Friday, July 19, 2013

Adventures in Broody Sitting

One of the Ameraucanas went broody and started sitting on her eggs back in June.  We were very excited about this, as we are hoping to get a cockerel that was raised by a mama and knows how to treat the ladies instead of the lord of the flies type rapist roosters that we have had so far.  We are told that the hens getting their back feathers pulled out during kamikaze flying tackle copulation is normal and par for the course, but a few of our girls have bare patches on their backs that don't seem to want to grow back, it makes me sad to see.  There has got to be a better way, I can't believe that this is the natural way of things.  According to Harvey Ussery, a good rooster will dance for the ladies before mounting them.

     This being our first brood, we learned a few things the hard way.  We were afraid to relocate the hen as too much disruption can cause her to abandon the eggs and go back to her normal cycle.  So we left her in the nest box where she was laying.  There were a couple of problems with this.  One is that when she left in the morning to eat and drink, the other hens would see the pile of eggs and decide to lay there.  She had trouble covering the growing pile of eggs, and ended up kicking several of them out.  Although we had marked the original 9 eggs with a marker, we still had a difficult time keeping track of what was new as, again, we did not to disturb her if we could help it.  Eventually, three babies emerged.  They immediately fell the few inches from the nest box to the ground and couldn't get back in.  The mama covered the babies at night, instead of the 14 other eggs that she still had, and let them get cold, stopping their development. 

     After a few days, we moved the momma, the three babies, and the remaining eggs into the brooder box.  After a few more days, it became apparent that no more eggs were going to hatch.  We tried opening the little door and allowing them to mix with the rest of the flock once, but that didn't go so well.  The mom was panicked and rushed around nipping at any curious young cockerels that came near.  We locked them back in the brooder box and she calmed right down.  When the weather started getting really hot, we decided to move the entire setup over to the first forest garden paddock, where many seeds from our seed balls had come up and the pear tree offered some shade.  They are thrilled.  The seeds mix along with the weeds and grasses that came back offer some pretty respectable plant cover.  They seem to be finding plenty of insects in the mulch, and I don't think that the four of them will do too much damage for now.  

     It is a joy to watch them in action.  Three little balls of fluff bobbing along behind the momma through the foliage.  Sometimes they get kicked as she scratches for bugs.  They tumble backwards then run straight back eager for more which is somehow hysterically funny.  They weave their way under the sunflower leaves and through a patch of mallow.  Cautiously eying the sky for danger, as they forage among the vetch and the tomato plants.  They hardly even touch the feed we put out for them.  This is how chicken keeping should be.  I can't wait until we have enough developed paddocks to keep our entire flock fed, and sheltered, and comfortable throughout the warm season.

     I apologize to my regular readers for the lack of posts lately.  All of my free time and energy has been going into rehabilitating our 161 year old farm house.  I may post about the big summer project when it is finished, but at this point I don't want to jinx it.

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