Animal Health & Welfare • Meet Aretha Franklin
I’m down to one chicken. Aretha Franklin.
The neighborhood bobcat has killed several of my chickens, and all of my neighbors’ chickens.
Sitting outside with my front door open at 1:00 in the afternoon a few months ago, this bobcat grabbed one of my Buff Orpingtons, Bonnie Raitt. I ran outside and chased after the bobcat who was taking my chicken up the creekbed. I screamed and ran after it up the creek, and it actually dropped my chicken. Stunned and frozen, when I reached down to pick her up, she burst up squawking. Bonnie Raitt was a changed chicken after this experience. She wouldn’t eat for several days, wouldn’t lay eggs for several weeks and started moulting about two days after being nabbed.
Since being the only chicken left, Aretha Franklin has not only been acting strangely, she has not laid any eggs.
There are many reasons chickens will stop laying eggs. A primary reason is stress- from poor living conditions, illness or trauma. Another reason chickens stop laying is a decrease in light- chickens need at least 14 hours a day to lay eggs, so during the winter months, they may not lay eggs. Nutrition can play a factor- chickens need 20 grams of protein per day to lay, so feeding only maize, or cracked corn, is not sufficient (feeding pumpkin seeds, oats and mealworms can help). Chickens will stop laying while moulting- chickens typically moult once per year, usually during late Summer/early Fall. Age is another factor- as a chicken’s age increases, egg production decreases.
You might not see eggs because, sometimes chickens eat their own eggs. Broody hens will hide their eggs in an attempt to hatch them- I had a chicken who secretly protected a nest of eggs that counted 18 by the time I discovered her secret spot in the ferns.
Dr. Karen Novak, owner of Village Veterinary in Mendocino, loves chickens. She treats the range of problems- from egg-bound and prolapsed chickens, to traumatic wounds and nutrition issues. She has even seen “many old chickens that end up having ovarian cancer”.
I won’t expect eggs from Aretha Franklin any time soon. She is confused by the loss of her coop-mates, she has started to moult and we are heading into Fall. She has warmed up to Rex and The Texan (my cat), and while they are not chickens, they are certainly not bobcats.
Above left: Aretha Franklin and The Texan;
Above: Aretha Franklin and Rex.