Tag Archives: broody

Guinea crisis II

She’s on her nest alright, but the mystery of why I hadn’t missed her is solved: she can’t resist dinner.

The other guineas hang out right on top of her most of the day, sunning, and grooming, and chatting.  Literally, even.  The “chicks”, little butterballs now half the size of full grown birds, hop over and on top of her, hunkered down in her nest.    I don’t know what she thinks of this; she always looks angry, flattened out on her eggs, but she is easy to check in on now, with the weeds trampled around her.  In fact, I went and clustered some cut weeds around her to help her out.

The whole group of guineas hovers around her like she’s the kitchen stove, generally blowing up her spot.

But when the rest of the flock left to visit the trough, she went running along behind!  I’ll eat too!  Then I swooped in to make adjustments, but she hawk-eyed my every move from the food dish.  She didn’t run me though, just watched, neck long.

I moved the pigs in another direction, after a long and laborious session cutting out alders and buckthorn.  Then, of course, a pig slips out, right by the nest!  The pig fence is about four feet from where she decided to brood.

I kept the other pig in, but the free pig, not caring about togetherness for the moment, started romping around the field, and ran right over the nest.  She came bursting out, attacking the pig, as all the other guineas, even the chicks, join the skirmish. I’m chasing the pig with a stick, the birds are all screaming and flapping, together trying to defend against the pig, but a pig is a pig, oblivious, gleefully prancing around.

I’m horrified; I have to get back to the house for the milk- the only sure pig bait, but the birds don’t stand a chance while I’m gone.  This pig is going to stomp in and snarfle up all the eggs in seconds. I run for the milk, hoping only that the pig finds something else to do for the moment.

I get back, the nest is still intact, all the guineas shrieking in phalanx.

I easily catch the pig again with the milk, and I finish moving them, and everything is ok.

The hen’s scowl may have deepened, but she’s back on her eggs, crisis averted.  This hen has had to put up with a lot, and she’s barely started.

Near tragedy

Our wonderful neighbour was over to bush-hog my field last night.  I need to move the greenhouse this year (not looking forward to it, no), and there were some robust shrubs growing right where it needs to go.

Anyhoo, he was driving around, mowing, and once, right when he came to a stop, I saw the weeds rustle directly in front of his front wheel.  As he backed out, I ran to the spot, fearing that a bird had been hit (I’d been paranoid and been tramping through all the weeds in front of him trying to flush out frightened chickens that were used to the tall weeds being a safe zone).

Horrors!  A nest!

A guinea nest.   His front tractor wheel had rolled into it, crushing a half dozen eggs, but not rolled over it, so most of the eggs were intact.  The eggs were kindled, with bloody yolks, but only a few days past.  I quickly scooped out shells and yolks, tossing them out, trying to clean up the mess with my fingers and restore her nest.  It was a nice nest, too, dried grasses lined up in a swirl. 

The hen herself had stayed to the bitter end, jumping out only when that black tire loomed over her, and we had both seen her flee at the last second.  My flushing hadn’t unseated her, only imminent death.

I did not bother her again by “checking on her” that night, hoping she would come back.

I didn’t even know I had a broody guinea!  I hadn’t missed her.

And what is she thinking?  Aren’t there enough brats around?  I’m flattered that she thinks this is a great place to raise children, but how many is enough?  Sheesh.

In the morning she was on her nest.   I can see her scowling in there. 

Hopefully she got back on them promptly; if she returned by nightfall the remaining eggs would be fine.  Now the weeds are gone, she’s far less concealed.  Her nest has a view.

Right there by the pigland too, right where I was planning to shift the oinkers to next.

 

Morning chicks

I was greeted in the morning by news of chicks!  HW didn’t know that they were freshly hatched because they were so big, but they hatched overnight.

I knew they were coming, because for the last few days, mama passed up her daily meal and stayed put on her eggs.  (This mama was the lady who lunched).

These are baby Chanticleers, future layers.  Five hatched of six eggs, wonderful!  They are born bigger than the Silkie chicks that are a week old. 

I wasn’t sure what to do with these.  Already dynamic, a few hours old, I wanted to let them out of the chickery right away but worried that the hens would fight.

I did let them out, lifting the chickery up and over the sunflower that grew up inside of it, and all the chicks scuttled out into squash land.  I’ll barely see them anymore.

Later in the day, it seemed that the two tribes had not met; the Silkies on the tomato side and the new babies on the squash side.  It’s thick in there.  They have plenty to do without encountering each other.

Out into the jungle

Hers and Hers

I’ve got another broody hen, so now the eggery is a duplex.

The first broody – the most tolerant little girl who was keeping the orphan guinea warm for a few days (that little keet expired after all) – is due any day, if she was successful.  Her attachment to a daily meal may have left her eggs cold for too long.

I haven’t really thought through the extra occupation of the the chickery, but I’ll probably release the first set of chicks into the greenhouse jungle when they come.

The new broody is the biggest of all the silkie hens; she’s easily covering 9 eggs.

The first broody has stuck to her daily break time throughout her term-  a new quirk, and the box inside the chickery has worked perfectly.  She comes out, eats, poops, and then creeps back into her box, talking to her eggs the whole time, which is adorable.  I’m coming back…here I am.

Eye wide open

Oreos and the Cobra mom

The only time to see the wild Oreos up close is evening time in the coop.  They are handsome looking now, and not so much filling as cookie these days – they´re turning out raven black, with the blackest glossy legs.

 

 

 

The guinea hen is definitely setting.

This is early on – is she or isn´t she?

Later on she scraped up all the hay in the coop, and made a lovely, perfectly round nest with high walls.  When she flattens out and dozes, you can barely see comb over the sides of her nest.

No idea how many eggs she´s got.  Easily 20.  Perhaps a chicken egg got in there too.  In fact, she could be due any day.  I don´t know about guinea terms, but she´s got to be close.

