Garden Tips: molting hens

It’s difficult to overstate the savings we’ve realized from having layer hens. Chicks themselves are inexpensive—you can buy one for about the price of a dozen organic eggs—and their coop, which doesn’t take up all that much space, can be built out of recycled material. My husband built the bulk of ours from pallets and wood we found for free on Craigslist. If you let the chickens roam about in the yard during the day, they fill up on insects and don’t eat too much feed, and the difference in egg quality between what you get from them versus what you get at the store is rather shocking.

That said, this is our first time having hens, and despite our having bought several books on the subject, we were completely unprepared for the phenomenon of molting. I knew birds molted, but I had no idea they completely stopped laying eggs when they did so. I also had no idea the more prolific the layer, the more feathers they lose at once. At left is a rear shot of our best layer, a barred rock we call The Swede, who looks like she’s been attacked by rabid wolverines.

Neither she, nor any of our other hens, has laid an egg in almost a month, which necessitated us paying $1.99 for a dozen eggs for the first time in nearly a year. I am so NOT COOL with this, as eggs filled a huge void left by our budget. It also got us thinking about what’s going to happen when they eventually stop laying altogether. (Or if they ever lay again, at this rate.) Keep them as expensive and useless pets? Give them away? Coq au vin? I’m curious what other people out there in blog-land have done in this situation…

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