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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Chick Drama

On Mother's Day we anxiously waited around the nesting box where Fred's eggs were cracking and daring to hatch. We had high hopes, but as the day progressed, our hopes died. I will skip the details, but basically I found two dead chicks, two deformed messes, and two eggs that never hatched.
I felt very disappointed.
Zane had a nightmare about a dead chick.
Fred, continued to brood.

By Thursday I had had enough heartbreak. So we went to our local Farmer's Co-op and bought three chicks. I picked out two red sex-links and let Zane choose his own: a little buff orpington. We took them home and named them (this time with a little more guidance so we didn't get another hen named Fred). After a bit of debating we came up with Lilly, Lulu, and Luna.

My plan was to trick Fred into thinking her eggs had hatched and that these little guys were her babies. I read about other people doing this online and began putting the plan into action.

Mission Swap Eggs for Chicks:

Though I read about lots of different problems when introducing new chicks to a brooding hen these were the main concerns:
  • make sure the hen is currently brooding... check
  • do the swap/introduction at night... check
  • introduce only a few chicks at a time... check
  • give chicks access to starter feed only (too much calcium in layer feed)... check
  • assist chicks in finding food and water in a place protected from the flock for the first 48 hours...
That last tip I read after I had already bought the chicks and required some extra work. You see, a brooding hen will start sitting on cool eggs that have been sitting around for a week all at once. This is because if she were to lay an egg and start sitting on it right away and then keep adding new eggs to the clutch they would hatch at different times, making it hard for mother hen to sit on unhatched eggs while tending to the new chicks. Nevertheless, even if she starts sitting on the cool eggs all at once, the eggs will take only 48 hours to all hatch out. Also, a baby chick is still absorbing its yoke sac and conveniently does not need food or water for 48 hours after birth. So because of all this brooding hen will naturally continue to brood for 48 hours. A brooding hen is not in protective mama mode until all her chicks have hatched, so it takes some time but in nature newborn chicks will hide and wait while the other eggs hatch.
 But in my case these chicks are one week old and already up and ready to explore. This is where daddy Zane and mama Roslyn come in handy...

Late at night I slipped out to the chick coop and one at a time snagged an eggs and replaced it with a chick. The chicks were terrified and chirping frantically by the time I had carried their box to the chicken coop. But each chick became silent and still when I popped them under Fred. I had been told Fred might not notice being night and all. But Fred most certainly knew something was happening. She craned her head under her body to see what was going on. Her body was fluffed up like an umbrella for the chicks to hide under and as she poked her head around to see the chicks, she clucked softly. After clucking to her adopted chicks, she fluffed herself even bigger and settled down to sleep.
Thoughout the night and first thing in the morning I checked on the chicks a lot. I was worried one might wander off and get too cold or that Fred might reject a chick, but none of that happened. By morning mother hen and her chicks were settled and happy.

 Zane loved the entire process and helped me check on the chicks throughout the day. We kicked the flock out of the nesting boxes for most of the day. I opened it up twice to let the hens come in and lay eggs, but I stayed nearby and protected the chicks while this happened. Our hens seemed a little worried about the strange newcomers and they did peck on the baby chicks a little, but Zane and I didn't have to do much more than be present and occasionally put a hand out to protect them.

After spending most of the day by the chicken coop, I prepared a safe place for Fred to continue raising her chicks. Perhaps I could have kept her and the babies with the flock but I worried about the ramp that separated the nesting box from the ground, I didn't want to feed the whole flock started feed, and I didn't want to stress out about the dominate hens in the flock picking on the babies. I could have moved Fred when she started brooding. But being that we were dealing with an adoption now, I was more concerned about Fred accepting the new chicks. Luckily, she took to being a mother very quickly!

Lily hiding under Fred's wing
Once I was sure that she was being a good mother to her new chicks, I moved the whole family to a new place.I do not have a separate chicken house for brooding chicks or anything, so I had to make due with what I had. I found an old cage, a wooden tool box, and a tarp.  I know it is not fancy or very big, but this is just a temporary place to keep them until they are all well adjusted and the chicks are a little bigger.

Today, Fred, our sweet mother hen and her darling chicks, Lily, Lulu, and Luna, are all doing just great! Fred is a gentle mother. She clucks lovingly at her babies. She is tolerant as they climb all over her. And when she senses danger and clucks to them and they run under her wing. At night they sleep in her plumage where they are safe in warm.

And Zane, being a good chicky daddy, checks on them every hour. He helps them to their feed, offers them clovers he picks from the yard, and makes sure their water is topped off at all times.

Zane giving Fred some freshly picked clover
After so much heartbreak it seems that  Fred and Zane finally have the chicks they have wanted so desperately.

And this is Zane's reaction to the successful mission:

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