Being Bitten in the Garden


Just a quick post to let you know how things are progressing in the garden – because things are all changing fast!

The six outside chicks are all doing well, and spend their days digging in the mud with mother hen, and snuggled underneath her in the nesting box at night. They regularly kick mud over their food and water, so it’s impossible to keep them clean. Whenever I go into the cage, the mother becomes very scary, and runs at me with her feathers all fluffed up, so cleaning out the water several times a day is less attractive than you might think. When I don’t back off, she gathers them all underneath her, and sits there, glaring at me. The chicks are unaffected, and like to come and see what I’m doing. I do hope they are not all cockerels.

The chick I helped to hatch didn’t survive. He lasted a few days, and we called him Gerald. The second day he was quite perky, and cheeped very loudly, but he never learnt to eat independently. Then I didn’t put the heat lamp on one night, because I thought it was warm enough, and in the morning he was very weak and very cold. I felt so guilty. He died a few hours later. That’s the trouble with animals—you don’t get many chances if you mess up.

The pond is looking pretty already, though needs some border plants to grow. The floating plant I bought, which I think is called a ‘water lettuce’ is doing well, and sending out shoots. The ducks are still caged (I’ll let them out soon, when I think the fox cabs have grown up and left) so the plants are all growing and not being eaten. Not sure how many will survive the ducks (none, I am guessing).

However, one thing that’s also growing well without the ducks to eat it, is mosquito larvae. The pond is crawling with them. Completely awful. I think every mosquito within a mile has been looking for water to lay in, and a nice new pond with no ducks seemed like a great place. We needed to get rid of them quickly, as once they develop into mosquitoes, they will be a right nuisance, and I don’t think we have enough bats in the nearby trees to eat them all.

We looked online for possible solutions, but they all seemed to be either chemicals that would hurt the ducks, or available only in the US, so wouldn’t arrive before the larvae develop. We decided to buy some fish. I am pretty sure the ducks will eat them, though the man in the shop assured us: “Ducks won’t touch them”. We shall see. At least they will eat lots of larvae before the ducks are released. It would be rather lovely if they do survive. We bought fairly small ones because (they were cheap) the bigger ones are more sensitive. This family doesn’t do very well with ‘sensitive’.

Thanks for reading. I’ll let you know how things develop.

Take care, and don’t get bitten.
Love,
Anne x

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Exciting News!


Well, when I went to feed the birds this morning, there, wandering around the aviary was mother hen with six chicks. They are so cute, at that fluffy, long-legged stage. They look like the fluffy chicks we made from winding wool around donut-shaped cardboard when we were children—did you ever do that? You know, the pom-poms that your mum tells you to make when you’re 8 years old and bored because it’s rained for twenty days in a row.

Anyway, they all look very healthy. I tried to take photos for you, but the sun is too bright, so they’re fairly hard to see.

Chicks won’t manage to eat the pellets I feed to the full-grown birds, so I went to get some chick crumb. As soon as I put it in the cage, on a little plastic saucer, the mum kicked it everywhere. The chicks then scurried around, picking each crumb from the dirt. I got them some water, because the big water pot will be dangerous (they could drown in it) and is now up on a log, so only the big birds can reach it.

Then I started to clean out the nest. Once a hen has left the nest, she won’t go back in there while there is dirty hay or egg shells. There were two unhatched eggs. One had a chip in it, so I unpicked a bit more, and it started to cheep. I pulled off some of the shell, to reveal the unhatched chick, which was wriggling and cheeping. I guess it was just a late hatchling, and the others were ready to move off the nest, so the mother abandoned it. It seemed a shame to not give it a chance. It is a warm day, I covered it with hay in the hope it wouldn’t dehydrate too much, and have left it. It has two chances. I’ll let you know on Monday if it’s still alive. 

(My daughter told me this was a revolting photo, so look away now if you’re squeamish!)

I gave the cockerel some corn, as a treat, finished cleaning the cage, then left them to it. The mother had sat in a sunny spot, and all the chicks were under her. I do hope they survive. (I also hope—though I know it’s unlikely—that none of them are cockerels!)

I will post another blog on Monday.
Take care,
Anne x

(By the way, the egg-shaped things that look like potatoes in the photos are…potatoes. Don’t ask.)

 

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Letter to a Sister – Bird Brain


So, a few disasters this week. I’ll gloss over them quickly. First was on Monday, at Aunt and Uncle’s Golden Wedding Anniversary. It was a lovely event, saw most of the extended family, food was beautiful, everyone seemed happy. I felt somewhat of a plonka, having taken the “Dress Code: Sixties” bit to heart. Thought I ought to make an effort. Most other people had taken the “optional” bit to heart. Felt rather silly in mini dress and false eye lashes. Especially as there were a few non-family guests present, who possibly thought I usually dressed up like an ageing drag queen.

Next disaster was Wednesday. After a couple of days of high winds, the tree outside our bathroom window had scraped roof tiles onto the ground. The tree acts as curtains – we don’t have nets at that window – but those branches needed to be trimmed before they did more damage. Husband then phoned trusted builder to come and repair hole in roof. Which he did. Early on Wednesday. When I was just about to have shower in now uncurtained bathroom. That would have been good information to know in advance…..

