Thursday, July 2, 2009

In Which We Meet Lizzie, and Learn More About Chooks

Lizzie has been named after a bluff elderly steam lorry in Thomas the Tank Engine. Unfortunately, while she looked reasonably sure of herself at the hatchery (she pecked the Sprig!), she is being thoroughly bullied by Annie. It's called the 'pecking order' for a reason, and 10,000 years of domestication has not civilised it yet.

If you are thinking that Lizzie looks more like an oversize quail than a respectable bird at point-of-lay, that's because there was an outbreak of feather-picking in this group of pullets. It's a more aggressive manifestation of the pecking order, and is caused by boredom. I'm satisfied that the hatchery is as good as they get, but a hatchery isn't a place for grown-up hens to live. The feathers will grow back.

I had better explain that any bird past about 18 weeks is considered at point of lay, though most won't lay until at least 21 weeks, often later, depending on breed and conditions. People have told me that if a layer is already present, younger birds will reach point of lay earlier. I hope it's true of our new girl! Annie lays 4-5 eggs a week, which isn't quite enough for us, especially as the Sprig's favourite food is "dippy egg with soldiers". I'm pretty partial to boiled eggs myself!

There's a mystery there, though: Annie's eggs weigh under 50g, but take longer than three minutes to become a "three-minute egg" (ie, firm white, soft yolk). I wonder if this is something to do with the very low proportion of thin albumen in fresh eggs.

If you look at Lizzie's picture, you will see a small pale-pink comb and undeveloped wattles, not much larger or darker than Annie's looked at 10 weeks. A sexually mature bird develops a red comb and wattles, which then grow larger remarkably quickly. Annie has been laying for about 8 weeks now:

I rather like her red bonnet!


Amanda said...

Poor Lizzie - she does look a little odd without her tail.
I wish our recalcitrant chooks would start laying again. The upside of getting farm chooks is that they are very healthy... just poor layers.
Still - I have high hopes for our 2 younger chooks when they get old enough to start laying.

Catherine (Alecat Music) said...

Hi there!

I've just jumped over to visit after reading your wonderful advice re: cabbage moths on the Kitchen Table/Home Audit.

It's sad watching the 'pecking order' in action. We had one poor injured chook who wasn't allowed to eat unless we isolated her.

I look forward to reading more of your great advice!