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Ardchattan parish : Benderloch, Barcaldine, North connel, Bonawe - Past and Present
Kintaline 2016 : we still sell Muirfield Black Rocks but no longer have the old utility pure breeds - please enjoy our information. :
Utility Breeds :Keeping Domestic Poultry : Keeping Birds : birds not laying
produced by Kintaline Poultry Centre, Benderloch, Oban, Argyll PA37 1QS
These pages are part of a growing information resource inspired by, and based on, decades of helping domestic poultry keepers find the right solutions for their situation and our own experience breeding birds to improve selected UK pure breeds. No "out of the box, one size fits all" here. We recognisethe individuality of your circumstances and have the experience, and the range of answers, to help you and your birds. It is far from complete please bear with us, and return to learn more.
WHY ARE MY BIRDS NOT LAYING?
Age; health and breed are the main considerations.
Mostly the books say that hens start laying around 20 - 25 weeks; this is totally misleading. The modern commercial hybrids [ Warrens; Isa Browns; Hisex; Calder Rangers; Lohmann Browns] will start well within this time, and the most recent developments are getting this earlier and earlier. Commercial first crosses like the Black Rock are, maybe a week or two later to start, around 22 weeks.
Most pure breeds on offer to the domestic keeper are unselected strains and so can wait for quite a bit longer, anywhere from 25 - 35 weeks. Some of the fancies will not lay within the year of their hatch but start in the following spring.
If you are lucky enough to find one of the few Utility breeders we have left here then their pure breeds will be better layers and start earlier.
If its near the end of the summer going into the autumn then the probability is that the bird is about to moult. Ducks tend to go into eclipse from mid summer. During the moult the resources are diverted into producing new feathers so lay usually stops. How quickly the birds pick up again afterwards depends on how they are bred, strong productive strains will start sooner, and the weather / location - short days and poor light are not good triggers.
The condition and health of the bird is critical to her ability to lay. To produce eggs she needs to have strong nutritional resources. This starts in the growing phases, so good rearing is vital. At 16 weeks the young chickens change from grower pellets to layer ration which is their staple diet from then on. Young birds should not have mixed corn, maize and little wheat is necessary, especially if raised outside at the right time of the year when the natural resources of seeds, bugs and grubs are plentiful.
Many people insist on feeding far too much wheat, maize, mixed corn, rice, pasta and such rubbish from the kitchen. Yes, the chickens enjoy it, and yes, some of these carbohydrates have a value in the wettest and coldest months of the year, but it is useless as a source of good nutrition to support a laying bird. It also badly dilutes the extremely well balanced and well researched content of modern Layers ration designed to give the productive bird exactly what she needs.
The other feeding weakness is to think that if a bird is out and about in a garden or paddock that they will get enough protein and nutrition not to need layers rations and still lay well. Ranging is entertaining and tops up the layer ration with a greater variety so improving the flavour and the birds well being. There are only a few months in the year that there is even a reasonable balance of resources, and that can vary a great deal from soil type, to latitude, to natural vegetation.
If a well fed adult bird stops laying during the season you need to look for other reasons.
Weather : Heat stress is something chickens, particularly, suffer from very easily. They simply do not take in enough water. It can be fatal and is something that more areas of the country to the south and east will have to consider preparing for as the climate alters.
Storms can also put them off temporarily.
Worms : Birds should be routinely wormed - with Flubenvet it would be twice a year; March and September is good. With the likes of VermX then its every month. If you rotate your grazing regularly so the birds are always on fresh ground then you should not get a build up of internal parasites but if they are confined to a small pen much of the time, only let out a bit each week then you can get more persistant problems. The drain on the birds resources can prevent them from laying.
Lice, Mites etc : External parasites can also bring a bird down sufficiently to interrupt laying. Mild damp weather is a blessing to mites and lice which pass from the wild birds to our garden chooks. Many of the housing manufacturers cut corners and save money by using roofing felt for the coops, this is the best environment there is for red mite. By the time you know there is a problem you can have colossal populations.
Breed : Genetics is one of the strongest controllers of laying ability. This is true between breeds and also within breeds. It is the selection that has happened in the past 5 - 10 generations that is important not what any particular breed was traditionally known for. Because there has been so little demand for pure breed laying or table birds for the last 20 - 50 years most pure breeds in the UK nowadays are poor to mediocre layers at best. There are a very few strains within a very few breeds who have had small numbers of breeders maintaining some of the wonderful genetics that this country used to be famous for.
So be aware that, despite what any books say (chooks and dooks cannot read!) you can get birds that only lay 50 - 150 eggs a year or take 6 months to produce a decent carcase size, by which time the meat is boot leather. Its vital to be careful about your breeder if you want birds for eggs, only those who have had at least 5 generations and record their birds productivity will have an accurate knowledge of where their particular breeding flock is on the scale.
In the last 50 years it has been the modern commercial hybrid that has had all the attention for good productivity and efficient feed conversion. These birds are the athletes of the egg and meat production world and deserve such recognition. They have allowed all families - rich or poor - to provide ever cheaper protein at supper time and so contributed to the rapid growth in population, longer life and lower childhood mortality.
However their attributes come with a cost and they are hothouse flowers. The rugged conditions of the average garden can be too much for them, and they are definately much weaker than the ruffty tuffty old pure breeds.
If you are in the far north or the weather is really horrid we have noticed that onset of lay can be delayed a little, and that some strains can be sluggish to get back in to lay after the moult. The standard light pattern required is 14 hours of daylight, there are many months in the northern parts of the country when daylight is less. Any birds which can still lay through this time have a stronger genetic productive drive.
Tim and Jill Bowis
Kintaline Mill Farm,
Benderloch, OBAN Argyll PA37 1QS Scotland
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