Lets move on to some animal updates:

Before we went away, the sitting duck hatched her eggs. Ducks are generally terrible mothers – they have a tendency to sit somewhere the ducklings can’t reach them, or squash them by mistake. She had nested in a big plastic crate (nicely rat proof) so I lifted out the eleven hatchlings and put them with the mother into the dog cage in a corner of the aviary. She was furious with me, but I did manage one photo:

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They were sharing the aviary with the earlier two ducklings. The mother hissed at them whenever they went near, so I had to keep them separate. This wasn’t difficult, as really all they wanted to do was be with the chicks that they’d been raised with. They wandered up and down the edge of the aviary, cheeping at them. It was hard not to put them back together, but I know it would cause big problems later.

The big chickens (nasty, nasty, creatures) kept attacking the new chicks. They will be so much safer if they manage to form a unified flock, so I don’t want to move them out. Instead, I positioned lots of crates so they had areas they could escape to when attacked, and hoped for the best.

When we returned from Sri Lanka, I couldn’t believe how big they all were. They were, unexpectedly, all still alive (the house sitter did very well.) The chicks are now small chickens. They have still not exactly ‘bonded’ with the existing flock, but at least they’re not being attacked. They’re also copying them, sitting on the crates at night as an attempt to roost.

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The big ducklings look full grown. As soon as their wings feathers have grown, I’ll clip them and put them on the pond. You only clip one wing – it’s like having your nails cut, it doesn’t hurt. But they won’t fly if they’re lopsided, so I can shut them onto the pond at night and they can’t sleep on the bank and be eaten.

The eleven ducklings are also much bigger. Am pretty sure the mother stole one of those eggs – there’s one completely black duckling, very beautiful.

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Looking after the birds helps me forget about publishing – publishing a book is a LOT of hassle – nowhere near as much fun as writing them. I was hoping that Hidden Faces would be in the bookshops in July, ready for the summer holiday readers. That looks unlikely now, more likely September. Which might mean fewer sales, or might mean people will enjoy it and then buy it for someone else for Christmas. Hard to know. I am trying to be patient, to remind myself that God helped me write this book, if he wants people to read it then editors, typesetters and printers won’t ruin the time plan. But at times I want to scream!

Take care,

love, Anne

How to Hatch an Egg


How to Hatch an Egg

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by Anne E Thompson

To hatch an egg, first you need a fertilised egg (which the eggs you buy in the supermarket might be but probably are not!) To obtain a fertilised egg, you either need one of these:

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(a male of the species you hope to hatch!)

 

 

 

or you can buy them.

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I buy them from ebay and they are posted to me in clever polystyrene boxes. When you have your eggs, you either have to begin growing it at once, or keep it somewhere cool (like a garage) and turn it once a day. Fresh eggs have much the best chance of survival. However, I did once want to fill a half-empty incubator and used an egg that had been in the fridge for two weeks. It hatched into a perfectly healthy duckling which we named ‘Cupcake’.

 

In the wild, the mother bird will lay one egg per day in the nest and leave them until she has enough to sit on. Ducks will sit on about twenty. So, should you find a nest in the wild with cold eggs in, do not assume they have been abandoned, it could be that the hen has not yet finished laying.

When you start warming the eggs, the embryo will begin to develop. Once this has begun, you must keep them warm all the time or they will die. To warm them you need one of these:

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(An incubator)

 

 

 

Or a female who is broody.IMG_1715

To encourage a hen to become broody, give her a nest of eggs to sit on. This can be annoying if it’s not intentional and you have just not collected them for a few days, as a broody hen will stop laying and refuse to budge from the nest except to eat and swim (if she is a duck. Chickens are not keen swimmers.) If you have bought eggs, put them right next to the hen. She will see them, assume they are hers and push them into the nest. A broody hen will adopt pretty much anything. Not sure about other species, but certainly ducks will hatch chickens and vice versa.

The temperature and timing depends on the bird to be hatched. A chicken takes 3 weeks to grow and a duck takes 4 weeks. At first a chicken egg needs to be kept at 37℃ for 19 days and a duck egg for 25 days. It also needs to be kept humid. In an incubator you can add water. A duck will go for regular swims. Presumably chickens sweat a lot. A chicken egg needs to be kept at 45% humidity for the 19 days. The eggs also need to be turned, roughly every hour. This stops them sticking to the side of the egg and being deformed. Most incubators do this for you. I have no idea how how a hen knows all this, pretty amazing really.

As the embryo develops, it ‘eats’ the egg yolk, which it is attached to by an umbilical cord. Yes, ducklings and chicks do have tummy buttons! The yolk does not (as many people think) turn into the chick, it is just food. You can check on how the egg is developing after a week. If you shine a very bright torch onto the shell, you should be able to see lots of tiny blood vessels spreading out from a black dot. In the olden days they used candles but when I tried that I burnt my fingers and dropped the egg. I felt like a murderer. Any eggs that have not developed are probably not fertile and should be thrown away or they might go bad and the fumes will kill the other eggs. I check the eggs every few days after the first week. The black dot gets bigger until it is the only thing you can see other than the air space. But, if the air space starts to get bigger or the gunge inside the egg looks like it has separated, throw the egg away. It means the chick has died.

