’s friendly, but slightly aggressive. His markings really do suggest an Oreo cookie—black and white. He’s a well built buck and loves his morning hug. The reason I don’t get bucks from my own stock is that I want to prevent inbreeding. Inbred rabbits exhibit horrid behaviors (including cannibalism) that are best left to the imagination. The point is that you need an outside source of DNA, so trading with other breeders and ensuring you get from a variety of sources is one hedge against the problem.

I normally try for a buck that’s slightly smaller than my does. The reason is that a really large buck can cause the doe to have babies that are too large and she might not be able to have them normally. Even if you manage to get to the doe in time, she often dies if she can’t get the babies out. Oreo is just the right size. He’s just slightly smaller than my does.

Breeding season will arrive soon. Normally I try to breed the rabbits the first time in late March or early April so that the chances of frost at the time the babies are born is minimal. Breeding early in spring also lets me breed the does more than once (normally I go for three breeding sessions during the year unless the summer is especially hot).

Getting just the right buck for your does can take time and effort, but it’s well worth it to have healthy kits. Let me know your thoughts on choosing a new buck at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Adding Vinegar to the Chicken Water

It’s winter in Wisconsin and the chicken coop isn’t heated. In fact, the chicken coop lacks an electrical connection as well, so except for taking pots of heated water in on the coldest days, trying to heat the coop must come from other sources. The slant of the roof and placement of the window ensure that the coop receives maximum winter heat. The tree that normally shields the coop from the sun during the summer months is bare, letting the sun come through. Even with all these measures, the coop is cold enough to let the chicken’s water freeze.

My goals for various activities on my small farm include doing things in a manner that makes my carbon footprint small and keeps costs low. Consequently, I always look for solutions that don’t involve much in the way of high technology, such as obtaining heated chicken waterers. I did seriously look at a solar powered unit for a while, but decided that the chickens would probably destroy it in short order. The better solution turned out to be adding vinegar to the chicken water.

It turns out that vinegar has both a lower freezing temperature and higher boiling point than water. The freezing temperature of vinegar is 28 degrees, but that level increases when you add more water. I tried various levels of vinegar in the chicken water and found that ½ cup per gallon seems to keep the water from freezing for about an hour longer when the outside temperature is in the 15 to 30 degree range. Above 30 degrees, it kept the water from freezing at all.

Adding vinegar to the water also keeps anything from growing inside the waterer, which means that the water is better for the chickens longer. This feature of adding vinegar is especially important during the summer, when all kinds of green gunk grows inside the waterer and is quite hard to keep out.

If you look on other websites, you find that other people attribute all sorts of other benefits to using vinegar. Other websites warn against using vinegar. I haven’t personally tested any of these claims, so I’m not here to tell you that the chickens derive any benefit whatsoever from the vinegar in the water. However, I did try a simple experiment this past summer and found that given two buckets, precisely the same size, color, and make, one with vinegar and one without, the chickens always drank the vinegar water first. My feeling is that they seem to like it. So even if the chickens don’t gain any solid benefits from the vinegar, you can view it as a treat that helps keep the water from freezing longer and keeps their waterer cleaner. Let me know your thoughts on adding vinegar to the chicken water at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Calcium Nodules on Eggs

At some point during your time of working with chickens, you might encounter eggs that look like they have insect eggs on them. The view can be disquieting at first—all sorts of images could go through your mind. However, it’s more likely that what you’re actually seeing are calcium nodules that merely look like insect eggs. Here is an egg that has such nodules on it.

An egg may have harmless calcium nodules that look like insect eggs deposited on it.
Calcium nodules can look like insect eggs.

These nodules are completely harmless. In fact, you can wash them off the eggs quite easily. When crushed, the nodules feel gritty, much like crushed eggshell would feel. These nodules typically appear for two reasons:

The first reason is the one that occurs most often. Five of my hens are now four years old and one is five years old. The five year old hen (a Black Australorp) laid this egg, so the nodules aren’t unusual at all. (Most factory settings keep laying hens for one or two years after they start laying eggs, I’ve found that four years in optimal settings works well.) This spring I’ll replace two of the hens with new layers (the other four are pets and will die of old age). I also had one hen eaten by hawks and another died of an impacted egg, so I’ll actually get four new layers this spring.