And since there´s only three birds walking about yet, I suspect those three are the boys, and the other hen has found her own nest site somewhere in the woods. May she walk out healthy one day with a trail of chicks.

While I´m delighted that she´s pleased enough with the coop I made them to brood in it, there are some things that I did not consider.  Such as, what happens when they hatch?

She hasn´t lifted off that nest for a moment, so I´m thinking as soon as they hatch she´ll be ready for a snack.  And then day old guinea chicks will start pouring out of the coop, six feet off the ground?  If they do bounce, then, how about when mom goes back to bed?  If I lift in the chicks, she´ll come blazing out, the chicks will follow her out…this is a circular vision.

I decided to put a screen door on the coop so I can keep them all in there a couple of days, or something.

Applying the screen door was fine.  When I set a dish of food and water inside the door, however, whoooweee!

She is terrifying!  She opens her mouth like a cobra, spreads her wings wide and full, so she looks like a flat feather wall, and stares.  Then one piercing squawk, and wham! cobra strike.  She gave me a good chomp.  Same when I refilled the water, after she tugged the dishes in close to the circle around her nest.  Then I had to reach in even closer to her.  I didn´t risk the food dish.

Yikes.

And then four hens decided to hang out in the woodshed, even though it wasn´t raining.

Outdoor Adventure Silkies

 No one expresses the joy of summer quite like the Silkies.  They sunbathe hard. 

 A bunch of white snowballs wriggling in the dirt or spread out flat like they´ve deflated.

Or for variety, going for a hike.

Sometimes the red hens get right  in there too for a bath.

What I wonder is, songbirds take exuberant baths in puddles all the time.  Chickens are birds.  Why don´t they like the water?

The biggest Silkie news is that the oil of oregano treatment is totally the cure for Scaly Leg Mite! So exciting!  I´ve got a few drops of oil of oregano in a bottle, and I shake that vigorously, and pour some of the mix in their water dish, not even every day, just enough to get a bit of a rainbow on their water.  Their legs and feet are obviously so much better, although I haven´t been doing Vaseline treatments.   Just the oil of oregano, or OOO, as I call it.  I´ve got plenty around for human health; now recommended for chicken feet health.  The layer hens have entirely cleared up – their feet look so good now, and I´m sure the Brahmas will respond too.

Another hen is boxed, with more pretty blue eggs.  Broody 2, 2017.  I have a special variety of hairless chicken that seems to go broody first.  I don´t know if broodiness goes with molting or not – do they need the long break of setting to reset themselves and regrow after a molt?

Hens are usually pleased to go in the box, and get their private trough.  This one is just attacking the food.  I of course provide a buffet during their confinement; in the wild they would be able to pop out for a snack when they got peckish but not so in the box.

There is an important rule though: Thou shalt know the difference between sloth and broodiness.

They might be doing this:

They might be in there all day.  They might slam their wings down and growl if you try to take eggs, but they may not be broody.  They might be laying an egg, or just thinking about it.

I was impatient to set someone on eggs and boxed one I thought was broody – she was NOT.  She was pleased at first with the snack, but upon finding herself trapped, she loudly registered her outrage, drawing the Colonel to pace at the screen door,  and effected a dramatic eruption out of the box, after kicking all the eggs around.  A broody will be thrilled to have eggs, and keep them in a tidy group.

So I´m waiting for one to turn.  They´re just having too much fun outdoors right now to think about motherhood.

Surprise! Additions to the family

I came home from work to find two new little black chicks bouncing around the box with (step-)Mom!  They´re already done?  Time flies!

I came back later with a camera and it was a different story.  Nothing to see here.  The chicks were stowed.  She has one more egg too.

Mom´s looking good.  She´s had time to regrow her feathers during her confinement.

I had to coax and poke and weather firm chicken growling to get a peek at a chick.  Oh!  There´s a little head.

There´s one!

They are as big and as lively as a week-old Silkie chick (these are Ameracaunas- they´re going to grow up to have cheeks!)

Time to break out the chickery:)

Also this evening I unexpectedly took receipt of four gorgeous Brahma hens.  They are large, and serene, and sweet!  So lovely.  They were taken directly to bed, and we´ll get to see them tomorrow:)

 

 

First boxed hen

I´ve put the first broody hen of the year to box.  She´s been determined to brood for a couple weeks, daily protesting the removal of her clutch.  I´ve relented, and put her on three pretty blue eggs (Ameracaunas).  I hope she can do it;  she´ll be the first of my Silkies to sit on a clutch of alien eggs.  If it works, it will be an ugly duckling situation.  My last attempt at egg swapping was rejected – they rolled the big eggs out and down the ramp.

She´s not a very good-looking hen; in fact, she´s an unusually ugly little lady, but she´s feisty and single-minded, keeps her eggs tidy (not allowing them to spill out),  and has been steadfastly resisting my attempts to break her up, so she might turn out be a great mother.

Dispatches from Silkieland

from Oct 17

Look at those feet!

Look at those little wings!img_4515 img_4514

Look at mama looking back.  What’s taking so long?

img_4506This mama has ideas.  At night I put them all in the box for the night.  In the morning she lets herself out to graze.  The chicks know where she is, but all frustrated.

Seven chicks survive.  She hatched an amazing, record setting nine, but two didn’t make it.  It’s almost normal for one chick to die every setting.

Chick death by hanging from the mother’s underfluff is a very real risk, as bizarre as I thought it was the first time.   I saved three chicks from this hatch from hanging.  I found two at once being dragged around by the neck.  What a fate.  Her underfeathers were glued together at the ends, poop no doubt, and chicks had their heads stuck in the loop, probably from burrowing under her.  I saved them, phew!, pulling the feathers apart, and feeling for other knots.     I suppose the solution would be combing their bellies shortly after hatching.  You first.

