We have collected three eggs so far, and Raquel shows no sign of slowing down just yet. Oddly enough, another chicken has drawn our attention for the day. Poor Norma Jean is in distress. We think she may be egg-bound.
For those of you unfamiliar with this terminology, allow me to explain. Chickens have one exit in their bodies. Don't spend too much time dwelling on this subject, just move forward with me. When girl chickens reach maturity and begin to lay, they are called pullets. Our girls are right about that age, which is evident with our sudden infatuation with egg collection. Pullets become hens at some mysterious date in the future. We'll wait until that time to go into more detail.
An egg-bound chicken is one which is trying to lay an egg, but the egg gets stuck in their "vent," that one, cursed exit. If you've ever raised animals, you'll know that a blockage in exits is typically lethal, especially when the animal is small or young. Norma Jean is both. I suppose she's grown to a decent size, but I still think of her as small. Most chickens who suffer from a stuck egg are lacking in calcium, which has to be given to all adult chickens as a supplement. Calcium is vital in forming the egg shell, but it's also necessary to keep their muscles strong enough to push that darned thing out! Remember the milk does a body good advertisements? They were all about strong bones and healthy muscles. Well, chickens are not so different from us in that respect.
You may suddenly be asking yourself, "Is that crazy urban farmer not feeding her chickens the right thing??" I'd like to hope that our chicken feed is adequate for our growing flock, but I'm always open to suggestions for improving their diet. Ready for a little more chicken education? There are roughly three kinds of chicken feed for your average egg-producing type of chicken. When you get teeny, tiny baby chicks, you start them out on "starter feed," which is specifically designed to help them grow big and healthy for the first four to five weeks of life. Next, they move on to "developer feed," which gives them everything they need until they begin laying eggs. Our girls are still eating developer feed. Once chickens begin to lay eggs, they graduate to "layer feed," which has additional calcium and a few other things adult chickens need. Too much calcium in younger birds can be harmful to their growth.
Back to Norma Jean. While I find it hard to believe that she is lacking in calcium, especially since she has yet to lay her first egg, I'm more than willing to supplement her feed to correct the problem. But do we have the problem pegged? Or is there something else going on?
Just before we left for work today, we went out to the coop to check for eggs. It's an obsession. I found Norma Jean laying in the straw in the covered part of the enclosure. She looked very tired and lethargic. Last night she had been nesting on a little hollow in the pine shavings in the coop. Everyone else was on their roosting pole (finally!!). I suspected that an egg (one of Raquel's) was under her, and I was right. Aimee brought it in this morning. When I entered the coop, she didn't run away. She was easy to pick up. That's a huge sign of something wrong. These birds are friendly but flighty. They like a good chase before a cuddle. Norma Jean was slightly limp in my hands. She was covered in poo on her backside. We rushed her into the house for an impromptu sponge bath, and we did the best we could to clean her up. She hardly fought back and mostly resigned herself to the entire process. Aimee re-fluffed her with the hair dryer, then we took her back out to the coop.
Now I'm sitting at work, completely distracted and incapable of getting anything done. It's a good thing my job isn't too demanding right now. I feel awful for what our little girl is going through, and I want nothing more than to rush home and check on her.
As a side note, I'd like to thank everyone over at the BackYardChickens Forum for all their help and wisdom. It's an invaluable tool for chicken lovers.
As you read this, I hope you'll pause and think good thoughts for Norma Jean. She'll be the first thing we tend to once we're home at the end of the day.