Updated update: Another egg! This one is perfect, laid by one of the big pullets. She sat in the nestbox half the morning, but the egg is an ideal pullet size (not too large, with good shell).
I feel like an anxious midwife...
Another update. We're having a few trees taken down (dangerous trees such as old giant plantation pines that have developed a lean), and unfortunately all the noise and thumping is taking a toll on the meat hybrids as far as laying goes. They're quite unsettled and are spending the whole day perched on a mound in the corner of their pen.
As a result of stress the soft shelled egg laying is at epidemic levels! However I'm still seeing no signs of discomfort or internal infection, though the long it goes on, the more likely that is.
So the grand tally of usable eggs so far is... Two! And one of those is probably a double yolker. Alas, this was never going to be an easy project.
I'm beginning to feel it's time to start making a backup plan for the event that I don't get any chicks at all. That was always a possibility, though I felt the whole thing was worth a crack. But a second option for disease free starter birds may be looking at obtaining indian (cornish) or malay games via fertile eggs, and following commercial practices as far as dipping them in an antibiotic solution. This won't guarantee MG (the chronic respiratory germ) -free stock, but it would make it quite likely.
So I'm not quite 'back to the drawing board', but I do want to have a backup plan resolved before spring heats up. That means sourcing eggs and finding out where I can obtain dipping-grade antibiotics suitable against MG. Perhaps my local vet...? In case that doesn't sound particularly 'natural' ('the natural chicken', after all, is my blog name), I'll just add that goshawks are also natural, but I prefer to defend against those. I feel the generations that hatch without MG will have every chance to live much more natural lives without having to rely on antibiotics later on, so it's a case of limiting the use...
Just a quick update. Yesterday I noticed one of the girl was having quite a bit of trouble breathing, and today I felt it was time to end her suffering. She had a good life until the last couple of days, so this has been a fairly quick demise. I don't feel it was cruel to keep her going this long, but another day (or even a couple of hours) probably would have been.
As usual I had a good look inside and found no signs of disease, tumours or infection. That's good because at least she didn't have EYP (egg yolk peritonitis). However inside her laying tract was a fully formed shelled egg of beautiful shape, and behind it were a row of varying-sized yolks. She was literally about to start laying. What a shame!
Then again the process of passing an egg would probably have spelled the end anyway. Her cavity was very full of fat and this seems to have put a lot of pressure on her cardiac and respiratory systems. Unfortunately the balance between giving meat hybrids enough feed that they can produce eggs and not so much that they get overweight is very hard to achieve — though it's rather encouraging that she came that close to laying. Even if I only get half a dozen fertilised eggs I'll have something to work with next generation. Here's hoping for the few remaining girls...
I might just post a reminder about why I'm doing this. I found dual purpose purebreds very poor on the production front, particularly in terms of meat. And as I found even with the malay x leghorns, they weren't quite able to meet the table weights I wanted on a home mixed diet, though they might have done so capably on commercial grower feeds.
An ideal bird would be one that can produce a good amount of table meat to feed a family of four, without being so prone to overweight that it can't survive to breed. It would also need to be low-broodiness (for egg quantity), and have all the other characteristics we've lost in most of our utility purebreds: early maturity; good laying ability; good foraging ability; fast moult; hardiness; and good feed conversion.
I'm a long way from the survivability target, no doubt about that. But that near-lay egg in the deceased girl's cavity gives me hope. I feel that I can just obtain even a couple of leghorn crosses from the remaining girls, and put them with other healthy layer-purebred crosses, I feel I'll be close to achieving all my targets in just a couple of generations.
Remember too, I'm not looking to make supermarket meat and I'm not looking to force a bird to lay an egg a day for eighteen months before it drops dead of layer fatigue. I'm happy to carry birds over winter and to maintain animals with high feed requirements. I just want to come at this with MG free stock that still have the desirable production traits. And then I can cull for health and vigour, and let the production values settle to something realistic.