It’s a bit like 101 Dalmatians around here now.  Chicks everywhere.  In the greenhouse, in the chickeries – I’ve lost track of how many sets there were this summer.  Some hens went broody twice.  There are a lot of chicks scampering around.

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The last remaining greenhouse setter is good as gold in her broody box, but she loves breakfast.  She eats nearly her whole bowl of food every day, and she goes at it enthusiastically the moment it’s given (as opposed to other broodies, who eat a bowl of food every week or two, and pretend they don’t care about food when you put it in with them).

Outside, it’s cooling off.  The birds come tumbling down the ramp every morning, and then, ugggh!, halt on the ramp to hunch their shoulders and fluff out.  Sometimes they just go back inside. Not ready to greet this day. 

There are two ways to identify roosters.  1) Even very small, they start beefing with the other baby cocks.  They lower their heads and stick their necks out, then stand up really tall on their toes, beak to beak.  If that doesn’t settle it, there’s some chest bumping.   2) Baby cocks hero-worship the rooster.  I’m gonna be just like you someday!  They are first to arrive when he does his food clucks, and they tag along with him, everywhere.

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I came home to Snowball out of the Silkie paddock, who knows how or why, and whaddya know, Wannabe Jr. is out there with him.  Note unflappable (harharhar) white hen looking on.

 

The Only Chick

The latest broody hen hatched out just one chick.

Unfortunately, she decided she was NOT done sitting on the rest of her eggs, and insistently refused to get up and start mothering, for several days (!).

I attempted to adopt the lone chick into the clutch that hatched four days earlier.  Four days makes a difference – the newer chick is significantly smaller.  I moved the chick in the night and put her under the other hen, but in the morning, I saw the hen pecking the intruder on the head!  Yikes!  Adoption not successful.

What to do?  Take the eggs away?  That could mean killing chicks that are almost baked, as the setting hens usually seem to know when their eggs are alive or not.

Luckily, the mother finally got up off  her eggs and got about the business of early chick education.

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The only chick and mother in the chick cycle rotation.  Upgrade to the chickery.

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I go to put them out in the morning, and she’s laid an egg!  This hen is so ready for more chicks.

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I love this stage where they get a little puff for a tail

 

Chickens in a box- lockdown!

Since the most determined little brown hen got up off her eggs for the second time, right before they were due, toasting another clutch, I finally listened to HW and removed her from the coop and locked her up.  This is her third nearly-complete round, and that’s a long time for her to be sitting and mostly not eating.

Another brown hen went broody at the same time, and I got to them just in time, as each already had an eight egg horde- a little ambitious, but it’s summer, so I let them keep all eight.  Now they are boxed.

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HW and I went back and forth- I have had bad luck when I interfere with them, but it has also not gone well when I don’t interfere with them.  They find ways to screw up; it’s very frustrating.  He told me “just take them out of the coop entirely, then there’s no distractions, no more eggs to steal”.  This means I will have to reintroduce them to the flock, and learning how to go in and out of the coop may be that much harder, but we’ll cross that hurdle once we get some chicks, I suppose.

They are in ventilated boxes next to the door of the greenhouse.  I’m a bit paranoid of them getting too hot in there, and how secure are they in the GH at night?, but so far, so good.  There is always a healthy cooling  draft through the GH.  They each have a fount with their poultry vitamin supplement (chicken Gatorade), and a little bowl of food, which they both consume a little of every day, I’m glad, and I sometimes have to scoop their poop.

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There are four more sister hens and the original white hen (outside), who is a little old lady now.  She seems to have shrunk, so tiny when you pick her up.  Still cranky though.  If any more drop into the broody trance, I’m going to have a whole lineup of bird boxes.

Broody hen egg poachers

Today I open the coop to this mess.

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I’m helping!

How exactly did they get an egg in the fount?

The fount is in there for the determined broody who was settled in.  I thought I’d try out letting her set in the coop.  It’s not going well.

My Silkies are trying.  Very trying.

The last of my originals are the good rooster and the little white hen, who is smaller all the time (shrinking)- a little wraith of a chicken- but still feisty, cranky, and laying.  The other hens are all former chicks, hatched last year, who are now trying to figure out how to become mother hens, but are rather bad at it and do not accept instruction.

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First they all went broody one after the other, in March.  A little early, Missy’s, but, if you must…  They decided to pile up together right at the top of their ramp, a small-brained decision.  Eggs roll, after all.  And the roosters would step on them on their way into the coop.

Then, the egg-thieving began.  These Slkies are champion egg thieves.  It’s an ongoing problem.  At first, the let-no-egg-go-untended ethos seemed good, as when any of the sisters left for a drink or a quick bite, her eggs were promptly grabbed and tucked under a hot furry chicken breast.

Curious how they moved eggs around as they obviously, frequently do, I’d wondered about their egg-rolling methods until I saw them do it, right under my hands.  It turns out the beak and the egg are perfectly adapted to each other when it comes to rolling.  I was shuffling irritated hens around to see what was under them, an egg came into sight, and whisk!  The hen (in my hands) stretched out her beak and flick-rolled that egg into her own collection as fast as a blink.  OK, then!

So these broody sisters were playing egg-snatchers, and sometimes a hen would have no eggs, another would have too many.  The egg arms race.

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“Chicken Gatorade”- poultry multivitamin

I tried to move three of the most committed birds into a shared broody box (still in the coop), but they were having none of it. Two escaped the box and returned to their original precarious choice (top of the ramp), leaving one heroically topping a mound of abandoned eggs.

I was reluctant to take any of them out of the coop because it seems cold to be away from the familial body heat.

I let them have it their way.  It did not go well.  Eggs vanished.  One hen decided to set a clutch way too big for her under the ramp, and when I culled her holdings she restored her stock from who-knows-where.

