Saturday, August 27, 2011

Growing Chicks

When we decided to let our broody Brahma hatch eggs, I was terrified, as I've mentioned before. I had no idea what I was doing. And as our happy soon-to-be Mama hen sat on all of these eggs, I suddenly realized we were in way over our heads with this one. Of course, I kept that little piece of thought to myself as my husband was originally less than thrilled to get chickens in the first place. He had grown to love them and was totally behind the idea of letting our Brahma hatch some eggs to get over her broodiness, but I felt like this was my venture so I needed to know what I was doing. And, I assumed my husband expected that I knew what I was doing. Why else would I have been so hung ho about hatching chicks? I am the chicken lady in our family. So, I took to the internet and checked out a new chicken book from the library (I'm nothing if not a planner and researcher) and I've already written about hatching those cute babies.

Once they were here, I scoured all of my resources including the two chicken books I already own and could find little in terms of a timeline for my expected babies. I wanted pictures. I wanted charts. I wanted to know what to expect and when to expect it. Now, I understand that all chickens are different. Raising chicks is like raising children in the fact that all the "What to Expect" books and the parenting magazines warn you that all children are different and some develop at a slower or faster rate than others. But I seriously wanted some sort of flow chart to follow so I'd know what to expect. Why hasn't anyone written a What to Expect When You're Expecting Chicks book? It could start with the development of the chick in the egg as it's sat on by the hen. Then the chapters could be divided by week with each week having a description of the types of things your chicks should be doing and thing they might start doing. Then it could answer common questions people have about raising chickens. I mean, this sounds like a money maker to me. I've read the chicken forums. People raise chickens and hatch eggs and have no idea what they're doing. This sucker would be a huge seller in hardware and feed stores. Just saying.

I'm going to give a basic timeline for the clutch of chicks we hatched. I'm going to start at hatch and go through 8 weeks. They're a few days away from being 11 weeks old. The biggest changes happened between hatching and 8 weeks. The past few weeks they've mostly just grown and integrated more and more with the flock, so in terms of development it's not as exciting as those first 2 months. You may find that your hatching experience is different or that your breed of chicken developed differently or at a different pace. I completely expect that to be true and I'd love for you to share your experiences below. I've only experienced the hatch of one clutch, so that's all I have to go on.

This is the story of 5 Japanese-Old English Game Bantams. Keep in mind they are super tiny since they're bantams. Let's get started:

Week 1: It took three days for all of the eggs to hatch. When they first hatch out, they're super tiny and look wet, but within the first hour they become the fluffy little chicks you expect. They make constant peeping sounds.

This is the first baby to hatch. She's less than an hour old.

Here they are on Day 2.

Week 2: They are all out and about. They stick to Mama as closely as possible. When she finds food she makes a particular clucking sound that alerts them that she has something to eat and they come running. They still look like little fluff balls except by the end of this week their wings are feathering out and they're starting to grow tiny tail feathers. The color of their fluff is not necessarily any indication of the color of their feathers. They're easily caught and picked up, though they make frantic peeping noises when you do it. During the day they are super active. They like to scratch around a little in the dirt. They climb all over Mama's back and sit on her. Sometimes they try to burrow under her wings when she's sitting with them. They like to sit in the sun and sun themselves. They take lots of little naps during the day - they'll just plop down somewhere in the dirt and fall asleep. Peeping is still constant. At night, they all climb into the nest box and burrow deep under Mama. You can't even tell they're there.

 They're getting ready for bedtime and are about to climb in and burrow under her wings
 and in the back of the box under her bum for the night. 

Week 3: Feathering continues and the chicks' backs and chests begin to sprout feathers. The tail fathers have grown out longer. They preen themselves obsessively. They still stay fairly close to Mama and she still gives the food call. They eat and drink when they're hungry, but take a lot of cues from Mama. They forage when she does and stick close most of the time, but once in awhile one or two chicks wander off a little in the run and scratch and forage for themselves. They're beginning to realize that if they hide in the corner, they have more of a chance to eat what they've found or stolen away from the others! (Note: This week was the week of the 4th of July. We were out of town most of this week and my sister chick-sat, so there aren't any example chick pictures.) 

Week 4: They're roosting now. They've nearly tripled in size since they hatched. They are now strange chick/chicken hybrids. They have fuzzy chick heads and feathered bodies. Their chests are in the final stages of feathering, so there's still a little fuzz poking out in places. Still constant peeping from everyone. Mama is still mothering them and they mostly stick close to her, but they go off on their own a lot. They generally stick to the buddy system and have at least one other chick around near them at all times. Some of them still try to snuggle with Mama when she's laying in the sun. They even interrupt her dirt baths to get on top of or near her. Personally, we let the chicks out to free-range with Mama at this age. They stick right by her and love scratching for bugs and tidbits all over the yard. She does not let the other adult hens near them and gives a warning call before attacking if someone gets too close for comfort. Their combs are much more pronounced. If you're familiar with chickens and hatching at all, you can generally tell by the comb how many roosters and hens you have at this point (some breeds make this identifying a little harder, so it's not always the easiest task). I can tell that we have at least two roosters at this point. They're very curious. A piece of hardware cloth divided the chicks and Mama from the rest of our flock. The two areas were next to each other, so they could see each other through the wire and spent lots of time contemplating each other. 
Roosting on the mini-roost we put up for the chicks and on part of the coop structure dividing the two areas. 

