Wednesday, February 18, 2009
As usual, the chickens began laying precisely on Valentines Day. It is rarely later at latitude, 37 degrees north. They are tied to the hours of darkness they receive and it has to be pretty cold and rainy for an extended period of time to delay that. Biorhythms make them do it. That's why commercial growers keep the lights on 12/12 imitating midsummer. That keeps them laying year 'round until they wear out in two years then off to the compost heap or processing into chicken food although beef is the usual ingredient in commercial hen feed. Cross feeding includes less problematic micro-organisms so hens go to cows and cows go to hens feed, usually.
The history of the chicken industry in California is quite an interesting read. It was the get-rich-quick scheme for the common man of its day (early 1900's if memory serves me but it often does not) like houses were recently. That economy collapsed, too, of course, as everyone piled into it, leaving personal anguish, debris, and indebtedness behind. Humans and their foibles... Anyway, Santa Cruz, CA, was a center of that movement and, up until quite recently, properties with chicken coops were very common. They have since been turned into condos because the properties necessary for raising chickens were relatively large. I lived in one that was barely converted to human habitation when I first came to the area in 1981. It was pretty cold during the winter but the price was right for a U. C. Cooperative Extension employee doing research on brussels sprouts and strawberry IPM.
Our hens are old and need replacing. However, they are on social security (assuming SS is what the gov't has told us it is and it is not bankrupt like the largest banks in the world) because they don't produce like younger hens. They will continue into old age scattering their 17 pounds per year of feces per bird about the yard. We will be getting a new crop of "peepers" soon which we will raise inside until they can integrate with the older hens without being eaten by them or the neighborhood cats. That process is really cute as long as you keep their cage clean otherwise it gets old very quickly. The old ones will be relegated to composting and providing the occasional egg while giving lessons for the new arrivals about hawks and cats. By the way, if one of the little ones does get hit by a cat, we have found that a liberal application of sugar on the wound, assuming you can recover the victim, is very good at stopping any infection that may occur. It certainly saved one of our chicks that was taken by a cat but saved by the wife in an extraordinary feat of fence leaping and running down of the cat. I am still astounded by the memory as, I can only assume, was the cat. I imagine the cat was very surprised at the vigor of the approach since it dropped the chick rather quickly. I was so amazed at the wife's effort and I still am amazed at it. (Years later she attempted the same rescue for a large orb weaving spider we had adopted as a pet and named Agatha that was taken by a Townsends Warbler outside our picture window in full view of both of us. The spider had dared come out during daylight and that was its undoing. That attempted saving was not so successful as flight is a cutoff for us as rescuers.) In addition, it gave me the wonderful opportunity to try the sugar-on-wound trial about which I had just read as the chick had at least an inch long cut on its body from being dragged through a hole in the fence. You don't come across that sort of opportunity readily so I seized it and it worked admirably.
I watched one of our hens kick the bucket a few years ago. I was looking at it as it stood in the yard. It was a Barred Rock. Of a sudden, it said, "Bawk" and leaped into the air doing a back flip. When it hit the ground it was dead as a rock, appropriately enough. I stood amazed, guessing it was a heart attack at age 12 years. I think that one was turned into apples, judging by its burial site, and good apples they are, too.