Eventually all the hens but one gave up and moved on with another phase in their lives.  That one, so determined, sat and sat.  She’s a classy polite little brown lady, like her mom the first brown hen. When it went far too long for anything to be alive under her, I took and broke her eggs, and sadly, half of them were almost finished before they died.  I don’t know why; there must have been some event.  The others were horribly rotten, gah!

She’s so fixed though (I’m hatching a damn egg if it’s the last thing I do!), that I gave her four new eggs, and, worried for her body weight, her own snack bar, which I think she ignores but the other hens polish off.  20160522_073507

A few days later, I was tucking fresh hay around her and peeked- seven eggs!  Sigh, here we go.  I suppose she’s taking them from the other side of the coop where the other ladies are laying and leaving these days.  I have to watch these little birds, but they do not make it easy to help them.

(just after this I resorted to sequestering each hen with about seven eggs in a box of her own in the greenhouse, and the Silkie population is now burgeoning)

RIP little brown hen

I found a dead body in the Silkie coop. At first I thought it was a developing cockerel and wondered the cause.

Only later I realized who was missing- the little brown mama :(

A shame, she was such a good little mother, but I guess it was her time to go. I don’t even know how old she was.

She certainly went out in a blaze of progeny…2015-12-01 11.45.53

White chicks

We’ve got some new chicks!  Little white autumn chicks, from the white hen’s second setting.  It’s late for chicks, I hope they make it.

I made another mistake to add to the bank of learning experience.  Next time, put the hen in the broody box before the chicks hatch!  I was keeping a close eye on her near the end, watching for signs of imminent hatching, but I didn’t put her in a box.  At night I’d seen that all the birds snuggled in around her in her fixed broody position, and I figured that was nice and cozy for her.  It’s getting colder at nights.  I didn’t want to isolate her yet.  Besides, the chicks always stay under mom for 24-48 hours before they start looking out at the world.

But the chicks hatched in the night, and they did not stay under mom for a transition period.

I checked her at night, no hatching.  The next morning when I open the ramp the chickens start filing out, the white hen among them.  What?  Oh no. Look inside the coop- mayhem.  Some older chicks and brown hen huddled in a corner, apparently completely weirded out.  Three white chicks strewn around, one tumbled down the ramp to the bottom, one still on it, one dead.  White hen impassively eating breakfast.

Without thinking too much about it, I crawled awkwardly into the run from the pine tree end the way I have to do on occasion, snatched up the tiny chicks and put them in the kangaroo pocket of my sweatshirt, and  pulled the elastic waistband of my (full disclosure) pajamas up over the shirt and pocket, securing them in there.  Then I walked all over the property for the supplies to assemble the broody box.  Next mistake: have the broody box on deck when nearing the due date.  It took maybe 20 minutes.  The tenor of the panicked cheeping in my pocket changed pretty quickly, though, to a peaceful muttering, so I knew they were content and cozy in there.  The dog could hardly walk for trying to gain more information about what was going on in the vicinity of my belly.

Broody box installed and supplied, then I had to crawl back into the run, capture cranky mom, chuck her in the box and then give her her chicks and unhatched eggs.  2015-10-01 16.55.49

She did not sit on the remaining eggs again, so I cracked them, and they were just rotten eggs, never kindled.  She must have known.  She sat on the other eggs that had chicks, but that died before hatch, for a long time.  Eggs with nearly done chicks in them are much lighter than “liquid” eggs.  They must use up a fair bit of mass expending the energy of living.

The white hen seems to have a two-chick limit.  This time three hatched, one dead, same as last batch.  Now the Silkie flock is dominated by little brown birds, the white ones are the unique, endangered ones.  Hopefully they make it.  She’s in her box now, momming around.

Evening in the coop now:

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A whole crowd of brown chicks, rocking their Arsenio Hall ‘dos (circa 80’s).

More chicks on the way!

The white hen is setting on her second batch! (Actually, she’s due now any day-time flies).

As soon as her two chicks from the first batch were deemed by her old enough to be on their own, she started slinking back into the coop for some “me” time, and laying another clutch.

Five eggs this time, a nice reasonable number.  The brown hen has not been laying, so there are no eggs to steal.  Brown hen is far too busy with six little peepers scampering around her.  She gets no me time.

Her teenage chicks from the first batch are extremely put out, now that she’s setting.

They are no longer allowed to crawl under her at night.  She does her head-down growling thing and slams her wings shut, pressing them to the straw.   No admittance.

We’re just gonna sit on your head then, mom! (Mohawks on full display)

I finally cracked the case

I finally cracked the seven eggs that did not hatch under the white hen when she was sitting on so many.

I think I was afraid of them.

Every single one had a partially developed chick in it.  Some more developed than others.  A shame, but she lost so many because of having too many eggs to keep them all warm to fruition.  For the ones that survived, it was the luck of the draw.  Or the rotation.

It was not as gross as I thought.  At least, there was no bad smell.  All the chick fetuses were in a durable membranous bag that slipped out of the shells when I cracked them.  In fact, they looked still sort of alive.  Sleeping, in stasis.

See the dead chick fetus pictures

Box upgrade for the Brown Brood

Still in small box, new big box at the ready.
Still in small box, new big box at the ready.

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She gets a big roomy box, too, for all that family.  They will stay in here together for a few days, and then the In’s and Out’s will begin again with her.  Now the white hen’s chicks have it all figured out- I can count on them to get in and out of the coop without assistance- I get a short reprieve before it begins again, this time with SIX chicks.

Moving mama.
Moving mama.

It’s nice they are all the same age, too, since she did it right.  I can barely tell the youngest chick, the late hatcher, but there is one a tiny bit smaller.

