Cast and Crew

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

No Feathers, No Eggs

It's been a sad time around the urban farm lately. Egg production has never been this low, even when the girls first started laying. We feel lucky to get one egg per day, and that egg is most certainly coming from Portien. Who is Portien, you ask? She would be either Portia or Ellen, one of the Hamburgs. We honestly cannot tell them apart anymore. They are most frequently observed as a high speed flash of polka-dotted-black-on-white streaking through the yard or darting into the coop. Let me back up a bit in the storyline.

When we first decided to raise chickens, I began researching which breeds of chicken to purchase. I knew I wanted heritage breeds. I knew I wanted friendly chickens that would be easy to handle. I also knew I wanted three different breeds, two chicks of each. I hoped this would leave us with at least one of each type after any fatalities or problems in young chickenhood. I was nothing if not realistic. I was also, as it turned out, a bit misguided in my breed selections. How do you choose when there are so many varieties of hens? How do you narrow down the many types you'd like to raise into just three options? I struggled with my wants and needs, I studied pictures of hens and chicks for weeks, and I finally decided on the three we would eventually order.


Golden Campines

Silver Speckled Hamburgs

The list of runner ups included Delawares, Brahmas, Sussex, and Welsummers, two of which ended up in our second batch of chicks early this year. Basing your decision on a website description of breeds is tough. As many of you probably know, breed characteristics come second to the many unique qualities of an individual. It's great to say that Dominiques are friendly birds, but you don't know how your birds will behave until you have them in your coop. I also feel that how you raise and handle your birds plays a large role in their later interactions with you and others. That said, our decision to bring in two Hamburgs was not the best, nor was it based on accurate information.

I told you they were molting.

The cons of Hamburgs:

Hamburgs are one of the most notoriously flighty birds you will encounter. They do not like to be handled. They will avoid being caught at all costs. And, for those of you who've been reading this blog for any length of time may recall, they can fly very well. Catching Portia or Ellen is a skill that has taken a lot of time to develop. I am grateful for one thing: they are bird brains.

Hamburgs don't like to be confined. This is great if you have plenty of room to let them wander, but city chickens usually equal confinement to a coop for much of the day. Once they're out, you're best to just let them find their way home at sunset.

Ellen (or Portia) stares longingly at the loaf of bread. Good luck, skinny bird.

That flightiness I mentioned before necessitates wing clipping every year. This is a valuable skill, and I'm glad to have learned it, but it prevents you from being able to show your birds at events, which is one of the main reasons people choose to keep Hamburgs. They are truly beautiful animals.

Our Hamburgs suck at foraging. I swear. You can tell by the color of their egg yolks. Portia and Ellen's eggs are the lightest in color of all the eggs we collect from our hens. The Dominiques lay the darkest yolks.

The pros of Hamburgs (or, What This Post is Really About):

This bird is sometimes called the Dutch Everyday Layer, and they got that name for good reason. They will honestly lay six eggs a week, unfailingly. In fact, as I mentioned above, they are currently our only source of eggs. We can't tell the difference between Portia's and Ellen's eggs (and, yes, we can tell all the other girls' eggs apart), but there is almost always a lovely, shiny, slightly creamy colored egg in the nest box. Sometimes that egg lands in the compost bin or behind a thorny thistle we forgot to pull up, but these girls are the most reliable layers you will ever meet.

If you do choose to let your Hamburgs out (which we do, due to the afore-mentioned wing clipping), they stand a better chance of escaping potential attacks from predators than the rest of the flock. As I said before, they're impossible to catch. This can be helpful if you have neighborhood racoons, opossums, cats, dogs, etc.

Why aren't the rest of our ladies laying? Molting. And when I say molting, I cannot emphasize enough how bad these chickens look. After plucking dear little Rusty earlier this year, I am reminded of that event every time I see Raquel. She looks like she's nearly ready for the stew pot. Molting is tough on a hen. The protein required to grow all those feathers back makes her moody and hungry all the time, and her body can't keep producing eggs when it's stressed like that. I've heard loads of methods to speed the process up, but I think this is one ailment that only time can heal. Meanwhile, we haven't given out surplus eggs all month (because we haven't had any). The neighbors have been worried. My breakfasts have been boring. Baking makes us worry that we might have to (*gasp*) buy eggs on the open market. Those chickens aren't the only ones stressing in this family.

Dear God, that is one awful-looking chicken. Poor Raquel! She's already half plucked!

On the bright side, Ursula has grown her tail back, her feathers are looking lustrous and full-volume again, and I think she may be contemplating laying once more. Also, *someone* has been doing a lot of nesting in the upper coop. The wood chips are routinely scattered into drifts, and little hollows have been made in corners. Could Winnie or Dark Meat be thinking about laying?


  1. Boy, I know exactly how you are feeling. I only have three hens but only one is laying right now with any frequency. Harriet. And they are all three looking sad. Last week *gasp* I did have to buy a dozen eggs. Oh how I forgot how anemic store bought eggs are. I only used four before I got my own eggs stalked up a bit then I gave the rest of the pale yellow yolk eggs away. Truly love your blog and it is always nice to read about someone else in the Northwest.

  2. We are down to one egg a day also now. I feel your pain. Its funny that you mention breed selection. I intended on raising one breed but I still cant make up my mind, and we have several mongrels now. I'm trying the Delawares next.

    So far out of the Barred Rocks Orpingtons and Marans, the Orpington has been the most stable.

    Good luck on your eggs!

  3. They are really beautiful! We are starting to think about what types we want to get next spring. We currently have 2 buff orpingtons, a polish and an easter egger. Only 1 buff and the EE are laying so far. The other 2 haven't started. No on is molting though either. So who knows when they'll start.
    The easter egger is a great layer- she started and continues 5/week. She is gorgeous too..but also flighty and refuses to be caught =(


Shout out to the peeps.


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