Monday, July 30, 2012

What? She Lost the Chicks!

Over the weekend, I had all of the chickens out in the yard while I cleaned the coops - the main coop, where the big girls stay, and The Maternity Ward, where Mama and babies are living for now. Everyone was out and about clucking, chirping, and foraging when I heard Mama make a strage sound I'd never heard before. I can't even describe it. I was elbow deep in litter and chicken poop, but I paused and thought, That was weird, but I went about my business until a few moments later when I thought, What if that was the danger sound and there's a hawk or a giant owl sitting out there (We once had a hawk swoop down and perch on my son's swing set in the backyard while the chickens were loose in the yard. My husband had to shoo it away). I stuck my head out of the coop and looked around to where Mama had been foraging with the chicks. There was Mama standing tall and straight and still, but I didn't see her chicks anywhere.

I went from zero to one hundred in two seconds. My exact thought was, She lost the chicks! I thought they'd wandered away and were God knows where. I came out of the coop and looked around again until I finally saw one of the babies crouched down in the overgrown grass close to where Mama was standing still. Phew! I walked over to them and nearly stepped on chick #2, who was also hiding in the grass. Then it clicked. She did make the danger sound either because something startled her or just so she could teaching her babies. Mama was probably thinking Calm it down, Food Lady. I mean, if she didn't lose any of the five chicks she had last year, why would I think she'd lose one of two chicks this year? I can't help it. I'm a worrier.
Amazingly, they knew what the sound meant and they listened right away and kept still. I didn't give her the chance to tell them everything was okay and they could stop hiding because of my irrationality. She's teaching these chicks all the time just like she did with her last chicks. She finds food while foraging and makes a specific sound to let them know she has food. Of course, they come running and check it out right away. She shows them how to dust bathe and where to go when it's bedtime. They're always following right along. It's the best part of having a hen raise chicks rather than hatching them or buying day-old chicks to raise yourself. Does it work? Yes. Do the chicks grow up just fine and become perfectly fine chickens? Yes. But do you get to see them being tiny copies of their mamas? No.

I can tell you. Watching Mama and babies is too cute for words.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Nuthin' But A Broody Mama

If you've never had a broody hen or you find them as hilariously insane as I do, you'll enjoy this short clip of Erickson, our residential brooder, being strange and quite vocal about it while she was off her eggs during one of her daily incubation breaks.

She would make those clucking noises almost the entire time she was off the nest. It's like she was telling the eggs, "Hey! I'm close by and coming right back." The only time she didn't make noise during this particular break was during her preening. Of course, she wasn't dust bathing daily as she was too busy turning eggs all day, so she would shake her feathers and preen her wings for a majority of the time she was off the eggs. After five or so minutes, she'd head right back to her nest. What a good Mama.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Official Chick Count

Our final number is two chicks. Both chicks and Mama are doing well and are happy. They'd like to enjoy some privacy, but we won't let them. How can you leave new chicks alone? You can go ahead and trust me when I say it's impossible.

I removed the rest of the unhatched eggs a little over 24 hours after the last chick hatched. Most of them were full of liquid when I shook them, which means no chick inside. Two were questionable, so I candled them in order to find the air sack and then I pipped them (I poked a small hole in the end where I'd seen the air sack. Essentially, I was doing what a baby chick would do when it starts to hatch.). One exploded as soon as I'd broken through from the pressure that had built up inside. There was a stinky yolk inside. The other was just a rotten egg. So into a ziplock bag they all went and into the garbage can. I didn't want the guilt of worrying about whether or not I'd thrown away an unhatched chick.

The best thing about removing the unhatched eggs is that Mama and babies were out and about in their portion of the coop the next morning. These chicks are much more worried about humans at this age than last year's batch. Last year's chicks didn't pay us much attention inthe first few weeks and we could scoop them up pretty easily with only a few worried peeps. I'm not sure if it's completely temperment or if it's the fact that there are only two of them, but they scurry into the corner when we get into the coop. Because they're on edge, Mama is much more on edge. Last year she couldn't care less, probably because she had four other chicks crawling all over her if we were handling one. I've already been pecked by her twice and they're less than a week old. I'm trying to be more accompdating because of all the commotion I cause when I go out there. I haven't spent as much time in the coop and playing with the chicks as last year. I'm not trying to give some poor little baby chick a heart attack.

Cross your fingers that we get a couple of hens this time. We're doing our part to tip the balance. As I've said, last year's name's were heavily manly with the Star Wars theme, so this year we went with Disney princesses. Please let me introduce you to Rapunzel and Belle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

And We Have Chicks

This morning I checked on the chickens to find one baby hatching out of its egg. What a great way to start the day. We've had three eggs hatch, but one didn't survive, poor little guy. Hopefully, we'll have a few more tonight and tomorrow so Mama has a nice little brood.
The two babies we have so far are peeping away underneath their Mama. They sure are cute.  One is mostly yellow, with some gray spots and the other is nearly all gray. They both have feathered feet, which is a super cute chicken quality. I'm seriously crossing my fingers that we don't get another flock of roosters out of this hatch because I want a chocolate egg layer. Big time.

Aren't they cute? The yellow chick hatched earlier today and is ready to get going. She's already getting curious and is quite the peeper. The gray chick hatched this afternoon. She's still a little shy, but she's interested in her sister (wishful thinking).

We're still coming up with names. After everyone's hatched we'll decide. I'm still thinking about Captain America as a possibility, but think we need some super girly names. Last time the Star Wars theme, male dominated, didn't bode well for hens. So maybe we need a Lola or a Lucy or maybe even a Cindy Lou.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Almost to Chicks

Day 17 of Broody Watch 2012. Erickson is being a great incubator. I couldn't ask for a better broody hen.

Unfortunately, we're down to 11 eggs. Around Day 13 we had a rotten egg explosion. My husband found it and says it was pretty gross. Mama must have dragged it out of the nest box onto the ground because my husband found it a foot or so outside of the box. It was a stinky sack of yuck, so I don't blame her for getting it out of there. We had an egg go missing last year and can only assume the same type of explosion happened. Our best guess is one of the chickens ate it because we never found a trace of it. If you didn't think chickens were gross, thinking about one eating a busted rotten egg will change your mind.
We tried candling the eggs early on around Day 8 and saw a little something in a handful, so hopes are we'll have a handful of little bits running around soon. I haven't had a chance to check them with good results since because Mama normally gets off the eggs in the mornings when I'm at work. With the eggs being such a dark brown, the only way we can candle them is with a pretty powerful light, so my one quick attempt with a flashlight was feeble (the flashlight method worked well last year with the tiny white bantam eggs). So, it'll be a complete surprise how many hatch unless I can steal them this weekend while she's taking a break at the water cooler.
At the start of this brooding, I said I was going to be relaxed this time around and I am proud to say I have been. I only check on her once a day. When it was 100 degrees, I brought her cold ice water every morning. And, that's it. It's easy to be calm when you're prepared. We were smart this time and blocked off the Maternity Ward so we could go ahead and move her into her own section of the coop on Day 8. Last year the eggs started hatching earlier than expected and we already had one chick hatched when I was out there at 6:30 one evening stapling chicken wire to divide the main run from the newly build section. We had to move Mama, newborn baby, and the rest of the eggs in a scramble. This year, experience has led to Mama being comfy and cozy in her own space, my not worrying about her doing her job, and my husband becoming the worrywart. This time he's the one who is checking on her three times a day. Oh, the difference a year makes.