Sunday, May 1, 2011

Chicken ... Is It What's for Dinner?

Soon and very soon, two of our three hens will be on the menu if they don't start laying again.  All three of them are Production Reds which are a cross on the Rhode Island Red and are supposedly very good layers.  We bought them as day old chicks in April of 2009.  They started producing eggs at about five months of age and were very consistent layers for the first year, not even slacking up for winter in 2009.  We were getting eighteen to twenty-one eggs a week, every week the first twelve months.  But all three of them started slacking off in December of 2010 and production dropped down to a total of only about  ten eggs per week. Now two of the hens seem to have stopped laying altogether.  The one hen that is still producing lays an egg almost every day but neither of the other two have produced an egg in over a week. 

There are certain health issues that can cause a hen to stop laying but these birds are alert and healthy.  They might just be spent as far as egg production.  If that's the case, I'm afraid they're headed for the freezer this fall.  That's the way it is with livestock that's raised for food.  These are not pet chickens. We coddle them and take good care of them and enjoy their little chicken personalities ...but they are still livestock raised for food.  If they are no longer able to provide eggs, they will provide meat. 

We knew this would happen eventually but were not expecting it until next summer.  Yeoldfurt and I were both a little disappointed to only get about eighteen months worth of egg production from the Production Reds.  So we decided to try another breed and bought four Barred Plymouth Rock chicks from a different source this year.  We lost one of the new chicks to a snake in the chicken coop last week and I think one of the remaining three is a rooster.  We will keep the rooster for a while and try our hand at raising some chicks ourselves and the two new pullets should begin laying by August or September.  But we may not have any eggs to sell between now and then since we are only getting six to seven eggs per week now. 

Yesterday I got a lead on a guy that has chicks available for a reasonable price so we'll go check him out next Saturday.  The chicks are cross-breeds (Rhode Island Red x Americana) and should lay muliticolored eggs when they're mature, blue, white and lighter shades of brown.  He has some young Rhode Island Red hens that are ready to start laying but those are little more expensive.  I'm not sure what we'll come home with but it's always nice to have a new source. 

In the meantime, the one hen that is still laying has apparently put her stamp of approval on the new nest boxes Yeoldfurt built yesterday.  She laid an egg in one of the compartments today ...good girl, Red!!

The old 'nest boxes' were five-gallon buckets laid on their sides on a raised shelf about six inches above the ground.  Two of the snakes we've killed in the coop this year were in one of the buckets when we caught them so Yeoldfurt decided to build nest boxes and set them much higher off the ground.  This is what he built for them.
We wondered if they would need a perch in front of the compartments but apparently not since I found Red's egg in one of the boxes this morning.   There's a lot of work to keeping livestock, even if it's only chickens.  Seems like there is constantly some repair or improvement project that needs to be done.  So it's always nice when your efforts are appreciated.  


  1. Sound like Red knows what the price of non-production is. If they aren't earning their keep, chicken tastes mighty fine.

  2. Yes, they do ...we like 'em just about any way they can be fixed. And like most foods, homegrown tastes the best.

    : )

  3. Our motto is; If you lay you stay! We tell our girls this all the time and sometimes have to prove our case in point by making stew hens out of some.

    18 months doesn't seem like a very long time, but did you run a light and have them laying all winter? We let our hens have the winter off and have found this helps to extend their laying days. We had one hen( until just recently) that was 8 yrs old and laid one to two eggs a week, sadly she prolapsed and we had to put her down.

    We like barred and white plymouth rocks as well as austrolopes( we have black, but I think they come in buff and white too. We were disappointed with our americanas( easter eggers) they didn't lay well and have not picked up this Spring. I'd stay away from Orphingtons too, they don't lay as much as they eat and boy can they eat! Just some of the breeds we've had and found that we liked or disliked and why.

  4. Thanks for the input, Kelle you think a RIR / Americana cross would be any good? That's what the guy who is selling chicks has for sale right now. He is asking $3 for the little ones and $5 for the 1-2 month old chicks. He also has some 4-5 month old pure RIR hens that he will sell for $7. I'm thinking we might be better off buying the pure RIR hens. They'll be laying in a month or so. Right now we only have one hen laying at all.

    Yes, we keep lights on them in the winter. They did produce all winter. I can see that giving them a break might extend their laying years ...but you feed them even when they don't lay, so I'm not sure it's cost efficient. I'm interested to see what I can learn from this guy though. It will be interesting to see his set up.

  5. Ours are just pets, we have one rooster and 5 hens and we get some eggs and some days not so much but since they are mostly pets we don't really care. :D

  6. I can see chickens making good pets, Julie. They do have such personalities! Ours were bought for eggs and eventually the freezer and that's just the way it has to be. At the moment, we have two 'pet' (retired, old and crippled) horses that we're supporting so anything else that lives here has to earn it's keep.

    I sure did enjoy the pictures you posted on your blog! My family and I used to drive through Utah every Sunday on our way to and from church in Cortez, Colorado. We lived in Grand Junction, Colorado and would stop in Moab for breakfast every Sunday morning. We stopped at KFC to pick up a bucket of chicken on the way home every Sunday night because I would be too tired after 8 hours on the road to cook supper. My kids forever after that referred to fried chicken as 'gospel bird' ...LOL

  7. I'm not sure the nesting boxes will help with snakes, I've found them in the rafters in my chicken coop which was at least 6 feet up. They sure look nice though :)


  8. We used to let the chickens out and leave the door to the coop open. Now we close it after we let them out. The five month old chicks have been living in the separate 'rooster room' of the coop for a week now and no problems. So hopefully we're on the right track.

    When you live in the country and keep chickens, you're bound to have chicken snakes. I'm not sure anything will eliminate the problem completely, but at least we don't need to make it easy for them, right?

    : )