What have we here? A pile of chicks trying to perch like grownups on the coop, next to mom.
But look closer. Who’s that IN the greenhouse? I don’t know how the F they got in there, maybe the gap above the screendoor?, but there were three little guineas on the door header on the wrong side. Frantic!
I get involved, scare them off the door, thinking they’ll come out the open door after they’re on the ground. Nyoooo! Mom is on the ground now too, so they run towards her and out of my sight behind the cucumbers.
Mom can see them running back and forth through the plastic and starts pecking at them. Naughty! Get out of there! Chicks: We can’t, we can’t!
The plastic is like the skin of a drum, and her pecking it is frightening the daylights out of the chicks. Boom! Boom! It’s frightening me too.
HW swings around outside to get Mom to cease and desist, I undo the wiggle wire on that corner, and after rattling the cucumber vines, the chicks come popping out the hole and it’s all over but the storytelling.
The wild Oreos and their fluffy stepmom no longer slip under the fence into Pigland but are content in the partially desertified former Pigland. They tower over mom now. One is coming into slate shingle colouring, and the other has developed coppery neck feathers.
The light is shortening, and it’s that glorious time of year when when the chickens feel like going to bed lines up with when I want to go to bed. Midsummer is awful. The chickens outlast me every day. I’ll be so tired I’m struggling to stay awake long enough to close them up, because they’re out there hopping around! Not a care in the world! SO not ready for bed. Today, I’m like, What? Are you guys seriously all in bed at 8:20!? I could weep with joy.
Inside the greenhouse Brown Bonnet is proudly bringing up 7 chicks.
These chicks have a different start because instead of chickery time, when they first emerged I lifted her box out of the fence because she was sharing, and trusted mama not to lose any chicks in the jungle.
Funny, the first three days, she barely went two feet from the box. Now she’s using half of the tomato aisle as the chicks increase in ability. Soon they will be anywhere, and I’ll think twice about slinging buckets of water.
At night they all go back in the box to sleep, which is adorable. They are going to be so wild, never getting the daily airlift touching.
The world got a thorough washing yesterday, with spectacular lightning and thundering, and possibly 90mm of rain here.
I filled every vessel I had; the wheelbarrow filled in about 10 seconds it was coming so hard. The paths were all rivers during the worst of it.
All the chickens were hiding under their tents, even the guinea chicks.
In the greenhouse, new mama has a little entourage of chicks in the tomato forest. One had a beakful of tomato, quite proud of itself. I know they are going to taste test all the ripe tomatoes they can reach. Oh well.
Later on, the sun came out. The guinea chicks are growing by the day and getting tamer, slowly. They learned to fly up onto the hen coop, and were practicing that, flying up, jumping off.
There’s the guinea keets this morning, practicing perching on the feet of the guinea sky-coop. They grow by the day.
HW has raised the issue of what happens when all these guineas grow up. Case in point, when they start hollering about something, it’s “How do you think 20 of those are going to sound?”, and “What happens when all those guineas decide to sleep on top of the coop?” and the most difficult: “So, if you had two hens this year and they had 16 babies, then what happens next year when all those hens are grown up, and they have….how many babies are they gonna have?”
Over and over, all I get to see is lots of little guineas vanishing into the brush.This morning, they were under the chicken’s coop before I opened it.
They have little wings of their own now, and they are at least doubled in size from when they hatched. Still with Big Bird orange feet and beaks.
I can’t believe one hen can cover them at night, and I think of her when it pours cats and dogs at night, resolutely making herself into a tent. In the morning, all the chicks are dry.
They still move en masse, attended constantly by all five adults. They get superlative parenting.
They aren’t quite as terrified of us, and I got closer today than ever before. Now they leave when I come around, rather than flee. Not quite as much of a panic. And the adults show their suspicion but are more tolerant.
I even got a chance to count them! and there are definitely 16, so that means that little spinaround chick made it. I’m glad:)
The Blondies have seemingly recovered from the loss of their mom. It was a very sad few days, for everyone, but they’ve come out from hiding in the bush.