Two!
Two!
Four!
Four!
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You can see their tiny eggteeth.
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It amazes me that they are so tiny, a third or less the size of a “normal” chick, and yet, there are any number of songbirds that are no larger as adults. A hummingbird egg must be the size of my pinkie fingernail.
Six!  Look at those little wings!
Six! Look at those little wings!

I’ve given them a lovely first meal – quinoa with ground sun and flax seeds, finely grated (zested?) carrot and cucumber.  It was a big hit with the white hen’s chicks, also with chopped apple.  I couldn’t believe how much of it the four of them would consume in a day.  They are only tiny, but they’d polish off a cupful twice a day.  Quinoa is fast becoming the number one choice of bird food around here.

Settling in.
Settling in.

It seems to me that once hatched, the chicks spend at least 24 hours under mom, adjusting or something, before they come out and begin to eat or drink.  It’s not like they just can survive 72 hours on the energy supply from the egg, but that it’s natural for them to have a long transition from egg to outer world.  Even once they were all hatched, it seemed with both hens that it was two days before the chicks started to come spilling out and express interest in what’s beyond mom’s feathers.

Chicks!

Just when I was starting to worry- she’s been sitting on those eggs forever- HW comes in in the morning and says Have you looked under the brown hen lately?  Oh, you’re gonna be excited!

There's a little head in the wing.
There’s a little head in the wing.

FIVE chicks!  Five healthy, brown and mixed (spider markings) chicks.  OMG, so, so SO cute.  And an egg with a tiny hole in it.  I didn’t even know she had six eggs under her.

2015-08-02 07.56.17I peeked at that egg later in the morning and it had a slightly larger hole in it.  A whole day behind the others, though.  Will it hatch?

At coop-closing time, I wiggled my fingers under her to see if there was still an egg, or a shell to pull out.  The hen firmly pushes her wings against the floor, making a barrier (while growling, a most amusing sound).  You can only nudge in under her chest or butt.  All underneath her was tiny legs and little squirming bird bits.  She contains multitudes.  The egg was there, intact.  I pulled it out.

It’s not every day that an egg, in your hand, shouts at you.  It’s disconcerting.  CHEEP!  The bird inside was very much alive.  Although still all crammed in its box without hinges, key or lid, it let me know- it’s alive, and busy.  Put me back!  I swiftly tucked it back in to the mom furnace to finish hatching.

Wow.  A 100% turnout from the brown hen.  She’s smaller, but smarter.

Chicken Mom / The In’s and Out’s.

Sure enough, the first night out, they did not go back into the coop.  Dusk fell, and the rooster finally retired, leaving the hen downstairs, under the coop, settled into her chick-warming shape.  She’d been doing this most of the day, as the chicks could only handle a few minutes scurrying around before running under mom for a warming.

The Silkies have been fortress-ized with hardware cloth for the weasel and bird netting for predator birds.
The Silkies have been fortress-ized with hardware cloth for the weasel and bird netting for predator birds. The whole thing is portable, in two parts.  As HW says, it’s more like a chicken mobile home than a chicken tractor.  “In theory, you can move it, but it’s no fun”. 

Ok, I thought, when I realized she was committed for the night, I’m gonna have to crawl in there.  Since the Silkie fortress is much more robust, it’s also a lot harder for me to access.  I have to climb over at the end by the pine tree, and crabwalk under the bird netting.

I incorporated their favorite pine tree, and anthill, into the fortress
I incorporated their favorite pine tree, and anthill, into the fortress.  The Silkies are so low impact and perfectly happy with a small area, this is very spacious for them.

I take the hen and put her up on the ramp.  She comes flying back down, wings out, on the attack, mad! I scoop up chicks and pass them into the coop as quickly as I can, getting pecked and pinched.  The cheeping is desperate from over my head, and the the rooster is making his excited sounds.  Then I have to grab mom and toss her up on the ramp, and her squawking instantly changes to clucking when she sees her young (How’d they get up here?) and she strolls up into the coop and settles down.  I crabwalk out of the chicken run, hoping this doesn’t go on for weeks like last year.

Evening two:
Almost an exact repeat.  This time I go for the chicks first and deposit them at the top of the ramp.  Then the hen hops up on the ramp and goes up herself.

Evening three:
Yep, same.  Hen settled in under the henhouse, most responsibly keeping her chicks warm.  The chicks are getting faster, but the process of putting them upstairs is smooth now.

Evening four:
That’s what I was afraid of!  The hen’s in the coop, tucked in most comfortably, and all the chicks are huddled under the henhouse, crouching pathetically against the food dish.  I guess three days grace was all they get before…what? They get left to their own devices?  I crawl in and start grabbing the chicks.  Uhoh!  At the sounds of distress, mom comes rocketing down the ramp, on a rampage!  Flying attack beak!  She’s battling me so fiercely, I have to protect the chicks I’m trying to grab with one hand from stabbing beak with the other hand.  I should mention that being attacked by a two-pound hen, even giving all she’s got, is not all that threatening, even while crouched awkwardly in the small space under the coop.  I got, like, one little scratch.

However, when I put the chicks up at the top of the ramp tonight, because they are cold, and mom is at the bottom of the ramp waging war, they come skittering back down, to her, crying.  I may as well be putting marbles on top of the ramp.  Mayhem.

Now here comes the rooster, roused from bed. Finally I toss the chicks into the straw in the coop behind him and their way is mostly blocked by the rooster, and as soon as I get them all up there at once, the hen runs right back up, purring.  Sigh.

Evening five: Exact repeat of evening four.

Evening six:  What’s this?  They are all, magically, in the coop together!  They figured it out!

2015-07-31 19.10.04 2015-07-31 19.10.24So much for the In’s.

But can they get out in the morning?

Morning one:  No, they can’t.  I see the hen patiently going up and down on the ramp, talking to them (she’s such a good mom), but they don’t all figure it out.  Surprisingly, the diminutive white chick makes it down and the brown chicks are left upstairs, confused.  I nudge them down on the ramp and they run down, relieved.

