The Curious Case of Little Girl

20140718_182607Little Girl is my problem hen, and has been for quite some time.  She’s a pathetic layer, she’s absolutely vicious to the other chickens when they try to roost near her, and she’s the annual winter feather picker that ruins the other two hens feathers every year.  She’s not gentle with people, she’s gone broody for months in the past, she doesn’t have a sweet voice like Bossy, and the few eggs she lays are prone to being malformed, yolkless, and sometimes shell-less.

She’s also the one who laid the infamous creepy ‘egg’, which was not an egg, rather, my chicken laid a yolk in a bloody membrane.  You can see how that’s possible by looking at The Chicken Chicks’s excellent picture of a chickens reproductive system, which show the ovi and the vascular membrane that contains them.  Little Girl was a poor layer before this event, and a poor layer after- but, at least she was still laying, even if sporadically.

This year, however, we’ve seriously only gotten a handful of eggs from her.  In fact, I’d venture to say she laid more eggs while she was indoors being isolated from the other hens (to save them further feather-picking damage during our long winter) than she has in the spring/summer altogether.  I haven’t seen an egg from her in months.

I’ve asked other chicken keepers if they’ve had a hen who lays yolkless eggs as much as Little Girl does; nobody that I encounter has had a chicken lay yolkless eggs as much as her.  I’ve asked the backyard chicken community on Reddit about her, and received no new information.  I’ve looked on chicken keeping sites and reviewed every ‘weird egg’ analysis I can find to see if anyone has any insight on her consistently yolkless eggs- I’ve turned up nothing except people warning me to get ready for her to die any day now from egg yolk peritonitis or some other awful internal issue.

strange chicken eggs
Normal eggs from Bossy and Dumptruck on top; Little Girl’s eggs below.

Yolkless eggs, also known as “dwarf”, “wind”, “witch”, “cock”, or “fart” eggs, are often attributed to a new layer or a hen at the end of her laying life.  If Little Girl was younger or older, I wouldn’t be alarmed.  That’s why I’ve dismissed it for some time- as a younger hen, I assumed she was just working out the kinks in her egg laying cycle.  Since she also had the fun (read: not) habit of going broody for at least a solid month in the summer, any no-yolk eggs after were also chalked up to getting back on track with the laying cycle.  Eventually, she’d lay a few eggs with a yolk… until this year.  The last ‘normal’ egg from her was at the tail end of winter- everything from there on out has been yolkless, and infrequent.  Little Girl should be cranking eggs out like the other two hens at this point in her life, and it’s baffling that she’s not.  If you check out the picture above, you’ll notice she’s got an interesting “body check” mark that occurs on most of the slightly bigger eggs- it looks like someone cut the top of the egg off and glued it back on like a cap.

All summer she’s eaten normally, doing all her usual chickeny things, though she skipped being broody this year.  Just no eggs, except a few shell-less ones that seemed to ‘sneak up’ on her and slip out while she was in the yard or on the roost.  Every day I’ve expected to come outside and find her dead or ill due to internal laying or some other chicken malady. Every day she’s come thundering over looking for treats, seemingly healthy as can be.

Except today.  Today, LG was not feeling it.  She’s listless, withdrawn, pale.  All the bad signs that make me take immediate notice.  Since it’s closing in on fall, this could be the start of a molt- Bossy is just finishing hers (she started extremely early this year), so the timing doesn’t seem too off.  But, coupled with her lifetime of weird eggs and a full summer of not laying, I’m preparing myself for the worst.  I just hope I’m wrong, like I’ve been for the past 2 years now.

Update:  Little Girl died 6/21/15.  In above post, she was entering a molt.  She enjoyed another winter indoors to prevent her from ripping out the feathers of the other chickens (as much as we could), she laid a few more yolkless eggs, and passed in the early hours of 6/21.

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Feather Pickin’ Chicken, Pt2

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The Jerk is at it again.  She’s even pecking me, hard, on the leg while I’m out in the run cleaning.

I’ve put cat toys out there; cabbages; low-energy treats like greens, squash, etc; a tennis ball; as well as letting them out more often, even though the Jerk doesn’t WANT to go out, because her feet get too cold.  None of that was stopping her from picking at BB and Dumptruck.

So, the Jerk is now isolated.  On the advice of other chicken owners, I’ve removed her from the flock and placed her in a dog crate in the basement- this’ll give the other two a little time to heal, and rearrange the pecking order a bit.  Hopefully by shaking things up I’ll get her to stop long enough to get them through winter; in spring, they’ll have much more outside time and be less likely to have this issue.

The heroes of the day are Ben, for helping me set up the isolation pen and restraining the ladies with injuries so that I could properly coat them with Blu-Kote; the other hero is Blu-Kote, which is amazing in it’s ability to mask the blood to stop the picking, as well as being antiseptic.

