Throughout winter we have been getting 1-3 eggs a day, and I didn’t see any reason to think this wasn’t normal. Most of my chicken owning friends weren’t getting any even the ones in Texas. I considered myself lucky and life went on.
A few weeks ago, I noticed one of the Red’s neck looked a bit off. After a few days of watching it, I realized she was losing feathers. I hoped she wasn’t molting. Negative temperatures are not a good time for a chicken to suddenly do a Bosley Medical commercial. A second Red began losing feathers on the back of her neck. Just on the back of the neck. Everywhere else was fine. Over another week, I realized that a few of them had prominent keels. It literally looked like they had a shelf over their chests.
A bit of time doing research, with a suspicion the two were related, I narrowed it down to either parasites or food. Only a few birds were affected, so I didn’t think it was parasites. The most common cause suggested was not enough protein or pecking. We did see one Red get pecked on the back of the neck, but it was a “peck and done” type of thing. The keels implied it was something dietary. I decided to try diet and see what happened.
My birds free-range, however they HATE the snow, so they’ve been hanging out in their coop. If I want to get them out I have to shovel out the run and lay bedding down on the ground. If the snow melts to the point part of the ground is showing along the shoveled paths, they will go out and explore.
Since they had been eating a plethora of bugs while ranging, it seemed logical they had a protein deficiency from hanging out in their home. Their feed is layer feed, so it’s not as protein rich as meat chicken feed. Enter dried meal worms – the crack of the chicken world other than corn. They’ve been on the “worm supplement” for a week and the Reds are growing their feathers back. The keel bones are less prominent and… we got 5 eggs yesterday.
We don’t know if it’s because days are getting longer or if a few stopped due to protein deficiency. I don’t know that I’ll find that answer without taking the worms away which I’m not going to do. The answer isn’t important enough to risk their health. I do have some meat feed from the turkeys, so we’re going to mix it in with the layer feed until Spring and bugs arrive.
Dear Lord, I never thought I’d want bugs around.