I’m thinking of trying Barred Rocks (a kind of Plymouth Rock) because I’ve never had them before and they’re quite pretty. According Henderson’s Chicken Chart, they’re cold hard and produce large eggs. A friend of mine has them in her flock and feels that they’re a good investment. The point is that when you start seeing these nodules on one or two eggs and not on the eggs of your flock as a whole, you may need to start thinking about replacing the bird that laid it. Let me know your thoughts about keeping a healthy flock at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Predicting Processed Rabbit Weight

One of the issues that faces someone who raises meat rabbits is how to predict the dressed or processed weight of the rabbit based on the live weight. After all, you can’t add more weight after the fact. First of all, you need to weigh the rabbit before you feed it, rather than after. Using the before feeding weight seems to provide more predictable results. I’ve found that rabbits can be picky eaters at times, so using this baseline ensures I’m not weighing different amounts of ingested food. Couple the before feeding weigh-in with a same time of day feeding time to ensure you get predictable results. (I also feed right before sundown because rabbits are nocturnal and will feed better at night.) However, there is always some variance, so you need to expect some range in the dressed weight of the rabbit.

Younger rabbits tend to dress out at a higher percentage of their live weight. Most people wait at least eight weeks before attempting to process rabbits. However, these younger rabbits are also considerably smaller than a more mature rabbit. Waiting until thirteen to fifteen weeks often produces a nicer rabbit even if the live weight to processed weight ratio is smaller.

What you feed the rabbit will also make a difference in the ratio because some types of food tend to produce more fat, than lean meat. Adding corn or other grains to the feed will cause the rabbit to be more tender and grow faster, but at a lower ratio and with more inner fat (the fat that isn’t removed with the skin). When you feed anything other than alfalfa pellets, you change the texture of the rabbit and its fat content, and therefore the ratio of live weight to processed weight. For example, feeding the rabbit grass will tend to make it leaner.

The kind of rabbit can also make a big difference. A New Zealand rabbit may only provide a ratio of 55% live weight to processed weight, while a Dutch can provide a ratio as high as 60%. Mixed breed rabbits increase the uncertainty of yield, but do provide advantages in genetic diversity, which can improve the taste of the meat and reduce the need to use medications that pure bred rabbits could require. In short, you need to consider the trade-offs of various decisions you make during the entire process.

In general, you can expect a ratio as low as 50% for a mixed breed rabbit and somewhere around 65% for a Californian/New Zealand mix. However, you must take all sorts of other factors into consideration as previously mentioned. To help me calculate the processed weight better, I started to keep records of live weight to processed weight ratios, ensure I fed the rabbits the same diet, and kept my stock as close as possible to the same mix. Even so, I find that each processing session provides slightly different ratios. Let me know about your live weight to processed weight insights at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Pullet Update – Current Egg Sizes

The fall brings a series of events that make for interesting visits to the coop looking for eggs. Because I have a mixed flock, there is a combination of pullets and hens out there. The hens haven’t been laying many eggs as of later because they’re molting. The pullet eggs are just now starting to get big enough to really count for something. I still get super jumbo eggs from my Buff Orpingtons. These eggs peg my scale and don’t actually fit well in the carton (even with jumbo cartons, I find I must exercise care in even trying to close it). The Buff Orpingons are the only birds who lay these rather huge eggs.

These super jumbo eggs don't quite fit most cartons.
Super Jumbo Eggs Peg the Scale

The Americauna eggs can get quite large too. The advantage of the Americaunas is that they produce more eggs and eat a bit less than the Buff Orpingtons. Plus, they have these really pretty blue eggs.

The Americaunas produce extra-large to jumbo eggs on a regular basis.
Americaunas Product Beautiful Blue Eggs

At this point, I’m getting eggs in every possible size. You can see the difference in sizes from small on the right to super jumbo on the left. The eggs are always measured by weight. In addition, I check my eggs individually, so a carton that is listed as having large eggs has all large eggs in it (when you buy eggs in the store, the eggs are measured by overall carton weight, which means that you might have a mix of medium, large, and extra-large eggs in a single carton).