Morning two:  This time one brown chick is left behind.

Morning three:   Interesting.  The white chick is upstairs.  Didn’t she already pass this test?

Morning four:  Yay!  They’re all out!

Morning five:  Not so fast.  Two brown chicks left behind again, confused.  Weird.  They’ve all managed it at least once.

There’s no physical challenge negotiating the ramp.  They seem to have a problem with the visual barrier.  Once the hen goes down the ramp, they can’t see her, and so she must have disappeared.  They can hear her, because she’s right underneath them, but since they can’t see her, they don’t move. If I put them onto the top of the ramp, they don’t drift down the ramp, they just hop back into the straw, unless they catch a glimpse of her.  Then they scamper down like lightning for a warming.   You’re alive! Maybe their little chicken brains just need to develop past the peekaboo stage, where one understands that just because you cannot see it, it does not cease to exist.

Now the brown hen has been placed in her broody box.  The brown hen is a little duchess compared to a cranky fishwife.  The white hen is fierce- irritable, feisty and spitting.  The brown hen is prim and quiet, hunching firmly over her eggs and protesting, but politely, when you touch her.

First day out for the chicks!

Unfortunately, I lost my phone in the woods, so I lost all the pictures of the first day of freedom for the chicks, a lovely sunny day.

2015-07-30 16.03.09By the time these were taken, the chicks were several days older and taller.

I split the (dirty, beat up) broody box open so that the hen could lead the way out, and make her way down the ramp on her own time.  She completely ignored the opening, although the chicks were interested, and quickly began scampering around the rest of the coop.  They move like water bugs.

Ten, twenty minutes later, they’re all still in the box.  I’m hoping to capture wondrous, triumphant first excursion from the coop, first time ever for the chicks, first sunlight in a month for the hen.

An hour later, she’s still in the box.

Two hours.

In the afternoon, HW comments offhand that he sees the chickens are outside.  What chickens?

All the chicks, and mom, are outside, and I missed it all!

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Phew, I get to throw out the dirty broody box they’ve all lived in for a week.

Now, how bad will the daily bedtime return-to-the-coop drama be this year?

Two more chicks!

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There’s the little brown one.
There's the little white one.  It looks like she's been pooped on.
There’s the little white one. It looks like she’s been pooped on.
The two new ones are remarkably smaller than the other chick, only two days older.
The two new ones are remarkably smaller than the other chick, only two days older.

Yay!  Three chicks from the white hen (although two are from stolen eggs)- far better than I expected, and equal to her productivity last year.

I’m pretty sure that will be it for chicks from her, although I’ll leave her her eggs a few more days.   She would know, I think, if there was any life in the remaining eggs and stay on them.   After the first chick, she got even more fierce about sitting on her eggs, as two more were close to done then.  Now she seems to be losing interest in the eggs, or else she’s just very hungry now.

All four of them are in a confinement box now for a few days.

Second broody hen

Ah, yes, the little brown hen is now officially broody.  I’ve been wondering if she’s on her way, as she’s been spending some time every day in the coop, but it seems she was just taking her sweet time laying eggs.

She has five or six under her, a nice reasonable number, unlike someone else we know.

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What? I’m helping.

What’s been very amusing is that she’s been shuffling her eggs every day.  At three eggs, I made a clean straw bowl and put the three scattered eggs in it.  The next day, she moved all three a foot away, and laid another.  The next day, she moved them back.  The next day, relocated again.  Now, she’s back in the “nest” I made, and is settled down.

We really need a chicken cam, to see what goes on in there- all this egg shuffling.  How do they do it?  How long does it take?

It’s kind of cool that they took turns going broody.  Snowball (the rooster) agrees.  He gets SO bored when there are no hens to hang with, and then he starts getting into trouble, deciding to take charge of the red hens, or something.

 

 

Due date dubious

Zen hen knows nothing at all about missing eggs.
Zen hen knows nothing at all about missing eggs.

A few days ago the white broody got really deep into it, no longer leaving the coop in the morning, and assuming a very deep meditative state.  I gave her a bento box and water, and she snacks on it, but at this stage she must must get very serious about her mission.

The cardboard has worked – no more egg thieving.  Her due date has come and gone, and I expect the worst, that she’s lost them all for being too ambitious.  Yet, I hope for some hatching.

I’m waiting for her head to come up, I remember it from last year.  When she starts looking awake, it will be because there’s something going on beneath her.

Thievery in the hen house

Trouble in Silkieland.  There’s been a dirty thief in the hen house, stealing eggs.

I discovered this when I responded to an altercation at the henhouse.  The red hen was complaining vociferously, and I was surprised to find the squabble was going down in the henhouse.

I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I happened to peek under the broody white hen.

This is what I found:

2015-07-05 14.32.34TEN eggs!  So much for leaving her a comfortable number that she can cover completely (four).  She’s been taking the eggs as the brown hen lays them.  If the brown hen is trying to get a clutch together so she can set, no wonder she’s pissed.

Where’s my egg?  I left it RIGHT here!  That’s the sixth one this week!

I don’t know anything about any eggs.  I don’t even like eggs.

What’s really funny to imagine is how the white hen is collecting them from the other side of the coop.  Does she roll them over with her face, or dribble them with her feet?  I’d like to see that.  But sometime during the day while the others are out, she leaves her  eggs and scoots the red hen’s egg across the coop into her pile.

And why?  What goes on in her little poofy head? Does she think OMG; how did one of my eggs get over there?    Or, An egg, all by itself, how sad.  I should adopt that!

At any rate, she now has six of the brown hen’s eggs under her and four of her own, which would be nice if they hatched, but it’s very likely she’s compromised the whole batch by having too many and not being able to keep them all warm.

