Thursday, 16 May 2013

chicken feed

The problem we had with the chickens eating their eggs has ceased.  I can't be certain why this was, since we have changed more than one experimental variable at the same time.  I have started feeding them a diet of almost pure layers' pellets, instead of a mixture of pellets and mixed grain and probably more grain than pellets, which has considerably raised the protein content of their diet.  Simultaneously, with the warmer weather, the Systems Administrator has been letting them out in the evenings for chicken exercise time.  A run round the garden allows them to practice their natural foraging behaviours, and gives them a change of scenery.  If they were eating eggs because they were bored, perhaps they are now less bored, and foraging outside the run further changes their diet.  So we can't say definitively why the egg eating has ceased.

It stopped within days of switching their food, which is a salutary thought.  They are only chickens, not possessed of intellect or free will according to conventional theory, whereas we are.  But if a change in diet can produce such a dramatic alteration in chicken behaviour, why do we believe that human beings are immune to similar effects?

One of the Speckeldies has gone broody.  She sits in the egg box, wings outstretched, looking grumpy.  Yesterday, when we did not let the chickens out for a run because they might not have gone in again by the time we needed to go out, I went in the late afternoon to collect the eggs.  As I attempted to budge the broody over to the other side of the nest box to check under her for eggs, while she squawked in protest, one of the other Speckeldies suddenly tried to make a leap for freedom through the open lid.  I slammed it down hastily, then had to look to see if I'd inadvertently brained either of them, but they were both fine.  One of my colleagues once told me how his primary school had chickens, and one evening after they had just gone to roost somebody opened the roof above the roosting perch for some reason.  The rooster stood up to see what was going on, at which point the lid was accidentally dropped.  It got him full on the skull, and that was the end of him.

A broody hen stops laying.  That isn't an issue for us, since the only reason we have as many as five hens is to provide company for each other, and at this time of year they churn out more eggs than we can eat.  I give boxes of eggs to our friends and relations when I see them, but it's still hard to keep up.  The spring rush should start to subside fairly soon, though Speckeldies are bred to be prolific egg producers, and these are young birds in their prime.  The old lady Maran produces an enormous, dark brown egg two or three times a week.

When they are allowed out the chickens have taken to wading around in the mud at the bottom of the garden, where the water table has risen to form what is now a bog bed.  They go rushing down the slope with a great appearance of having a set purpose, and paddle.  Somebody needs to explain to them that they are chickens, and not ducks.  Still, they do less damage playing in the mud than when they are raking through the straw mulch, or eating the leaves of my plants.  One unlucky geranium was reduced to half its original size, before they lost interest in it.

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