It’s still sad, that they’re orphaned. No guardian, no snuggling in the dust bath. They used to cheep all the time, and seem to instinctively know that cheeping is maladaptive when you’re alone in the world. They don’t cheep very much now.
They are miniature chickens, grown up early. They stick together and go all over foraging. They loosely hang with the Silkies, and go in the coop at night, but they are their own clique, and they’re still just little!
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.
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.
And then four hens decided to hang out in the woodshed, even though it wasn´t raining.
I haven’t even gotten everything into my garden yet, and tomatoes are already forming in the greenhouse. I’ve also canned a round of rhubarb. I think it’s not good when the harvest starts before the planting is done. Better…next…year.
In the meantime, my greenhouse companions, the Blondies, are joyously scritching around in the heavy mulch, until it gets too hot and I kick them outside for the day.
One chick decided to have a dust bath. Very funny – a chick the size of a tennis ball taking a dust bath. Really into it. I’ve not seen a little chick dust bathe before.
They’re getting their wing feathers and little stubby tails.
I think, maybe once, this mom and the Blondies got put to bed in the box. As soon as I put the chickery outside, it started raining, so I turned them loose in the greenhouse, which they love, for the rain days.
But here they are, as dusk falls, all in the box. This is where we sleep.
I wish I could have seen how that went down. OK, kids, time to get in the box! That´s quite a jump.
And then, in the morning, they´re all out of the box and back to work!
To the tomato forest!
They love the tomato forest. So much mulch to kick around.
I turfed them all out into the big world, though, because it was too hot in the greenhouse. Even though they were all hiding under a squash leaf.
They got readmitted late afternoon, and tonight, they´re all back in the box!
The Oreos are practically grownup now, or at least think they are.
First, they graduated to the chickery, as all chicks do at about three days old. That means a nightly grab and go from the chickery to a box in the greenhouse for the night.
So cute, with their little wing feathers coming in. One is turning grey quite rapidly.
Chicken selfie – Mom under one arm with a handful of chicks.
Look at those beautiful little wings!
Into the box.
I throw a lid over them for the night and first thing in the morning, it´s an aerial transport back outside to the chickery.
Then the rains came.
I figured that the stuff growing in the greenhouse was big enough to not be threatened by one tiny hen and two chicks, so instead of bringing the chickery into the greenhouse, I just turned the three of them loose inside.
Oh, what good times.
I had a good time working in the greenhouse with my feathered company. Non stop clucking and peeping. The chicks just tweet tweet constantly.
Mom was quite fond of settling down on the edge of the wall like this, and I knew how the water level had been known to come up and pool in the greenhouse in heavy rains like this.
In the dark I went out with a light, planning to set them on high ground or in a box. I found mom and chicks not tucked against the wall, but on the very top of a mountain of straw, her personal Ararat. She´s no dummy.
The chicks got three whole days in the greenhouse, rummaging around in the straw, tugging on tomato plants, and scampering along the wooden baseboards.
And then, suddenly, they integrated themselves into the greater chicken society.
Luckily, I was outside with them when it happened. As usual, I glanced over, checking for both chicks, and there was only one chick! Mom was pacing against the wall of the greenhouse, starting to get distressed. Where´s the other chick!!?
(Music of doom):
The chipmunk hole!
I went outside. There was the chick, walking up and down the path on the wrong side of the greenhouse wall!
I tried to catch it.
The chick quite smartly scurried into the shrubbery. Well then, it´s time to be outside, I guess.
Then I tried to catch Mom. Phew! That failed miserably, so I caught the other chick instead and introduced it to the shrubbery where it scurried off to join its sibling.
Mom I had to chase and coax until she hopped out the door on her own, where the lovesick roosters were waiting for her, and she ran off into the wrong set of shrubs. I did some more chasing, until she went into the same clump the chicks were last seen in.
Good. I peered into the bushes looking for the happy family. I could see her, but not the chicks! I eventually found them – they were perched up off the ground on bent branches, already pretending to be real birds.
At night I opened the door of the greenhouse and Mom came around and hopped back in. This is where we spend the night. The third night I came to let her into the greenhouse and…. just one chick hanging around underneath the coop.