I had to put up a cardboard visual barrier in the coop, so the little megalomaniac can’t see any of the brown hen’s eggs, and therefore shouldn’t be collecting them any more.

First broody hen

The white Silkie hen went broody today.  That was fast, 24 days after the first egg.

This is great.  She must be feeling good and healthy and content, and it’s a much more appropriate time of year to go broody than last year.

IMGP0396She was way too ambitious, though, sitting on a pile of eggs she couldn’t even cover, like nine of them.  They were spilling out all over, I took half of them away from her.

I know she was broody because touching her provokes, along with a bunch of bird growling, this tail up, face in the straw pose.

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A position she holds after you stop touching her.IMGP0398Not broody, she’d pop right up and run outside.  Today, nothing was moving her.  I cleaned the coop around her and even packed new straw all around her.

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Chick Days

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Sep 10
Hatch day!
Right on time:)  At the end of the day I insisted on preparing the red hen’s box for the arrival of chicks- cleaning out her turd mountain and soggy food and replacing her bedding, and lo and behold, there was peeping!  OMG, peeping!  I picked up the protesting red hen to see and a wet little tadpole of a chick fell out, wriggling on its back like a turtle.  Yay, a chick!
It did seem like she was unusually alert all day.

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Sep 11
Another chick!  A little spotted one, with markings on its back like a spider!  Maybe one of the black hen’s eggs, or the red hen’s.  Yesterday’s chick is white, now that it’s dried out and fluffy.  There’s one more egg with pipping; there’s a little beak visible, but it has not made progress over the day.  They are so, unbelievably cute, and tiny! One little chick is weightless in my hand.

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Sep 12
Well, the results of the ambiguous candling are now officially confirmed.  I removed all the unhatched eggs and looked through them with light again.  The opaque eggs at 15 days were full of chicks, and the clear/translucent eggs were eggs either never fertilized or lost for some reason extremely early.  Three and three.  So the red hen is essentially at 66%, if I gave her three non-viable eggs to start with.  The third chick died, and did not complete hatching, which is too bad.  To get that close!  I unpeeled the shell around it. It is indeed amazing how packed in there they are, and how well developed.  They come out and they function completely- standing, eating, digesting, communicating.  Amazing.

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The two living chicks are toddling around and spending most of their time under mom.  The chicks come and go from under her, vigorously nudging when they want back under until they get let in under a breast or a wing.  She’s still in her broody bedded-down state, and I’m hoping she’ll come out of it now and start mothering.  There’s no plan B if these hens are lousy mothers. I sure hope she’s having them eat and drink when I’m not looking. I’m worried about them falling into even the smallest waterer, and have modified a little tub for mom to drink from.   I held each one to the chick nipple and forced them to have a little drink.  In lieu of chick starter, they have a fruit and veggie chopped salad and cooked quinoa.

IMGP7757Sep 14
Adorable!  The tiny chicks burrow under mom when they get cold, and pop out to look around.  They bounce around their box and peep a lot.  They glug from the water nipple like pros!   Mom is actively participating, very loudly cheeping over new food, poking them under her.   They’ve made a mess of their box scratching the food around, and every day I remove mom’s droppings.  The chicks are so small their turds are about the size of a buckwheat grain. Although even these chicks are huge compared to songbirds, they seem so tiny to me compared to standard day-old chicks.  Already they have their wing feathers appearing on their nubby little wings.
The temperature has dropped a lot, so winter is close enough to smell.   The white hen must be due any day now.  She went broody a few days after the red hen but I didn’t note it exactly.

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Going
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Going
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Almost
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Gone

Sep 15

After a day in Halifax we came home to a new chick!  Already fluffy and poking out from mama’s wing, this one must have hatched early in the day.  We prepped up a new chick box for the white hen and moved her and her eggs into it to finish hatching.  Yay!  I’m counting on more from her.  There’s sure to be another chick by morning.

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Angry Mom

Sep 16
No new chicks in the morning:( I was at work all day, and the text message reports flowed in!  A new chick mid morning!  Another soggy chick in the afternoon!  I came home, and OMG, one of them is smoke grey!  One is very yellow!  So tiny, amazing all over again.  The eggs are cracked in half, opened around the center like a seam, expertly.
Just the few days difference between the sets of chicks and the growth is visible.

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Now there are two mom boxes in the coop and the rooster sleeps between them.  H.W. thinks he must be really forlorn now everyone’s gone.
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It sure seems to me like they’re looking proud!

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Sep 17
The white hen has 75% success.  One of her four eggs failed as well, and similarly close to done.  I cracked the dead egg to see and the nearly completely formed chick was sharing space still with some yolk.  It must have died in the last few days.  But three very alive, and mobile.  The white hen has an amusing defence tactic.  She lowers her head and lifts up her butt and makes angry noises.  She tries to back her chicks into a corner and guard them like this.  The chicks still come leaking out and hopping around, and it doesn’t do anything to stop me from lifting her up to clean under her.

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Goodnight

Nearly hatch time (?)

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It’s getting exciting!  The red hen is almost due.  We did a night mission to candle her eggs, as per the chicken bible. We were later than the midpoint he describes, but what we found: two eggs that look exactly like a normal egg (were they unfertilized?).   An egg with a black dot in it (this must be an egg that kindled then died in very early stages).  An egg opaque with darkness but with an angle in it like a water level (a mystery).  The rest – opaque.  The book says there should be a network of red veins through the egg, and there are dire warnings about dark eggs, that they are rotten and will smell horrendous.  But…what if at this stage, the dark eggs are the ones with chicks in them?  Because we were working fast to pull some out at a time and stuff them back under her before they cooled, we made no decisions, although I think we should have removed the eggs that look unfertilized.  The results were so confusing I just left her all the eggs.  Then I was lamenting that they have probably all failed, so H.W. got to gleefully tell me not to count my chickens before they hatch.

