There are certain things you need to look out for when it comes to chickens. Terry from Henblog writes in her post diagnosing a sick chicken –
“The best advice that I can give anyone is this: know your animals. You should be so acquainted with their quirks and vocalizations, their greetings and their eating habits, that as soon as something is off, you know it.”
But sometimes, odd chicken behaviour has nothing to do with being sick, and everything to do with chickens getting an idea stuck in their mind. Broodiness is one such example. Above you see my two pekins in a broody mood.
The good thing about these broody hens – once I remove the eggs, pick them up and put them on the ground, they usually forget all about being broody and go right back to being normal chickens – until someone lays another egg.
There have been times when one of these two has an extended broodiness with and/or without eggs in the box. It can last a couple of weeks. I discourage it in hot weather, and I always kick the broody out when I go out to collect the eggs, so they can poop, eat, drink, etc. In super hot weather I try to go out every hour or so, to make sure everyone is doing ok.
You might recall the above photo from a Sunday Selections post – this is when Purple Comb got the idea in her head that she did not want to lay her eggs in the nesting box. This is not a new idea for her – she has done this for at least two weeks every year since we got her. One year she laid nearly 20 eggs in a hidden spot we did not find until we did some serious gardening. We still are not sure how long those eggs had been there!
Purple comb is not broody with these eggs – she simply lays them and gets on with her day. Once the egg is laid she rejoins the flock. When I go to collect it, she plays the “it wasn’t me, truly, I lay my eggs in the nesting box” game. Here she is, doing exactly that, while I tell her off, because I got dirty collecting her hidden egg!
She presently has three not laying box places where she will lay her egg – in that garden box, under the lemon tree in the garden, and she made a tiny little nest next to the gate leading out to their leaf pile. Before laying her daily egg, she roams separately from the flock – scratching around, hunting for that perfect item to take and add to her native nest(s).
Chickens are flock animals and when one removes themselves from the flock, that is sometimes cause for worry. In the case of Purple Comb, she has a purpose in her mind which is outweighing flock time. She wants to build the perfect native nest(s) for her eggs. Why she thinks a spot next to an old wooden gate and a drain cover is perfection, that is yet another mystery of the chicken mind.
Red Comb has been removing herself from the flock on super hot days, choosing a shady place to sit and dust bathe. She is not enjoying the hot weather. I make sure to give her cool treats and any day where the temperature reaches 30+, I put some cold water with ice spheres in it into the pen. Once I do that, she dust bathes near the cool water, and I see her drinking slightly more than usual. She will get a cold watermelon, tomato or blueberry treat.
She is still eating, still laying, still doing all the usual chook things. She just takes a break when she needs to. Once the heat of the day passes, she is back out roaming with the girls. I know her well enough to know that her hot day flock removal is not a huge cause for concern with her. She has never been quite the same since the hawk incident. She simply wants to be in the coolest spot possible when the heat is on.
I know Red Comb is still enjoying life and she still runs for her blueberry medals, even on a 40C (104F) day. In fact all I have to do is stand near the back door and there will be a chook frenzy, with all the girls running up to see if I am bringing them a treat. On hot days I only go to the back door if I am taking them something because I do not want them to get all excited without an actual reward.
The day she does not run up, excited to see me, that will be the day I know she has had enough and it is time for that dreaded journey to the vet. Until then, the blueberry medals and treats will be a daily event. Chooks are here for a good time, not a long time.
Purple Comb was eventually successful in hiding many eggs from me and she got another chook to join in. This is 5 days of 2 chooks laying their eggs in a hidden spot. This potplant was removed from the chook pen once I discovered this – it normally sat in an area I don’t always check, obviously! I only discovered it because I saw one of the chooks standing on the edge of the potplant.
I had noticed the drop in eggs and thought the heat plus mites and/or lice might be the reason. One of the broodies had a few red mites, I found. All the chooks got a dusting with the pest powder that evening, plus a dose of Ivermectin. The treatment is very effective, within 24 hours I checked the broody again and saw no sign of any pests. It was a few more days before I found these eggs.
It is a not so awesome fact of chicken life that chooks will experience these pests from time to time and it is always the first thing I look for when the eggs disappear. Usually dust bathing is enough to keep our girls pest free, except when they get broody because they do not spend time dust bathing. When it rains a lot, they also cannot dust bathe.
Mostly these things are carried by wild birds. While it might be an idea to discourage wild birds from hanging out in our yard, I also enjoy wild birds visiting. We have two bird baths which are quite the bird hangout on super hot days. Even if I took away the bird baths, the chicken wire on top of the coop does allow small birds to fly in, mostly pigeons but there is a willy wagtail who likes to fly in and eat spiders up high where the chooks can’t reach.