We are now approaching our second full year of raising chickens and for the most part it has been a delightful experience. I can say that I undoubtedly enjoy watching our flock wander around the backyard, busily searching for an all-natural meal. They are really quite entertaining, a great deal of reward for very little work. And of course there are the eggs. Superior flavor and quality compared to store bought eggs, even the expensive ones. It's a very satisfying sight to see the dark orange yolk of a free range hen next to the pale yellow of the store boughten egg and know that our eggs are much fresher and are nutritionally superior. (Yolk color is indicative of nutrient content, and it shows in winter eggs are slightly more pale.)
Unfortunately, our hens have significantly, very significantly cut back on production over the last two months. While it is typical to have some decrease during the winter months, according to my layer production chart, our nine hens have produced only eight eggs during the first two weeks of the month! I actually haven't had one come in for over 3 days! (We have a light in the coop on a timer to simulate the necessary daylight the girls need to maintain production of the winter months, but obviously to no avail. It's to the point where, horror of all horrors, I've had to begin purchasing eggs!!!!
It looks like they missed the memo I sent out, No free rides around here. We inspected the hens in order to determine which girls are to be culled due to poor layer qualities.
According to The Backyard Homestead when determining whether a hen is a good layer, you want to identify these characteristics:
1.) Comb & Wattle Size- the larger the better.
2.) Vent- must be large and moist.
3.) Abdomen- round, soft, and pliable.
4.) Pubic Bone- (located between vent and breastbone) 2 or more finger widths wide.
Any hens that do not exhibit these characteristics may be poor layers and are candidates for culling. For at least 2 of our girls, Buff Orpingtons, this looks like bad news. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now as they may be molting (bad timing! It's c-c-c-cold out there!), and reexamine them when the weather improves. But as they approach their second birthday, it's likely that things aren't going to improve. A hen's egg production peaks at about 50-60 weeks and then begins to continually decline with age. This means more baby chicks around here in the spring! I'll be spending some time evaluating exactly what characteristics I'd like in a hen and seeing if we should keep our flock primarily composed of Buff Orpingtons or give one or more other breeds a try.