In the interests of continuing to let the white hen do her own thing without interference, we did not look at her eggs.  My money is on her doing better, sans meddling.  All we’ve done for her is lift her and put some layers of cardboard beneath her for insulation.  The nights are cooling off.  The days are blissfully bug-free and perfect for working, but you can feel the approach of winter.  It’s late in the year for chicks, but I won’t argue.  If they hatch, we’ll do our best to assist them in staying warm.

I feel like I put too many eggs under the red hen.  The book said you can put 6 normal size eggs under a banty mama, so I thought 6 bantam eggs would be conservative.  However, a couple of times I’ve seen an egg leaking out from under her, like she’s having trouble staying on them all.

Also, the book says the broody hen, although her appetite is greatly reduced, will get off her eggs periodically to eat, poop and bathe.  Not so the red hen.  She seems so determined to never lift off her eggs she moved them (twice) to where she could sit and reach her food and water dishes at the same time.  Maybe because she “knows” she has too many to keep warm properly?  And she eats, copiously!  Every day she empties her little dish.  This means corresponding pooping, and she won’t get off the eggs for that either, so there’s a wall of poop behind her against the side of the box.  So much for conventions. The moment chicks emerge, if they do, we have to snatch them all out of there for a clean box!

The rooster is just bored out of his mind and won’t shut up.

The white hen got us worried a few days before her due date by appearing outside the coop.  But she got back on her eggs after a dust bath.  I just can’t take another day without a shower!

Broody beginnings

Broody hen embroilments

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Robin the red hen setting, on the floor next to the nest so carefully prepared for her.

The little red hen was settled down on the coop floor again, clearly broody, so I got busy.  I made her a cardboard broody box that fits in a third of the Silkie coop, full of grass and supplied with food and water.  There’s a slightly elevated but shallow next box that I’ll put her and the eggs in.  There’s room for her to get off and eat.

Egg roulette
What eggs to put under her?  Hoping hard that I got a couple of eggs from the poor black hen, I chose six eggs to put under her, including two of the original three she was setting on, which I assume are her own, also which are possibly non-viable, if she was on them long enough to quicken.  All are labelled with their possibilities.  The likelihood is practically an algorithm, but there’s a chance of 1-3 from the black hen, 2-4 from the red hen, and 2-5 from the white hen.  Overall there’s a good possibility of 4 chicks.  If she hatches one chick, I’ll be thrilled.

In the night I set her onto her clutch.  Exciting! When I lifted her up I felt another egg under my fingertips in her belly feathers; I moved it with her.  I’m not entirely sure now how many eggs are under her.   In the morning she hadn’t budged.  She’s deep in broody chicken trance, motionless and flattened out wide over her eggs.  Yay!  The end of August is late in the year but I think still ok.  I wanted these Silkies for their broodiness, and now, they deliver!

Oh no!  In the afternoon I looked and she was settled down on the floor of her box in front of her food.  No!  I’ve read they can have a hard time finding the right nest to get back into- hence the isolation of the broody box.   Not only that, but she’d brought some of the eggs over with her, leaving three behind.  The three left were still warm, so I just lifted her with the eggs she was holding and put her back on the others through some mild protestation.  Her belly was hot!  It seemed bare, too, like her feathers were pulled out or else spread out, so her skin was directly on her eggs.  Now I worry.  Does she know better than I do what eggs she should be setting on, what eggs are viable?  Should I not be adjusting her?

After two days on all the eggs I come back to look at her in the afternoon and she’s back on the floor of her broody box, and this time she’s brought all but one egg with her.  (H.W. is again heartily wishing for a chicken cam.  “They have no hands!?”).  Hmm, she doesn’t seem very good at this.  Fine, she wants to stay there.  I check the egg she left behind and it’s cool.  Sadly, it’s marked as possibly one of the black hens.  I don’t remove it then for some reason, thinking I’ll wait until the evening to further disturb her- I have to feed and water her in the night anyways.  At night I go to minister to her and she’s collected that last egg out of the nest and put it under her!!  Good possibility now that three eggs have been killed by cooling, but she’s in charge, and I’m trying not to meddle.
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The white hen has simultaneously gone broody, bedding down in the floor of the main coop where the red hen did at first.  Her I’m going to leave completely to her own devices.  I don’t know how many eggs she’s on, but they must all be her own.  There’s only the two hens now so they don’t need another separate compartment.  I caught the cock sitting in a nesting box, presumably watching over his broody hens, solving the mystery of who’s been leaving feathers in the nesting boxes.  The hens don’t use them, always laying on the coop floor.

The rooster has been crowing a great deal more, and even going on adventures.  H.W. thinks because he’s awfully bored now.  There’s nothing for him to do with two hens setting.  He even ventured around the field, got in a fight with the big rooster, lost and retreated, got lost, hid under the house, and H.W. had to fish him out and catch him to return him to his domain, knowing I wouldn’t take it well if I came home and another Silkie was lost due to negligence.  He figured Snowball had nothing to take care of on the home front so he came across the field to “regulate” over there.

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Tragedy/Hope

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Today the dog chewed his leash and killed the small black Silkie hen.  I was away working and H.W. left him unattended for barely a moment.

Of course I felt horrible.  We introduced a predator to the farm and then failed to protect our tiny, vulnerable charges.  They have a house secure enough for wild animals, and they’re attacked by a domestic one.  Naturally the dog got “tuned” for his crime, but it’s his nature to hunt, our responsibility to train him otherwise.  And a little fluffy innocent life is gone because of a mistake.
I’ve ordered a poultry net to put around the Silkies; it can’t arrive fast enough.

Same day, the red hen went broody, and I broke her up by accident!  I thought she might be hurt, crouched unusually on the floor of the coop, and I stroked her.  She jumped up with a peep revealing three hot eggs she’d been on, and when I checked later she was on the roost, not on her eggs.