Fall is in the air, at least this week. Next week we’re supposed to have another heat wave. Such is life in Southern California. Our little urban homestead (and I use both those words in the loosest possible sense) is chugging along.
We recently experienced some setbacks in our chicken raising exploits. We lost a hen during the worst heat wave of the summer. We were out of town for the weekend, and found her when we got back. The ants had found her a good deal earlier. Needless to say, there was no saving her for diagnostic trip to the vet. We blamed it on the heat, and the fact that she was never the most vigorous hen in the flock and moved on.
Shortly after that, all the hens save one stopped laying. Again we blamed it on the back to back heat waves. Extremes in weather can really stress them out, and stress can really put a ding in egg production.
We then added two more pullets to the flock to replace some of our older girls for next years laying season. Then one of the new pullets got sick. Really sick. We weren’t chugging along anymore. After several days of desperately trying to figure out what was wrong with her and nurse back to health I threw in the towel. She had grown progressively weaker and I was getting paranoid that she might have something contagious and deadly enough to take out the whole flock.
Luckily, there’s a free service for backyard flock keepers in California that will test any dead chickens you bring to them for cause of death. They’ll also humanely euthanize a sick chicken. It’s an hour plus drive to their nearest lab, but I crated up our poor little hen and took her in. She could barely lift her head at this point.
I felt super guilty about giving up on her, but I was nearly convinced she had Marek’s Disease which is incurable, hard to eradicate and can devastate a flock. AND the one hen that was still laying went broody and we had just put a dozen fertile eggs under. If this was Marek’s we needed to plan ahead for those chicks.
For my own peace of mind I needed to get the sick one away from the other chickens, just in case. I also needed to sleep. I was waking up before the sun, and unable to go back to sleep because all I could think of was whether or not she had survived the night. I dreaded going downstairs to check, certain she would be dead. Girl was a fighter, though.
In the end, it doesn’t appear to be Marek’s (but we’re also still waiting on the full report,) which is what I assumed before I got all paranoid and freaked out. Preliminary reports suggest that it’s Coccidosis, which I also suspected. Why this hen was overwhelmed by it and not the others, I can’t say, but it’s likely they all have it to some degree (It’s a parasite.) And, it’s also likely that this a large contributor to the egg laying problem.
With any luck we’ll see some eggs around here again soon, although between coccidia, molting and winter, and our only active layer going broody, it’s going to be a challenge.
On the bright side, I’m super excited about our attempted hatch. Jules, our cuckoo Marans, is quite determined to stay on her eggs so far (all of three days) but considering how unhappy she was when I moved her nest, I’m glad I didn’t break her desire to set.
She’s got a barnyard mix under her– Buff Orpingtons, Easter Eggers, Olive Eggers, Marans and any mix thereof are a possibility. Six of the eggs are blue or blue with a hint of green, three are brown– one dark enough that it could be Marans, and three are in the olive range, one of which is a greenish slate grey that is quite unusual. Fingers crossed that Jules does a good job and that the eggs are indeed fertile. Just because you have a rooster doesn’t mean he serviced every hen at the right time to catch the egg. It’s quite possible that even if she does a perfect job we won’t get any chicks at all.
And it’s also possible she won’t do a good job. Domestic chickens are a crap shoot in the mothering department. Many breeds almost never go broody at all, some hens lose interest in sitting before the eggs hatch, some don’t know what to do with the chicks once they do hatch and you lose them just when you thought you were free and clear.
Jules only starting laying a couple of months ago and this is the second time she’s gone broody, so my hopes are high that she has the right combination of instincts if not the experience to get bring these eggs to hatch and raise her chicks up right.
I’ll be candling on the 15th to check for viability. Cross your fingers!