A close up of one of the roosting roosters. Notice the still fuzzy head. 

Week 5: Their heads are working on catching up with the rest of their body! Feathers are sprouting, but you can still see a little fluff too. They actually look like mini chickens now and not chicks anymore. I won't be able to call them babies for much longer (though I'll continue calling them chicks throughout this entire piece to be consistent). Their combs are even more pronounced than last week and it seems that we have 2 hens and 3 roosters. When they're out free-ranging, the chicks will wander a little farther away from Mama. She's still in their sights, but they'll go quite a few feet away without worrying. One of the chicks is  a free adventurous spirit and goes off halfway across the yard by himself. At the end of this week we integrated the chicks with the rest of the flock. They've been free ranging for nearly two weeks and the adult hens and the chicks have free-ranged alongside each other without any problems (besides Mama getting cranky). A pecking order has to be established, so some pecking and chasing has ensued; otherwise, the merging of the two coops is going well for us. Oh, I almost forgot. Still with all the peeping. 

Week 6: This week is more of the same: they are growing bigger, continuing to peep, loving to forage and scratching for anything edible. They love bugs. Big time. They've gotten the routine down from the big hens. They join in with the rest of the flock when it's time for The Food Lady to appear. They love treats. They are super fast little buggers and it's an event to catch one of them. But you know I do it anyway.  

Week 7: There is no sign of fluff on the "chicks" anymore. Since they're bantams, their size is the only thing that still makes them look like chicks. The roosters have nice tall combs and beautiful iridescent tail feathers. The girls are fat little beauties. They're still growing rapidly. It's not so apparent when you look at them every day, but looking back at pictures from just a few weeks ago shows how much bigger they've gotten. They are just like any other member of the flock. They do everything the big hens do. I haven't seen them dust bath with my own eyes, but I'm sure they must be doing it when I'm not around. That's the only thing that I can't check off my list of "chickenish" things I know they do. They scratch and stretch their wings. They eat out of the big hens' feeder  (even though we still have their chick feeder in the coop) and they've started using the big waterer too. They roost a lot. It's one of their favorite pastimes. Mama occasionally makes a little food alert noise when they're foraging and they still follow her around to a point, but this week seems to show the biggest difference in terms of their dependence on her. They're almost to the point where they are just other members of the flock. (This week also happens to mark the first egg laid by Mama since becoming broody). They're now spending a lot of time establishing a pecking order between themselves. They get into little duels with their neck feathers all fluffed out. It's hilarious to watch.

Scratching in front of their big Mama.

Week 8: The chicks are now simply other members of the flock. Mama is nice to them, but she doesn't help them with food. I actually saw her grab some treats away from some of them when I was giving them their morning treat. They still have a bond with Mama though. When she goes in to lay eggs, some of them follow her into the coop to check out what's going on. They'll hang around near her when they're all hanging out and lounging in the dirt. They seem to have fit into the flock's pecking order. One of the hens, Ochocinco, still throws a peck their way every now and then to keep them in line. They stick together. The incessant peeping continues. They're growing bigger, but there aren't any major appearance changes this week. 

During week 9 I finally saw them dust bathing. It was cute because three of them squished themselves into one of the dust bath ditches in the coop (the hens generally dust bathe in one of a few determined spots in the coop's run). I like to watch them preen. It's so cute because they're so miniature. At week 10 they still have a size disadvantage mostly because of their bantam status. They're getting much bigger though, so space has become an issue in the coop at nighttime. We're passing on the 3 roosters to friends because as urban chicken keepers, we're not supposed to keep them. Next weekend, a few days shy of 3 months old, 2 of them will go off to live in the country with dozens of other chickens. I'm like a scared Mama. I'm worried about how they'll fit in and if the other chickens will be nice to them. I'm sad to see them go. They're my babies. It'll be another few weeks before the last one goes to his new home, so I'm hoping it'll lessen the blow for me.  They're the most beautiful little birds I could've imagined. They're fun to watch, as are our other chickens. They have such huge wings that they can do some pretty good flying. They're can't fly off into the sunset, but they can get some height, especially if they're taking off from our higher roost. 

 The multi-chick dust bath.

Alright, broody Mamas. I'm ready for round 2!

No comments:

Post a Comment