Weighing eggs individually is the only way to get consistent carton size.
Eggs Vary Considerably in Size

Even though the medium egg (second from right) looks similar in size to the large egg (directly in the middle), they weigh differently. It’s not always easy to tell just by looking at an egg how much egg you’re actually getting. Of course, the size of your egg can affect the outcome of a recipe (which is why I’ve gone to weighing my eggs as described in Pullet Eggs and Cookies. Let me know about your experiences with various egg sizes at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Hen Decorated Eggs

My hens, it seems, are now into crafting of a sort. They’ve started decorating their eggs for me. Now, I’ve seen speckled eggs aplenty and even banded/striped eggs are somewhat common. I’ve seen eggs in a multitude of colors as well. However, what I’ve never seen before are eggs with swirled lines on them like those shown here:


Two blue eggs with a swirled green stripe on them.
Blue Eggs with an Artistic Green Stripe

Just one pullet is laying these eggs and she seems to want the world to know it. Right now they weigh in at a small egg size. I keep hoping that she’ll continue to lay these incredibly unusual eggs from now on, but something tells me that she probably won’t and that I need to enjoy them while I can.

Given a chance, laying hens can prove to be quite entertaining and add interest to anyone’s life. Artistic eggs are just one of many ways in which my hens do their best to make my life happy. What sorts of unusual hen behavior have you seen? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Pullets Eggs and Cookies

The chicks have become pullets and are laying what I would term as pullet bullets—smallish eggs that are sort of bullet shaped. I’m talked about pullet eggs before in the Pullet Eggs post. They’re quite tasty as a snack or even as a breakfast, but you don’t want to use them for baking unless you find it acceptable to weigh the eggs carefully.

I recently started experimenting a bit with pullet eggs because they’ll be a part of my life as long as I have laying hens. A large egg usually weighs between 2 and 2¼ ounces. Pullet eggs sometimes don’t even register on my scale, making them smaller than the 1 ounce peewee eggs. By using a really accurate scale, however, you can gather enough pullet eggs to work for baking purposes. For example, one of my cookie recipes calls for 5 (nominally large) eggs. What it really means is that you need between 10 ounces and 11¼ ounces of egg. In this case, that actually added up to eight pullet eggs (a total of 11 ounces). Because of the extra shell involved, you want to err on the high side of the needed weight.

Initially I was concerned that the yolk to white ratio wouldn’t hold up when working with pullet eggs. After weighing the yolks and whites for several recipes separately, I’ve found that pullet eggs provide slightly higher amounts of yolk, which may make a difference for really sensitive recipes, but hasn’t affected any of the cookies I’ve tried so far. To date, I’ve tried pullet eggs in chocolate chip, oatmeal, and peanut butter cookies, and haven’t noticed any difference. However, I’d love to hear from anyone else who has used pullet eggs for baking at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

As the chicks, now pullets, lay more eggs, the eggs slowly become larger. That’s why it’s important to keep weighing the eggs out if you need a precise amount for a recipe. Always keep the larger amount of egg shell in mind as you perform your calculations and the fact that you get slightly more yolk. The difference is really quite small (it varies) and I don’t know that it actually matters, but it could. For me, the real test will come when I make homemade tapioca pudding, which uses the whites and yolks separately.

The older hens are laying few eggs right now. In fact, three of them look downright horrid because they’re moulting. I’ve noticed that the hens require more time to recover from moulting as they grow older. They most definitely don’t lay eggs during this time. One of my older hens has taken upon herself to sit atop the pullet eggs, so she also isn’t laying eggs right now. Some hens, such as my Buff Orpingtons, are especially prone to being broody. The shorter days are also taking a toll on the egg production of the two remaining older hens that are laying. In short, most of the eggs I’m getting now are from the pullets, which is why I’m inclined to experiment a bit to find the best ways in which to use them.

Now that the pullets are mostly full sized, there is peace once again in the coop. My 13 hens and pullets will spend their first winter together soon. On warmer days they’ll go out in the run, but colder days mean a lot more time in the coop, so I’m pleased to see everyone getting along better.