After 19 days, stop turning the eggs. They should hatch in 3 days. The temperature needs to be 37℃ and the humidity should be 60% . The eggs may begin to shake or even crack any time now. The bird inside is moving around, first into the air space inside the egg and then uses the little bump on its beak to begin to crack the egg. Sometimes you can hear them cheeping from inside the egg, which is very exciting! I have found that ducklings often begin to hatch fairly soon after after you stop turning the eggs and chicks do not really start until the end of the three days.

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If you are a sensible person, you will do nothing during this period. You will not remove the lid of the incubator or help a hatchling that has got stuck. Any bird that is too weak to hatch is probably not very strong and is likely to die within a few days of hatching.

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However, if like me, you are not particularly sensible and are more ‘mummy’ than ‘farmer’, then it is possible to help. The two things to remember are that the hatchling needs air and that it must absorb the remaining yolk. Sometimes a chick is too weak to crack the shell. If, after two days of watching an egg shake and hearing it cheep, it still has not made a hole, I tend to help it (with a skewer or sweetcorn fork!) Make a tiny hole in the air space of the egg (use a torch to check the chick is not in that bit.) I then, very slowly remove pieces of shell, about 3㎟ every five minutes, letting the chick rest in between. Do not ever remove the chick completely, just the shell around the head which will be folded over but will straighten as you remove shell. The yolk needs to stay moist, so when the chick’s head is free, I sometimes add warm water to the remaining half of shell (nowhere near the head or it might drown) so the yolk does not dry out. Then I leave it. Sometimes a chick will sit in a half hatched state for over a day. If it is warm, has air and the yolk remains moist, it will be fine.

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Once it has got enough strength (from absorbing the yolk) it will hatch the rest of the way itself. Obviously this is rather time consuming, so do not begin to ‘help’ (or interfere as my children put it) unless you have alot of time and do not mind a bit of gore (there are a lot of capillaries around the shell and yolk, so expect a bit of blood. It does not seem to come from the bird, which is usually fine, but it looks a bit unpleasant.) When the bird has fully hatched, leave it in the incubator for about 12 hours. It will rest (and look like it has died) for a few hours, then will dry out and start bouncing around.

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When it is fully mobile, move it to the next stage. This will either be a brooder – a box with a heat lamp, or a mother hen. I have read that it is difficult to introduce new hens to an established flock (because they fight, unlike ducks, who will welcome anyone.) It is therefore much better to give the new hatchlings to your broody hen to raise. I simply carry them outside and put them next to her nesting box. She will look extremely surprised for a few minutes, then when no one else claims the chick, she will push it underneath her and you can relax!

If I am raising the chicks or ducklings, I put them into a large plastic crate lined with hay. They need a heat lamp, water and food. I experiment with the height of the heat lamp – if they are huddled directly underneath it is too high, if they are in a far corner, it is too low. The water needs to be in a very shallow container so they can not drown (they are cute but stupid.) I feed them chick crumb. Some people give chicks medicated chick crumb because chicks are prone to infections (It’s not unusual for an apparently healthy chick to suddenly die.) However, I think it is better not to introduce antibiotics unless an animal is actually ill and I would prefer to risk the odd bird by giving them a more natural chick crumb. You cannot feed medicated chick crumb to ducklings or they will die.

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In an emergency, if you have no chick crumb, you can feed egg yolk to the hatchling.

I keep the hatchlings very clean. I throw away the hay as soon as it is dirty or damp and keep their food and water fresh. However, outside raised chicks are constantly muddy, the mother hen will put grubs and corn on the ground for them to eat and will kick dirt into all the food. They seem to survive.

A duckling can swim the same day that it hatches. It is kept waterproof by the oils that transfer from the mother when they sit under her. If they are raised in a brooder, they can still swim but after a few minutes will become water logged and should be returned to the lamp to dry out. They love water and try to splash in any water that they see, so it can be hard to keep their drinking water clean unless you buy a special drinking dispenser.

Chicks do not like water! If you hatch ducklings and chicks together, the chicks will follow the ducklings to the water bowl and then look very cross when they get splashed. However, within a week, chicks have grown wing feathers and are beginning to flutter out of the box (so it needs a lid or to be in a dog cage.) You should then add a perch to the container and encourage them to roost at night (by removing the hay so the ground is not so comfortable.) When they are a few weeks old they will always roost on a perch. As most of their poop arrives when they are asleep, it makes keeping the cage clean much easier and if they are free range they are safer if they sleep on a perch.

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After about seven months, you will need to provide a hay box so the females can lay their eggs. Then it all starts again…

IMG_1604 From this to this IMG_0499in 4 weeks – enough evidence for me that there is a God!

 

 

 

 

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