Is my hen laying, or lying? A legitimate question with an otherwise elusive answer. The obvious and unquestionably effective way to answer it is segregating your hens and waiting to see who does or does not supply you with eggs… but that’s not a practical for most.
Experienced poultry keepers can pick a liar out of a flock rather easily, and so can you. No isolation required, but we need to understand the basics of a process called bleaching.
Basics Of Bleaching
Ever wonder how the yolk of an egg gets to be so yellow? Obviously the hen laying the egg makes it so, but that colorant came from somewhere. That somewhere would be her diet, usually from the corn and grass that she eats.
When she digests corn, grass, and other foodstuffs; she extracts a pigment called xanthophyll and stores it throughout her body. The most obvious storage locations are (especially evident in commercial Leghorns) the skin, legs and beak of the hen.
As a hen progresses through her year-long laying cycle, you will notice that her yellow pigmentation will slowly fade. That’s because they’re extracting the pigment from their body to meet the demand of yolk production.
Hens laying at the beginning of their cycle will look bright and vibrant, but by the end of the cycle they look notably pale and lack luster. While they cease laying, moult and regenerate for the next cycle, they will restock on xanthophyll so they can have a reserve to draw from in the next cycle.
Is My Hen Laying
Doing this at the beginning of a laying cycle may prove to be a challenge, however it will become easier to spot the layers and the liars as they progress through their 12 month laying cycle. Hens laying actively will be drawing the yellow pigment from their body, becoming paler in the process. Additionally, since these birds are putting the lion’s share of their energy into laying, they will often appear progressively more ragged, faded and loose their conditioning.
The liars on the other hand have no reason to part with their xanthophyll, and it shows. As the layers in the flock progressively loose their conditioning, the liars will maintain their glowing image. Since they have all sorts of nutrition and energy available without the resource demand of egg production, they will invest it all into their body condition.
Liars in the flock tend to stand out. Look for these clues;
- Brighter yellow beaks and legs
- Combs and wattles that stand proud, flushed and glossy
- Glossy, well kept plumage
- Dry, shrunken vent
- Brighter yellow skin, especially near the vent
- Heavier body weight
These are relative observations. Compare these birds with hens of the same breed and age. Depending on the breed, some of these signs may not apply: such as yellow pigmentation in a dark skinned bird. Breeds that feature dark colored scales, skin or beaks are far more difficult to judge, but condition comparison is still a good gauge. When in doubt, isolate the suspects and see what happens.
Every poultry keeper has their own way of doing things, and that’s alright. My flock’s free-loaders are well known and have names, your’s may not. I stick to the rule of “don’t name your food”, so my liars live without fear of soup pots or frying pans. My free-ranging flock serve purposes other than simply supplying hen fruit, so I let them live out their lives in peace.
If you subscribe to the “Make breakfast, or be dinner” philosophy, then this easy method will help single out your squatters. Serve evictions accordingly. Remember; you can always isolate a suspected liar to get a definitive answer.
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