Fooled by hens

The chickens have done it again. Luckily they waited this time until Sam had left - he's been gone for the past few weeks working - and that's about the only good thing I can say about the situation.

The chickens have done it again. Luckily they waited this time until Sam had left – he’s been gone for the past few weeks working – and that’s about the only good thing I can say about the situation.

We keep the chickens to have a supply of fresh eggs, at least theoretically. Really, I just enjoy having them. Sam always says for the amount of money we spend on chickenfeed and the effort to get it out here into the bush, we could easily just buy eggs in town. The chickens, he maintains, are especially useless because they tend to curb egg production just when we’re most desperate for anything fresh: in the winter. The only benefit he sees in them is the amount of manure they produce for our garden.

Vociferous in my defence of the hens, I’ve taken the blame for their sluggish to non-existent egg production in the winter. It wasn’t the chickens, I kept saying, it was me. With proper management such as artificial light in the coop and not only timing but staggering their moulting so that they would be done with it during the summer instead of fall, a steady egg supply would not be an issue at all.

I solved the artificial light problem last winter by hanging a wind-up led lantern (made by Freeplay who also have excellent hand-crank radios on offer) into the coop. Despite the lantern, there were not as many eggs as I had hoped and my conclusion was that the lantern didn’t really make a difference.

To test that theory, I stopped hanging it in there. The result was that after about ten days, there were no more eggs – nice to know that the lantern actually did help but rather unfortunate for us because the chickens would not be conned back into production when I started putting the lantern in again. No eggs until spring. Sam kept blaming the chickens.

This year, the feathers of the hens were worn out to a point that they would obviously have to moult in order to be warm and toasty for the winter. Instinct or hormones tell them this and left to their own devices, they will change into a new set of feathers around late summer or fall, just in time for dropping temperatures. The thing is, growing new feathers and laying eggs at the same time is rather hard on their bodies, so they stop laying during the moult. If the moult occurs rather late in the year, the dwindling daylight will discourage them from starting up egg production again – you can see where I’m headed with this.

Now there is supposedly a way to artificially moult the birds, by withdrawing all food for a few days and keeping them locked up without any light at all. That apparently suggests to them that the seasons are changing and it’s high time for them to put on their winter apparel. Here was my chance to prove myself as an expert poultry manager and put an end to the otherwise inevitable complaints from Sam about the sudden end to our egg supply. I would moult the birds, not all of them at once, but in two different stages, so that there would always be some still in production, and do it right in the summer so they would go straight back to maximum egg production after the moult.

It was a nice idea. My chicken book states that water has to also be withdrawn from the birds for 24 hours, a rather tortuous method I thought, so I didn’t subject my hens to it, partly because it was so hot at the time. The experiment didn’t look too promising but with the ratty feathers the chickens were sporting, it was hard to tell if it was working or not.

The ones in the moult compartment of the coop did stop laying eggs briefly. In the end, it became quite clear that the only one who was moulting (and that without my “management”) was the rooster.

I had hoped that nonetheless the chickens would somehow regulate who changed into her new feathers when in a way that would leave us with some eggs, but the flock mentality won. They’re all running around half-plucked now, stubbly new feather keels sticking out here and there and the eggs dwindling until there will be no more.

Luckily, Sam is gone for a couple more weeks and not witness to this newest chicken management disaster. I only hope they’ll get back to work before he returns so that I can keep him in the dark about it and have him concede at the end of the coming winter that this time, the hens have earned their keep.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who

lives at the headwaters of the

Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon RCMP are making an appeal for information in the case of Mary Ann Ollie, who was murdered in Ross River last year and whose case remains unsolved. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Guatto and program manager Andrei Samson outside the chamber office in downtown Whitehorse Feb. 23. (Stephanie Waddell, Yukon News)
When business models shift

Whitehorse chamber offers digital marketing workshop

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Submitted
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read