20 May 2007

The chicks are on their way - all our hens have started sitting

When a hen's sitting she doesn't like being disturbed and this hen has that typical "Don't you dare touch me." look. I got as close as I could without her pecking my camera - or me!

These eggs are all huge big brown ones and I'm looking forward to seeing how the chicks from our new Brahma cock turn out crossed with this Marans x huge red cock we had a few years ago. We haven't had a cockerel all winter because we change ours every so often to avoid having deformed and sickly chicks - many malformations are caused by consanguinity.

It's also fun choosing a new cock and seeing how his progeny do. The girls' timing is perfect, the cockerel came a few weeks a go and if they'd started sitting sooner, the eggs may not have been fertile.
Broody hen sitting on eggs
I'm also pleased that they've all decided to sit now, because they do less damage to the garden when they're sitting, they just come out of the nest to feed and defacate then rush back in to keep the eggs nice and warm. That means I can plant out my summer veg with just a few sticks for protection rather than having to cage things. The other problem is that when we have a lot of hens and chicks, I use the vegetable cages for keeping them in for the first week, and I haven't had time to make any this year.

Once we're sure a hen is sitting, we transfer her complete with eggs in her container (We used empty gunpowder barrels) to a seperate 6m² cage inside the hen house.

This stops the other hens laying in the nest, which causes fighting and broken eggs and of course late eggs don't get sat on for the full three weeks, except by our most stubborn mothers. So either the chicks from the original clutch of eggs have all hatched and don't get a chance to go out with the hen because she's still sitting, or the hen leaves the unhatched eggs and the chicks get cold and die inside the egg.

The mother hens stay in the cage with everything they need, (Including a dustbath, which they really appreciates after three weeks of inactivity.) until about a week after the chicks have hatched to "bond" with them and because we've got a lot of Magpies here who they take the chicks when they're little.

I wouldn't mind if the Magpies ate the ones they take, but before we had this system we used to find a lot of injured chicks who'd been dropped from a great height by a Magpie who's eye was bigger than his beak...

I've kept chickens for a long time, but I'm still tickled pink when I have a hen with chicks.

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