A: Wow! That´s got to be a first, a hen deciding to go to bed in a different place than the night before! Not only that, a coop she hasn´t slept in for months, in a new location.
B: Here we go again with the nightly chicks left outside drill – but I was wrong! As soon as I came around the loose chick started distress peeping, and mom popped outside immediately, bristling. What´s going on out here!? The second chick popped out behind her. I hid behind a bush to watch. Both chicks gathered up again, she coached them up the ramp together (!!!!). WOW!
Never before! First night! On her own initiative! She deserves a good chicken mom medal!
And I was worried she was a little inbred, with her head puff not as puffy as the others. They´re actually getting smarter!
Now the Oreos are right independent. Mom opted to sleep in the small coop with the Brahma hens. She takes the nest box at night with the chicks.
(There´s jean jacket hen) – when it rains I have to make a few rain tents for everyone.
Mom and the Oreos are rather wild these days. Hard to catch on camera. I get distance sightings.
So far so good.
They´re often off on their own, in the pasture, roaming rather farther than the other hens tend to.
Once I found the Oreos inside the pig zone, Mom running up and down on the outside of the electric fence. The chicks had just slipped through it.
She wasn´t alone! One of the guinea cocks was pacing back and forth right next to her, for all the world also worried about the chicks (!?!). I was aghast, of course, at the situation, but the chicks popped right back through the fence when I came on the scene, and the guinea quickly resumed ignoring them all. Different species.
Next time Mom was on the inside, chicks outside, I don´t know how she did that, and as I approached, so did the pigs. Terrified, she plunged through the fence, tangling her leg in it and shrieking. The pigs came up – I was totally worried that they would harm her, but they only nosed her, curious grunting, as I untangled her to run off again.
The Oreos are already getting up on their own in the morning, coming out before Mom, and running off from her. They stick to each other like glue, though.
It was supposed to be a nice day, so Mom and the Oreos (Thanks for naming them, Mom) got to move outside! I transplanted the chickery from the arid hard packed environment of the greenhouse, where they spent a couple days, to the outdoors it was designed for.
Mom was so excited about grass – I can believe it- she was broody for so long she´d probably forgotten about grass – that when I lowered her into place she didn´t take a single step, just started gobbling grass where I set her.
Then the roosters came. The two remaining “exile” roosters, that stay apart from the main flock, and continue to sleep in the small coop, alone (I´m waiting for an opportunity to rehome them), lost no time discovering the new mama.
They made fools of themselves staring longingly through the mesh and giving some dancing performances.
I don´t get it myself, but she´s always been very popular.
They were resoundingly ignored by the object of their attention, but hovered around devotedly all day.
Will it rain or won´t it? Foggy, misty day – the chickery gets a rain cape.
When evening fell and mama settled down for the night, she and the Oreos got airlifted into a bucket to go in the warmer greenhouse for the night.
She was not impressed. I´ve never used a bucket before. The bucket is not very roomy, but it was handy (I got her a box tonight).
I can’t believe it but I’m SO happy. ALL MY BIRDS ARE GETTING ALONG! The one silver lining to the loss of my big rooster is that I don’t have to segregate my birds. Two winters I’ve attempted to divide the greenhouse into two territories, Silkieland and Layerland. I say attempted because there were always breaches no matter what I tried.
First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.
Then there were the two Silkie moms and their nine chicks between them, who got to stay in the greenhouse mostly because of inclement weather.
Then I moved in the layer coop, the day after the rooster was killed. The Silkies had the yard outside for a week of lovely weather, from whence they could see inside through the screen door.
Next I opened the door dividing the flocks, and waited to see what would happen. A few red hens popped out, looked around, ate some grass, and went back in. Hey, the guineas came outside, flew over the fence, and were walking around the other door looking confused. The Silkies did not drift into the greenhouse.
The next morning, the Silkie rooster came barrelling inside when I opened the layer coop. The reason: one of his hens is sleeping in the wrong coop. He chased her a merry race and taught her a lesson, and then raced back outside, where the other rooster was taking advantage of his absence to get some. Life’s hectic for Snowball. He’s got a lot of responsibilities.
