Hens not developing?

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dianefairhall
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Hens not developing?

Post by dianefairhall » Sun Nov 17, 2019 8:52 pm

I am a bit worried about my girls as they don't seem to have moved on since I got them. We got them on 1st October when the breeder told me they were 18 weeks. That would make them about 24 weeks now but they don't seem to have developed in that time - no combs or wattles to speak of and not much bigger. No eggs, either but that's not a priority at the moment. They are lively throughout the day and rush out of the Eglu when I open the door. I've been boosting their layers' pellets with mixed corn before bedtime which they like. Am I worrying for nothing?
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Marigold
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Re: Hens not developing?

Post by Marigold » Sun Nov 17, 2019 11:12 pm

Don't worry - they're lively, healthy, and will grow up in their own good time. It's possible they were a bit less than 18 weeks when you got them as it is normal for people who sell hybrid pullets to buy a 16-week-old batch from a commercial breeder and sell them on. This is because few smaller sellers have the facilities to breed their own or provide the wholesale vaccination programs that they need, and it's much cheaper for a retailer to buy a few dozen when needed and sell them in small numbers to people like you who just want a few. After 16 weeks they can be sold as point of lay (POL) and if you get them earlier in the Spring or Summer the increasing light levels will bring them into lay much faster than if you get them at the end of the Autumn when there is very little light to stimulate their hormones. Once we get to early January, maybe a couple of weeks after the winter solstice, you will most probably see them beginning to develop much more quickly and they're likely to get into lay before the end of the month or in February. They will be all the better and stronger for developing slowly and coping with the winter weather without the extra stress of laying their first eggs, and not being rushed into lay - they will be growing their bodies and the combs etc will develop when they reach puberty. At the moment they're just not getting the hormonal stimulation from sufficient sunlight to turn them on. Commercial hens will live their lives indoors under relentless electric light which will wring eggs out of them as soon as possible and carry on for the 18 months of their short and crowded lives. Yours are some of the lucky ones who escaped this fate.
They will like a nice warm damp mash at teatime now it's getting colder. A scoop of 80% pellets, 20% mixed corn, maybe the odd sunflower seeds and any added suitable fruit and vegetable bits and treats you have from the kitchen, made just nice and crumbly with hot water. As much as they will eat quickly with no leftovers before bedtime. When we get to freezing drinkers, the extra water on their pellets will help avoid dehydration, and if they have the mash at teatime, they will go to bed with full crops to see them through the long 15-hour time of darkness in December.
dianefairhall
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Re: Hens not developing?

Post by dianefairhall » Mon Nov 18, 2019 12:43 am

Thank you, Marigold, that is reassuring. I will try them with some mash tomorrow. They are enthusiastic eaters but I want to make sure I'm not over or under-feeding them. I want them to be happy and healthy and give me eggs when they're ready. They are so much fun - even my husband is getting interested now. Of course, the days are very short up here now so they're let out at 8 am and go to bed at about 4 pm. This will shorten very quickly until the solstice and then the days will lengthen very quickly.
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Marigold
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Re: Hens not developing?

Post by Marigold » Mon Nov 18, 2019 8:37 am

Once they do start, being hybrids they will probably lay all through next winter without a break to make up for this year. Mine are now experiencing their second winter and their first moult, after holding their plumage for the first two breeding seasons, and are now down to a few occasional eggs per week whilst taking a break and re-growing their plumage. Shell quality is getting poor, though, shells are very thin and fragile, although I'm supplementing with mineral powder in their mash. I hope the break from daily laying will help them rebuild their reserves for one more season, maybe. Trouble is, once a hybrid hen gets to the stage where there is no shell, just the membrane round the egg, it can get stuck or worse, break inside her when she tries to push it out, and because of the way their oviducts connect with their gut, the broken egg can go down into their gut and decompose, resulting in peritonitis, which is incurable curtains for the hen.

re teatime treats - if you have stripped out the middle ribs from your own cabbage, especially kale or cavolo nero, you can cut them up into little bite-size pieces and add to the mash. They can't chew a long strip of cabbage stem but like the little bits and it adds fresh greens with no waste. They will regulate how much to eat, it's just a matter of offering them the right stuff and not anything high in fat, salt or sugar.
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Hen-Gen
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Re: Hens not developing?

Post by Hen-Gen » Mon Nov 18, 2019 9:51 am

Can’t add to Marigolds excellent advise. Only to say that I sell surplus pullets at 18 weeks on Sept 1st each year and they invariably come into lay soon after. Last year I had commitments down south in March and so didn’t set the eggs until 3 weeks later. As a result the pullets I kept have not come into lay. They are, by contrast, bigger and more robust than all my hens so I’m happy for them to grow slow and steady. In fact I’m thinking that every year from now on I might hatch later in the Spring.
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Marigold
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Re: Hens not developing?

Post by Marigold » Mon Nov 18, 2019 2:26 pm

Yes I guess Diane was just a month too late for hers to manage to come into lay as expected, especially living fairly far North so the winter darkness sets in sooner anyway, compared with us Southerners.
dianefairhall
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Re: Hens not developing?

Post by dianefairhall » Mon Nov 18, 2019 4:09 pm

I have just given my girls their warm mash - it seems much more popular than the apples and greens I have given them before. In another half hour they will go to bed, nice and warm, I hope.
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Marigold
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Re: Hens not developing?

Post by Marigold » Mon Nov 18, 2019 6:44 pm

Apples and greens are good to still give them, if you have any. I hang the greens up on a string from the roof, above the ground, for them to peck at, and cut up the apples into little bits and just stir into the mash.
dianefairhall
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Re: Hens not developing?

Post by dianefairhall » Mon Nov 18, 2019 7:51 pm

I didn't know to chop the apples up - I just quartered them and thought the girls would peck at them. No interest at all. So I'll know to chop them next time.
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Marigold
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Re: Hens not developing?

Post by Marigold » Mon Nov 18, 2019 8:47 pm

They like all sorts of little bits of fruit and vegetables cut up small. Eg the spare bits of stems and base of cauliflowers; trimmed-off ends of green beans or courgettes; bits of spare celery; anything red like tomatoes, radishes or the ends and middles of red peppers; apple or pear cores; bits of spare soft fruit (not too much, and not citrus or avocado); pumpkin, melon or squash seeds and middles; any spare raisins a bit past their best. I give mine crouton- sized bits of bread crusts, (but never white, only wholemeal and usually organic home-baked so I know what's in it.) Our dog eats spare cooked vegetables but if you don't have a dog, hens will eat left-over chopped plain boiled veg. or jacket potatoes. All stuff that might otherwise be thrown away if, like us, your local authority doesn't even have a food waste collection scheme. Just keep a container on the worktop and collect bits and pieces during the day as you cook. They will let you know what they like.
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