A few months ago, one of our hens, Pigwidgeon, went broody. She was soon joined (literally, in the same nest) by her pal Hedwig. Before long, April had taken over the nestbox in the other coop.
Some hens will sit on a nest for a few days and then go back to business as usual. So I kept an eye on these girls, and they all remained on their nests. We had recently dispatched our rooster, and I wasn’t sure if any of our hens’ eggs were still fertile. But I thought we’d give it a try.
Two weeks went by and the girls were still setting. Pigwidgeon (Piggy for short) and Hedwig remained “connected at the wing,” sharing their combined passel of eggs. April was devoted, constantly clucking to her eggs. Was this going to be a successful Hen and Chick Adoption?
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When hatching time was upon us, I moved the hens to private maternity quarters. The brooding duo got settled in a dog crate inside the coop, while April had her own outdoor pen in the run with another dog crate for a nest.
But the due date came and went with no sign of any peeping, pipping or hatching. Most likely the eggs were not fertile, though any number of things can prevent fertile eggs from developing and hatching.
About that time I ordered a batch of Buff Orpington chicks from a hatchery. I got the brooder set up with lamps, but I was hoping that one or more of the broody hens would adopt some of the chicks.
I was pretty certain Hedwig, who had been a doting mother of one chick last year, would be a good foster mama. I wasn’t sure about Piggy, who has been broody several times with no hatches. And April, just one year old, was broody for the first time.
But I wanted to give it a try. After picking up the hatchery chicks at the post office, I got them settled in the indoor brooder. That night after dark, Jim and I took six chicks down to the chicken coop and slipped two under each hen.
Each of the mamas immediately responded to the chicks’ peeping with soft clucking. I watched them for a while, going back and forth between nests till I felt comfortable that the mamas were accepting the chicks.
The next morning, I held my breath as I went down to check again, knowing that one or more of the hens might have rejected a chick. But there were three contented mamas with chicks peeking out from under their wings. Throughout the day I checked on them and saw the same domestic bliss in each nest.
So the second night, we took all the rest of the chicks to the coop and placed them under the drowsy mamas. At the same time we removed as many eggs as we could find in the dark. The following morning all three hens were basking in the glow of motherhood.
That was four weeks ago, and we now have two batches of healthy-looking chicks. Piggy and Hedwig raised 14 babies together; April has 9 little ones. I have to say I enjoy the freedom from brooder responsibilities!
I still have to maintain two feeders and two waterers, but the mamas take the place of a brooder lamp. And I think the chicks learned to take dust baths and scratch the ground earlier than my brooder chicks have.
Lately Piggy has been showing signs of being ready to leave the chicks: spending more time off on her own and sleeping on the roost at night while Hedwig snuggled with the babies in the nest.
The other day I put Piggy in our other coop with the rest of our hens. Hedwig and April are still doting on their chicks, but it won’t be long before they, too, will start looking like they’re ready to go back to the general population.
In just a matter of months, most of these little pullets will be laying eggs, and a couple of young roosters will be announcing the arrival of each new day at the crack of dawn. I actually miss the morning announcements–I’ll be glad to hear them again!
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Bad Egg Day at Our Chicken Coop
Yesterday was a bad egg day at our chicken coop. Well it started out as a good egg day, but it didn’t end well. Here’s a little backstory.
Hens need lots of light to stay on a steady laying schedule. Most are in their prime during the summer when there are long days of sunlight. That is, unless they are molting, dehydrated, or under some other stress. But most laying hens regularly produce eggs during the summer.
During the winter, there is much less daylight than they need for regular egg production. So most of them naturally slow down. I say most because our Leghorns don’t seem to notice the changing length of daytime—they keep right on laying an egg a day even in winter.
But our other breeds space their eggs out by an extra day or two when the days are short.
So unless they get artificial supplemental light, most hens take some time off from laying during the winter. Last year I set a timer to light the coop before dawn and after dusk to extend the hours of light. We had plenty of eggs.
In fact, last year we had more than enough eggs. So this year we did not supplement the winter light. We’ve gotten a steady stream of eggs, but obviously every hen is not laying even every other day. This winter we’ve been getting anywhere from two to six eggs a day.
Spring and fall, the daylight supply is in transition, and so is the egg laying. The days are getting longer, and the hens know it. The egg basket gets a little fuller as the weeks go by. Yesterday was a record day. There were nine eggs in the basket.
Well wouldn’t you know it…I stumbled coming out of the coop. A few eggs dropped out and fell on the ground. Immediately some of the hens pounced. As I recovered my balance, I swung the egg basket a little too far.
I could hear eggs cracking and then I saw more fall out onto the ground. Mr. Rooster then made his “Time for treats, ladies!” announcement, and more hens came running. A good rooster will not only protect his hens– he will also tell them when he finds something good to eat.
And usually he’ll stand aside and let them have first dibs. Usually. Finally I regained my composure, but only two eggs made it to the kitchen. The bad news is I didn’t get to share the bounty of the day with any people. The good news is that the chickens all got a special treat that day.
The protein and other nutrients are good for them. The shells provide calcium, which they need in order to produce more strong egg shells. And there’s nothing cannibalistic about chickens eating eggs that are served to them by humans. But really now–what I want to know is, was that my imagination, or were those chickens smiling when I tripped?