They did not integrate on their own until, due to a bad forecast, we lifted the Silkie coop into the GH. These long-suffering coops (Oh, they’ll last a year) are still enduring, still doing their job.
And then, miracles! they all just … got along. The layers drink side by side with the guineas, and the chicks are all up in the middle of everything, as they always have been. Infants of any species seem to get big tolerance passes. They can poop anywhere they like and be grabby and no one pecks them. The guineas are smaller than the layers right now, but they seem to know that’s a temporary state of affairs, and they face off. Staredowns, with their necks stuck out. I’m gonna be bigger than you real soon.
The layers are a bit bossy to the Silkies, but I’ve also seen the rooster run off a rude big hen. YES. I’m so glad it’s working!
Often the guineas are up on the haybales, just watching everyone else.
They still move as an inseparable unit, even if they’re doing different things. Some will be drinking, or eating, and the others will be curled up resting, but right next to them, and then they will all shuffle along together to the next stop.
Now there are five. One guinea disappeared as a very small chick, in the first few days. Actually vanished – I’ve never found a body, and there were no signs of foul play. In September, I found one hen dead in the morning, of unknown causes, like she died in her sleep. All the others came shuffling out of their hay-cave, and one was left, still. I believe there are now two guinea cocks and three guinea hens, judging by size – the differential is growing.
They look much like turkeys to me now, with bald-ish necks, sparse feathers, and they stick their heads out long. So funny/cute! They are “the Africans” or the “little clowns” because they do funny stuff. They are starting to make their weird sounds, and 5pm is the time to practice, every day. Can hear them ten acres away, shouting.
I “cleaned it up” some in the GH. Made some chicken play structures, which they dutifully appreciate.
All the vegetative debris and dead tomato/squash vines are just entertainment for them. Places to run around and hide, and lose a pursuing rooster. They pull down old tomatoes, eat any leftovers, dig, and dirt bathe. It’s a big party. The cardboard boxes too. They always like standing up on things.
There’s still a truckload of wood chips in there that I pushed aside to plant in, and a great deal of hay, so lots of carbon, and I’ll bring in more if I need to. It smells good, not like a chicken concentration camp. My hens will lay all winter in the greenhouse.
At first the layers weren’t sure. They weren’t allowed in the GH all summer, now they aren’t allowed out? They like to slip out the door behind me when I carry something in. Then five minutes later they’re outside standing on one foot in the frost, looking at me. This was a bad idea! All the food’s in there!
Soon I’m going to introduce a new rooster. He’s a gorgeous young bird, a Copper Maran, big but gentle. I’ve been telling my hens I’m about to set them up with him. I have a younger man for you to meet! I’m hoping that if he’s introduced to an unfamiliar room where the Silkie rooster already rules the roost, they won’t have a bloodbath fight. Because the Silkie would lose. This is why I’ve had to keep the flocks separate before.
I know that the space is too big for one rooster to rule, because the second rooster has started to crow! The poor, put-upon, brown beta rooster, who’s molting with anxiety, has enough literal space now to figuratively spread his wings. I hope to give them each a flock and enclosure of their own next year.
All the birds love salad. I thought I was just being lazy, letting a patch of salad greens go to seed, the mizuna growing into beachball sized clouds, and mustard greens into stalks my height and as thick as my wrist that tipped over under their own weight, but I was actually being brilliantly foresightful. I’m going to do it on purpose next year. The chickens love a good salad. I carry in an armload of greens, sprinkle it in a line along the open side of the GH, and all the birds move in, ripping and picking, all mixed up together in inter-avian harmony. Makes it quiet real quick.
The Silkies especially think that the thing to do with turnip tops is to pick them up and whack! them on the ground. It’s not the usual chicken lift and drop, it’s very aggressive, like they’re flail threshing. What’s really funny is a chick trying to do it to a foot-long turnip frond. That’s like a person taking a 30 foot pine tree and whacking it on the ground. It works about as well for the chick, but they try.
