Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Egg Count 5

The egg count for April is 243 dozen, down from 259 dozen in March. There are perhaps several explanations for this, the most obvious of which might seem the weather; but some of the highest counts fell on days with thunderstorms and heavy rains. Everyone at Ecotone did manage the storms and floods alright, with the worst being some wet chickens and smelly coops. So along with the improved quality of air up on the Highland Rim, I add being some 700 feet above the Cumberland River floodplain.
Another consideration is the experiment I conducted as the hens ran along the perimeter of the pasture. I would open the fences to the woods and watch as the ladies poured out far and wide, coming back at dusk to roost. This practice - while deeply satisfying to watch - seems to have encouraged them to jump the fence even when I didn't want them to - duh! - and we lost two hens to some critter who found them roosting outside the fences. So the number of hens laying at this point stands at 137. But one thing is for sure: when there are trees available, the chickens clearly prefer to scratch around, eat, and rest under their branches, which may indicate better food, better security, or both. And while this may seem obvious, it only points to the peculiarity of our penchant to run them on pasture.

As a whole, though, this little experiment demonstrated why we can't simply move the coops through the pasture without the electric fences: because chickens range quickly through an area, radiating out from their coop, eating the best grubs first, while only later, and if necessary, coming back for the less desirable forages and what not. The result of this is a huge potential range, and in just a few days the hens were pressing against our neighbor's 30 year old cultivated patch of Morel mushrooms, which were just then due to fruit.

Another potential explanation of the drop lies in at least two species of egg eaters. While hanging out in the laying coop trying to catch the former species in the act - one of which is pictured above awaiting its transformation into dinner - I glimpsed the tip of the tail of the latter. This morning I scooped this black rat snake up into a feed bucket, and given its overall size, and the girth of its neck in particular, it seems we've been losing eggs to this critter, too. But, hey, we all gotta eat!

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