The full gallery of injuries can be viewed here on imgur- the picture file sizes were way too big for my poor blog to handle.

Have you experienced this?  What did you do to fix the problem? I’d love to add to my list of suggestions.

List of advice I’ve been given:

-picked up the Jerk and hold her while the others run around and have a good time, to shake up the pecking order a bit

-check their protein level in the food. When they don’t get adequate protein, they’ll eat feathers (saw this during their molt). This is definitely not a nutritional deficiency, since she wasn’t even eating the feathers- she was pulling them out and spitting them onto the ground.

-give them all low-calorie veggie treats to keep them occupied but not give them extra energy

-Let them free range (not possible in the city, and their outside time is limited due to the extremely cold weather anyway

-Provide entertainment. I’ve used an automatic laser pointer cat toy, tennis balls, a treat dispenser, dangling toys, a hanging cabbage, etc.  No change in behavior.

-isolate the Jerk to rearrange the pecking order and let the others heal.

Feather Pickin’ Chicken

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A few days ago I noticed that BB and Dumptruck were looking… raggedy.  Specifically, their “bustles” (the area right above their tail feathers) looked like the feathers were thinning.  Yesterday I noticed that the colored portion of the feather was almost completely GONE in some spots on those two- meanwhile, Little Girl looked just fine.  What gives?

Seems we have a feather picker in our midst.  Ben caught LG snapping off feathers from BB, and spitting them out on the ground.  What a jerk chicken.

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pickedpicked2 picked3

It’s likely boredom, and a little aggression thrown into the mix.  I saw her do it today- Dumptruck was taking a break from being out on the snow, resting on the stone step in the doorway of the run.  Little Girl stood above her, giving her the stink eye, and grabbing little strands of feather and pulling.  I pushed LG away several times, and finally just picked her up- it really came off like she was harassing Dumptruck to get out of her way/off her sunny spot.  Dumptruck doesn’t even seem to notice her doing it.  Same goes with BB: Ben noticed she was getting picked by LG, and went out there to stop it. BB didn’t seem any worse for the wear, like she didn’t even notice LG had been snapping off part of her feathers.  You can see in the pictures above that BB has a patch of orange missing, where it’s down to the fluff.  Likewise, Dumptruck’s bustle is sparse, but seems more uniform.

aggression

The culprit is none to happy about being picked up and carried around when I’m out there.  Of course, she also doesn’t like walking on the snow, being in the cold wind, not being able to run around outside of the coop, etc.  I feel like she’s getting a little stir crazy, and all-around grouchy.  I feel her pain.

So, I’ve got some options:

-give them things to peck at (I’ve given them cabbage, but squash and pumpkin are also good choices to keep them busy)

-give them distractions (I hung some cat toys and left a tennis ball inside- the ball seems to be the winner)

-reduce their high calorie treats (suggested by Terry from Hencam.com)

-shake up the pecking order (trying to do this by carrying the aggressor around)

-isolate the aggressor

Isolation is the worst case scenario, and will happen if this keeps going on.  Of course, because it’s winter I’ll have to take into account that the 3 need to huddle together to stay warm; I’m thinking I might be able to isolate LG during the day, and bring her back out before sunset so they can all sleep together.  I’m a little nervous about this possible action only because LG might get used to the warmth of the house and have a hard time adjusting when she goes back outside.

Always an adventure with these birds.  At least nobody has drawn blood, yet.

The telltale signs of a great dust bath.

The telltale signs of a great dust bath.

I let the ladies out of the run to wander in the snow, when one of them stopped right by the doorway and shook like a dog. The dark spot is all the dirt she was carrying around with her after her in-coop dust bath.

GRAPHIC: abnormal finding in the coop

Alright, a gross mystery for you all.

Ben went out to check on the ladies this morning, and came back in telling me there was weird red egg inside the coop.  He described it as looking like “a cherry tomato”.  Scary.  I went to investigate.

There was a red lump, surrounded by wet bedding.  Above, a shell-less egg with a TON of watery poo nearby.  Keep in mind- I clean this coop every day, so this wasn’t a buildup of poo from a few days or anything.

I can only assume one of my ladies had a VERY bad morning.

I examined the mass at length: it felt like it contained liquid (it did), had an attached ‘cord’ with what appeared to be ova at the end, a dark spot inside that, after dissection, turned out to be extra tissue inside the sac, and the ‘liquid’ inside appeared to be egg yolk.

So… what is this thing?  Did my hen lay an egg yolk… maybe dragging other egg yolks with it?  Is it a cyst?  Whatever it is, the ladies all seemed healthy and happy  and were running around scratching like normal, so I’ve got to assume that it’s not, ya know, vital to their function.