I thought they might be into cold-hardy greens considering what they did to the volunteer kale.
The incursion of the birds has pushed out the rodent population, as I hoped. The numbers are now down to one very bold resident squirrel. I hope he gets pecked. Chipmunks are gone.
Now that the coops are in the greenhouse the first Silkie with aspirations above her station has told a friend. Two Silkies are going into the layer hens’ coop to lay eggs! The one is still sleeping in there. Her chicks are convinced they sleep in the cardboard box still, and every night have to be chucked into their coop.
In the morning, I let the Silkies out first while I do everything, to give them a little advantage, first beak in the trough, before opening the layers. They know. They can hear, and they grumble! The rooster comes and waits at the bottom of the ramp for the Silkie hen to traipse out, then he pounces! Every morning. He knows she’s in there.
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.
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.
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.
Few things incite as much excitement as giving cucumbers to the Silkies.
The rooster loses his mind chirping, and all the little furballs go scurrying around, grab and going with a cucumber round, crying if they can’t find one (especially the chicks – they know something excellent is happening and they’re missing out), trying to find someplace private to eat their cucumber if they have one….
I have to distribute enough slices so that everyone has at least one.
Then it gets real quiet.
Until they start to get Cucumber is Greener on the Other Side ideas.
They hollow out the centers first, sometimes leaving the outer rings until the next day.
We have a new hatch record. I allowed this hen to set on 10 eggs, a compromise between the 7 or 8 i usually allow them to have, and the 20+ they try to cover. She’s one of the largest hens, and she hatched out nine of them!
Most of the time once they’re out of the egg they’re home free, but this time, two died in the first few days (both white ones). They spent a full three days hatching, so they are now five to seven days old, and already have proper little wings growing in.
When I go to put them back in the greenhouse in the evening I find this:
The chicks are coming and going from underneath mom like she’s a roof, and she’s sedately being a shelter.
Center front is a popular location.
When I’m about to transport them to the greenhouse for the night, they all come spilling out.
First I airlift mom out, then I come back for the chicks, who are acting forlorn.
They much prefer to be picked up all together in a big two handed pile. The last batch of five quietly allowed me to scoop them all up at once right up until they were big enough for the big coop, but seven all at once proves too many.
Good, because I can’t take pictures with two hands full.
Into the box for the night.
New occupants ready for the chickery means the former denizens, the last batch, got moved up to the big house last night. Even at midnight, mom was feisty, flapping around, so I stuffed her under my sweatshirt (I wanted to move mom and chicks in one shipment so as to only open the coop once). She started scratching around and climbing the inside of my shirt until she had her head stuck down my sleeve. Ok then. Apparently contented, she cooed as I stuffed the chicks one at a time into the roo pocket of my sweatshirt. Chicks always seem to like it in there. Then I dropped her into the coop, the rooster shuffling sideways on the perch to give me more than enough room, and shoveled the chicks under her. All done.
Another box has started peeping – the peeping in that end of the greenhouse is my first clue there’s been a hatching. Mother hen is maintaining eye contact from the background.
This summer, except for the only chick, the hens have all hatched 5 or 6 chicks from 7 or 8 eggs, and if there’s an odd number, it’s to the advantage of white. The white hen (only one, of two, has gone broody), is a terrible setter (three times failed) while the brown hens are all models of success, although none of them have ever done it before. All the brown hens are last summer’s chicks – baby pictures. But the whites seem to get their eggs in the right place, like cuckoos.
This is the strenuous objection pose. They press their wings down into the floor as a barrier so hard their body tips up until they practically do a headstand.
This hen was in the playpen for minutes before she dug through the chip layer and started writhing around, spraying dirt all over her chicks, who huddled in the corner. You know how long it’s been since I had a shower?!
First comes the broody hen. Usually I find her staunchly defending her post on at least twenty eggs, spread out like a feather pancake futilely trying to cover them all.
They have no restraint. That’s why she goes in the box. I let her keep seven or eight eggs, and make up a bunk with hay and a glass of water and a dish of food. At times I have three boxes all lined up. In there each hen “sleeps” in her broody trance uninterrupted except for getting her vittles refreshed.
