Saturday, August 28, 2010

Our Chickens: A Dilemma, a Tragedy, and Some Confusion Cleared Up

I wrote about our chickens last fall when we first got them. I guess I didn't tell an important story that leads up to recent events.

We got Blackie first, and a few days later picked up Penny and Squawk, who looked almost alike. (Penny is speckled.) The first or second day at our house, they were running around the yard, and wouldn't come out from behind the brush pile when I wanted to put them in the coop in the evening. I finally got Blackie but not the other two. I knew there was a danger that a raccoon would attack them, so I left my shoes and a flashlight ready near the door.

Sure enough, I heard a bunch of squawking in the middle of the night and rushed out. I saw a commotion over by the greenhouse, and thought I'd shine my light on a chicken. Nope, it was the raccoon I saw in my beam. I found Squawk, and two piles of feathers the raccoon had ripped off her. She didn't seem to have any scratches or blood, though, so I hoped she was ok. I put her into the coop, and the next morning Penny showed up, just fine.

I thought we'd had a lucky escape, but Squawk almost never laid proper eggs, and I had to wonder if the trauma of the raccoon attack had messed her up. She usually laid eggs with no shell in the coop, and they'd fall to the metal bottom, looking something like fried eggs. Once in a great while, we'd get proper eggs from her, but the shells would be very rough. We got less than a dozen eggs from her in all these months.

When we came back from our Michigan trip in July, one of the chickens had gotten lighter, but I couldn't tell if it was Penny or Squawk. They both seemed speckled now. We were getting less eggs, and I began to suspect that the chickens were eating their own eggs. (Chickens need lots of calcium to make their eggshells, and feeding them eggshells is a good way to make sure they get it - except that some people fear this will encourage them to eat their eggs. I had been feeding them their own eggshells.) Well, last week I got confirmation when I saw a wet eggshell in their run. So I knew they were eating the eggs, and I couldn't figure out what to do about it. I figured I'd have to do some research when I had a little extra time. I stopped getting any eggs at all, and every day with no eggs, I wondered if there would be any solution...

That's the dilemma I had on my hands. Then we had a tragedy occur. It was exceptionally hot for the Bay Area this past week, and on Tuesday I found one of the chickens lying in the run, dead. (They had all seemed just fine that morning.) I felt guilty for not providing them better shade. The run is near the redwood tree, and is shaded for much of the day, but not all of it. I was so sad, and wondered if the other chickens would be bothered. We didn't know for sure if it was Penny or Squawk who had died. We decided to say it was Squawk, and call the living light-colored chicken Penny.

Not only have the chickens seemed fine, but we're suddenly getting two eggs a day. So it turns out that just one of the chickens was eating the eggs. And this morning I looked at the eggshells and knew. I had eggs from Blackie and Penny in my hands. It was Squawk who'd been eating the eggs, and Squawk who'd died. We are sad about her death, but grateful to be getting eggs again.

This also means the coop will be much easier to clean from now on, without all those raw eggs stuck to the bottom. I'm grateful.

Thank you Squawk for the eggs you gave us. May your next life be a better one.

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