The first egg hatched Thursday, the last one (which died halfway through) was on Sunday. By Monday, the box I had used as the first brooder was beginning to look too small. I had 9 chicks in there—though the female Longbar was still looking very weak and wasn’t feeding on her own. I began to feed her yolk every hour, in one last attempt to give her enough energy to recover. The males are fine, but smaller than I was expecting. Apparently, they are a fairly rare breed, so perhaps they are difficult to raise, which is a shame (I really want some of those lovely blue eggs!)
I moved an old dog crate down from one of the coops. It was covered in cobwebs and old bits of straw, so it needed a good clean. I placed it on its side, with the door at the top, so I can easily change the food and water pots. The gaps between the bars are currently too big (though the chicks will soon grow) so I wedged fine mesh fencing inside (cutting my fingers as I did so).
The chicks still need to be fairly close to the heat-lamp, so I put some upturned washing up bowls in the bottom, then covered them with hay, hence raising the height. I dragged the whole lot over an old piece of sacking (because the last time I had chicks in the garage, I left a mucky stain on the garage floor, and for some reason this matters…)
I find that I waste a lot of time when I have new chicks. They are wonderful to watch; I can spend ages staring at them. When they first went into the bigger cage, they were very anxious, and all huddled together under the red light. I checked them after an hour, and they were going bananas! The Leghorns were rushing full speed in circles, round and round the cage, excited to have so much space. The Speckled Sussex are already growing wing feathers, and keep testing them—they’ll be flying before I know it, so I need to keep the door/lid shut. I am supposed to be proofreading my farm book, Ploughing Through Rainbows, which will be published imminently, but watching chicks is way more exciting.
When I came down this morning, the female Legbar had died. What a shame. At least I know that I gave her every chance to survive. Sometimes a chick is doomed from the start, perhaps something internal didn’t ever develop properly, or maybe something was injured during the hatch; you get rather accustomed to death when dealing with animals, life is very precarious.
The remaining 8 chicks are all vibrant and growing well. They run madly around the cage, eat and drink independently, and then suddenly, with no warning, will close their eyes and be asleep. They are still clustering under the lamp to sleep, so it’s not time to raise it yet (as they develop feathers, I will move the lamp further and further away, until they no longer need it.
My next problem is how to introduce them to the established flock. My plan was to add them to the broody hen’s nest. However, due to the weak chick, I delayed this (as she would definitely have died, and I wanted to give her a chance). I now have rather large chicks. I could still attempt to smuggle them into the nest and hope the hen doesn’t notice—but she will then abandon her own eggs, and I feel a little uneasy about in effect killing unhatched eggs which must be almost fully developed (she has 2 potentially fertile ones). However, if I wait many more days, the chicks will be too big. I can then introduce them as ‘teenagers’, when they are feathered and more robust but still submissive. They’ll have a horrid few days while the adult chickens establish the pecking order (basically by pecking the young ones and hurting them) but then should be accepted into the flock. If I don’t do that, they will form a separate flock of adults, and will fight if I attempt to combine them with the established flock (and chickens will fight until one dies, so I don’t want that to happen).
I threaded a stick through the bars of the cage, so that the chicks learn how to use a perch. It’s much safer when they’re adults if they’re accustomed to roosting somewhere high (especially if for some reason they’re not in the cage at night). They were very interested in the stick, and pecked it.
The flight feathers are beginning to grow, so the Speckled Sussex now have patterned sides.
The chicks are using the stick (perch) as a hurdle, and seem to enjoy leaping over it.
The outside nest stinks—obviously at least one egg has gone bad. The plan was for the broody hen to accept the incubator chicks with her own hatchlings (she has 2 fertile eggs from Ebay, and several of her own, infertile ones). But, if she abandons the nest due to bad eggs, she will also lose her nurturing instincts.
I donned heavy duty gardening gloves and a coat (despite hot weather) and went to tackle the nest. Hen extremely angry, and fluffed up her feathers, and swore, and attacked me—all rather scary. Even when I moved away, she was flying at me and pecking. In the end, I trapped her under an upturned crate for a few minutes, so I could remove the eggs from the nest. I threw away all the bad eggs (one was so bad, that as I put it into a bucket, it exploded, covering me in extremely stinky pale yellow stuff.
