The curious case of the gluttonous hen

The terrible twins, AKA Audrey (foreground) and Mabel, the Araucanas

Weeks without my favourite hen’s eggs have turned into months and I’m missing their blue presence in the collecting basket. On consulting my new favourite poultry guide Haynes Chicken Manual by Laurence Beeken while travelling on the train to London Liverpool Street this morning, I found there are all manner of reasons why Audrey, our white Araucana, is off-lay – and that when she does rustle up the occasional egg, the shell collapses in the nesting box like a deflated balloon. After eliminating a few potential causes, there are two possible scenarios, however: 

a) Deficiency in calcium

b) Obesity

I must check the girls’ levels of oyster shell as if this has run out, topping it up would soon rectify reason A – it’s a good source of the mineral. Perhaps a lack of the supplement may also be the cause of abnormalities in Mabel’s shells – little clusters of shell-textured balls on the surface that can’t be removed. Just a little problem that needs to be cleared up.

Mabel's eggstraordinary offerings - are the spots a case of calcium deficiency?

However, reason B isn’t as crazy as it sounds – and seems the most plausible. She may have been christened after a certain elegant 1960s film star, but Audrey isn’t showing the restraint that her namesake was so famous for when it comes to food. I only noticed the other day that she gets far more than her own share – and her diminutive sidekick Mabel lets her get away with it. I’ve always known that she wears the trousers (or pantaloons in her case) in the relationship – it’s just her and little Mabel in that run who can get a bit of a rough deal.

Mabel, the Black Araucana, has to be quick if she's going to get a look in

Sometimes I will simply throw some leftover pasta or potato over the fence – along with their daily helping of greens – on my way through the garden. But on Sunday I took time to observe them snacking and realised Mabel doesn’t get a look in. I offered them individual pieces of fusilli, tossing them on the ground and watching the pair’s behaviour. Audrey managed to eat hers plus mug Mabel for whatever morsel she has taken for herself. No wonder Mabel’s so tiny in comparison – her larger friend probably eats the lion’s share of pellets, too. I always thought that keeping two hens in a large coop and run would mean plenty for everyone, but evidently Audrey’s no sharer. Perhaps it’s best to weigh out their food each morning – we’ve always simply topped up their endless supply in a standard hopper. Either way, it’s clear Audrey may need to go on a diet.

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