Natural Perspectives: Life in our urban farm

November 24, 2010|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • The chickens don't lay well -- or at all -- when they're molting. Chicken Little is in front with Henrietta to the left behind her, and Henny Penny in back to the right.
The chickens don't lay well -- or at all -- when they're… (HB Independent )

Thanksgiving is upon us. Traditionally, this is a time to celebrate the season's harvest. In our yard, we grow fruit, vegetables and eggs. But unfortunately, our November garden is not providing Vic and me with the feast that we had hoped for this year.

This time last year, I had just finished redoing the backyard. My three new raised beds were just beginning to produce. They were orderly and attractive. The coop was built, but the chickens weren't here yet. All was peaceful and beautiful in back. Spring was spectacular with newly planted iris and narcissus, and summer was bountiful with tons of tomatoes.

Now, the raised beds are filled with the leggy remnants of spent summer veggies, and our chickens aren't laying. Who knew that they quit laying when they're molting? And did you know that they molt twice a year, not once? They cluck and complain, wanting me to come outside and visit them.


They expect to be fed, and of course I still have to clean up after them. But they're giving no eggs. Last November, my garden and coop were filled with hope and promise; this November, they contain only memories of summer past. What a contrast.

Two of the hens were mature hens when I bought them last February. Now I've learned that chickens lay best during their first year and slow down after that. Once they turn two, as both Henrietta and Henny Penny have done, they slow way down on egg laying. Oh, swell.

Henrietta, the Black Australorp, at least has a personality. She is the friendliest of the three hens and holds still for petting. I can't lay a hand on the two Black Sex-linked breed hens. To say that those two are aloof is an understatement. Their sole interest in me is whether or not I have any food for them.

About that, they have a great deal of interest, jumping up and down like dogs when I approach with food in my hand. But even if I'm offering worms from the compost bin, they still won't permit me to pat them.

Chicken Little was a pullet when we got her. She has been my most reliable layer and is the only one who has given us any eggs at all this past month. And even so, she is laying only two to three eggs a week. The flock is not keeping up with our egg needs.

Henrietta hasn't laid an egg since mid-October, and Henny Penny has not graced us with one of her precious ova since September. Even then, she was no great shakes in the egg production department. Her eggs were few and far between and often broke.

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