I released the hen, who fluffed her way back to the nest and turned the remaining eggs. I wasn’t sure if she would begin to abandon the nest, so decided to try adding the chicks. I selected one male Legbar, briefly covered the hen’s eyes with a flowerpot, and placed the chick next to her on the nest, with one of her feathers on its back. Then I stepped back, and waited…
The chick was cheeping for its family, the hen was making a sort of low growl—which I didn’t know if it was a warning or a comforting sound (I don’t speak ‘chicken’). They stayed, a small distance from each other, not moving, for ages. I went to have lunch.
Returned after lunch (I still smell of rotten egg) and the chick had disappeared. Had the hen killed/eaten it, or was it safely underneath her? I watched for ages, and eventually, the chick’s head appeared from under the hen. Phew! It was safe. I collected another chick, and left it on the edge of the nest (the mother hisses when I go near—I am beginning to learn ‘chicken’ language).
The second chick was accepted, so I began to add another chick every half hour. Each time, the chick cheeped, the hen made her low growling noise, the chick gradually drew nearer (I’m guessing because she was warm) until the chick was actually leaning against her, crawling under her, climbing on her. All seemed to be going well, and I was feeling extremely relieved.
Although the chicks are cute, the next couple of weeks will be hard work if they remain inside. They will grow very fast, and produce lots of poop, so I will have to replace the hay frequently. Then I will need to gradually acclimatise them to outside, with trips of increasing length to the aviary (transporting them is always adventure, watched on all sides by 4 cats). My life is so much easier if a hen adopts them.
I then had a problem. I introduced the first big white Leghorn chick, and the hen hated it. She wouldn’t let it near the nest, and when it approached, she pecked it. I have no idea why, maybe it smelled different, maybe I had introduced the chicks too quickly. Whatever the reason, she suddenly turned against the chicks she had previously accepted, and started to peck them too. They ran away and hid in a corner.
I decided to leave. Perhaps, as the chicks grew cold and cheeped, the hen’s maternal instincts would surface and she would care for them. I didn’t think she would actually kill them.
An hour later, all the chicks were huddled in a corner, trying to climb under each other to get warm. The hen was ignoring them. I tried to put the first chick close to her, but she pecked at it. I left them until the evening.
At 6pm it was getting too cold for the chicks to be out without a heat source, and the hen was refusing to adopt them. I put them all into a big flowerpot and carried them back to the heat lamp in the garage. What a shame.
The chicks are using their wings, and fluttering all around the cage. One Leghorn has found the perch, and flies up to stand on it. The others are trying to copy. As I clean them out, the level of the hay will get lower and therefore further from the lamp, so the warmest place will be on the perch, which should encourage them to roost on the perch at night. (If the mother had adopted them, she would naturally take them on the perch to roost when they had feathers. Such a shame she rejected them.)
The chicks seem bigger every day. Today, I decided I would put them outside for a couple of hours, to start preparing them for when they’re outside permanently. I first checked the hen, and got bit of a surprise. The infertile eggs she’s been sitting on were obviously not all infertile, as today she had chicks. They are tiny, and beautiful, and she would not let me see them (I think she has 7). When I went into the cage, to add chick-crumb and water, the hen flew at me, beak pecking, trying to kill me. In her fury she scattered the chicks, and one was injured, I think its leg is broken. The hen bustled back to the nest with her chicks, and I rescued the injured one from where it was hiding under a crate. I put the big chicks outside, and put the injured hatchling under the heat lamp to recover.
When I returned to the garden, the chicks were all huddled together in a corner, looking cold—I don’t think they’re very keen on the outside! But they’re getting too big for the garage really, so will have to start spending days in the garden. I’m off to Poland for the weekend, so Son is looking after them while I’m away (I’m not quite sure how to mention that he now has 7 extra to care for…I might not saying anything and let him discover them when he goes to feed the hen!)
Thank you for reading. On Monday I will tell you about our trip to Krakow.
Love, Anne x