Chickens, Eggs, and More
I know it has been quite a while since my last poultry related update, and for that I apologize. We have been quite busy around the farm; one of our biggest concerns has been keeping everyone cool enough! While that includes the farm workers, I am mainly referring to the animals.
We typically move our sheep regularly to ensure they get a variety of pasture and forage feeding, but in this weather we have opted to leave them in the shadiest area possible with a nice big round bale to keep them fat and happy. Still, the heat has been quite oppressive and every time they come to me, they pant and heave. The plus side of sheep in hot weather is the very distinct, sweet lanolin smell that wafts over as they run to greet you. If you haven't experienced that yet you should put it on your list! Anyway, they are doing well, but constant cool water and shade is a must.
All of the animals look quite lazy when it's hot like this. The goats come out to eat early, but the rest of the day they lay in their run-in and chew cud. The American Guinea Hog pigs and their 20+ piglets are fortunate to be able to hide in the overgrowth that they are slowly eating down... they've got shady wallows to enjoy and plenty of cool, crisp poison ivy and honeysuckle to eat.
But back to the chickens. Chickens have a hard time in the heat. While they are not large animals, those feathers keep them extra warm even when they don't want to be. I have been anxious to see an increase in egg production since Spring, but instead we saw a major reduction! First, more hens than ever decided to set/nest, all at once. The boxes were full of hens who had stopped laying and opted to sit on anyone's eggs- it didn't matter to them whose chicks they hatched! Setting hens don't lay, so eggs were few and far between at that point... but then....
THE HEAT WAVE! Chickens can be fairly efficient at cooling themselves despite their feathers. Have you seen a chicken in the heat? They open their mouths and wings while they pant, maximizing the airflow in and around them. Still, they are susceptible to some equivalent of heat stroke and some die when it is too hot. While we are fortunate not to have lost any due to heat, and we did have a little, hot breeze, it was still enough to drop our egg collection to as low as 2/day... Not enough for our regular orders or even ourselves. We are lucky to be situated along the Potomac River, as we were at least able to bring them water during the 5 day power outage.
As if that wasn't enough, we caught our Chinese Brown goose killing young pullets. I was getting worried, thought some disease was passing around the young chickens, but now I know it was that nasty goose! She never used to show aggression toward the chickens; she and the gander always protected them in the past. I think something changed after the goose finished her own nest setting. Although she was not successful in hatching (again, I think the heat damaged her eggs), I wonder if she had her own form of heat exhaustion that led her to be more food aggressive. We've done A LOT of work raising this new flock of chickens and they're finally getting closer to laying age, and I won't tolerate that sort of behavior no matter the goose-psychology behind it, so she and her mate are now penned with the sheep. I am still hopeful that she will return to her old self if I give her plenty of food and time apart.
Long story short (and now the good news), we have gone through quite a bit this summer in the poultry department but it finally looks as though our egg production is rising again. We have come back up to a steady 7 or 8 per day and that number should just keep growing. Rest assured, I will let you know as soon as we are keeping a steady supply of eggs at the little yogurt shop behind Mom's Pies in Leesburg.
Oh, and to those of you who have asked about broilers, we do not have any at this time. We are looking into a new hatch soon and I will keep you posted on that as well.
Until next time,
ps- If any of you are visitors/shoppers at Potomac Vegetable Farms in Vienna on Rt 7, they will soon be borrowing a few of our young piglets. Hana has been looking for a good way to dispose of her damaged and rotten veggies from the farm stand, so when we suggested that she take a few pigs to feed during their time of abundance, she was thrilled! They aren't there yet, but when they are I am sure the PVF folks would be happy to introduce you...