Then they hatch. Immediately, I move the whole family and unhatched eggs into a fresh box. That broody box has all poop and spilled feed and water under the hay, so they need a clean box to start life in. I find it takes two days usually for all the birds to hatch, and the chicks take it easy those first couple days, spending their time dozing under mom, transitioning to life outside the shell.
Then the chicks decide to pop out from underwing, and start hopping around, jumping in the water and stuff. They get another day or two in a more sizable box, with room to run around and spill all the food. Sometimes the hen is still sitting on an egg, but she will very soon give it up and start mothering.
Next they go into the indoor playpen, which is just a big box opened up against the screen door for ventilation, and arranged on the greenhouse floor, which is dirt, of course, and a layer of wood chips. Now the mom will start to teach chicken life skills. Scratching, drinking. The beak sweep, the beak wipe.
She can see the world out there through the screen door.
After a few days in the playpen, then they all go in the chickery.
Whoohoo! Grass! This is a frabjous day.
At night, I have to lift all the chicks and mom into a box and shut them in the greenhouse overnight, for safety. In the morning, I carry a cheeping box back outside and empty it into the chickery.
This hen thinks I’ve slept in too long, and it’s high time that they get let outside.
Eventually, after a week, two, or more, or single parenting, the family will be put into Silkieland with the main flock. I have to say, it’s working great. Waiting until the chicks are older to put them in the coop avoids the daily in and out woes. Their little chicken brains are developed enough after the chickery daycare to learn how to go in and out quite rapidly.
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.
The only chick and mother in the chick cycle rotation. Upgrade to the chickery.
I go to put them out in the morning, and she’s laid an egg! This hen is so ready for more chicks.
I made a floorless chick pen! It’s pretty simple. Four uprights, the same size, and then eight horizontals, made of lath. It’s two feet tall, and I know that because I used one continuous piece of three foot (1/4″) hardware cloth, slit the corners up 12″, and folded them out.
The hardware cloth is actually stapled between the lath and the uprights, for anyone looking real close, so it’s very much secured there.
It’s not exactly a tractor, but it’s very portable. I put it out in the field, and eight rocks hold down the outflaps of hardware cloth, so that chicks can’t tunnel under the edge, and predators are likely to find it inconvenient to get under the edge too, should they come around in the day.
It takes only a couple minutes to move all the rocks off, relocate it, and replace the rocks.
This is going to be the middle stage of the Chick Cycle. I want the chicks to be outside as soon as possible, but it’s proved dangerous in the past to put them in with the whole flock when they are tiny, so this is a middle stage.
Let’s see who’s under that wing…One little baby. Let’s look farther under the feather curtain…A whole mess of chicks and shells… This damp little guy was still attached to his shell with a piece of the shell membrane wrapped around his leg- yikes!All free.And all the broken vacant shells cleaned out from under Mom.
The white chicks are like the 6th or 7th children compared to the firstborn- they don’t get as much attention, and it’s harder to keep track of them. How many of them are there, even?
These chicks happen to be giving star chick performances, though, and/or the white hen has upped her mom game.
Just when I had my theory all firmed up, that chicks have a developmental stage, much like babies and peekaboo, when they grasp that just because they can’t see mom, it does not mean she has ceased to exist. Which if you think about it must be one of life’s epiphanies of the largest order of magnitude, but we’re too young to remember.
Anyways, that dawn of realization seems to happen in chicks around a week-ten days, which means a few days of morning and evening chick rescue in the interim until they can comprehend corners. She’s GONE! AllislostWe’regoingtoDIEEEEE! … Oh, there she is.
With this pair of chicks, I’ve only had to crawl under the coop once- once! to stuff abandoned chicks upstairs after mom’s gone to bed without them. Likewise, only once had to shoo a chick out of the coop after mom left for breakfast without her young keeping up.
I worried a bit about the reaction of the teenagers to the tiny and vulnerable, but the small chicks (SO tiny) are all up in the mix, scampering and flitting like water bugs, no problems.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
So 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.