Featured Post

I Love My Reclaimed Wood Coop

In the Fall of 2015 my husband and I made the decision to tear our back porch off the house. We had found  (during a stre...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Broody - Learning Experience #528

I have had the amazing pleasure, over the last few months, of having a couple of broody hens. It has been so fun and yet another learning experience. 

So, it all started with Pepper. Pepper is our Bantam Silkie and sweet roo who is too small to mate most of our hens. So, to save the ones he can reach from overmating, we decided to get a couple ladies for him. I contacted the person we got Pepper from and asked if she had any Silkie girls we could buy. She had two Partridge ladies and apparently one of them was currently broody, but without eggs.

I picked them up a night or so later and the seller was kind enough to throw some call duck eggs my way, for the broody. I got them home and set them both up in our small coop, to get them integrated, and popped the call duck eggs underneath the broody (she is now known as Coco). Over the next couple of weeks, the ladies hung out together and Coco stayed on those eggs, doing a wonderful job. Wookie (the non-broody lady) came out to play with the rest of the chickens and was immediately welcomed (by Pepper, in particular) or ignored. It was perfect. Meanwhile, Coco plugged away with seven fertile eggs.

It was about day 30 when they decided to pip, but remain inside the eggs. One of them ended up with a broken up egg and died and two others didn't make it either, so Coco hatched out four tiny, tiny Call Duck babies. 

Then, despite them all being isolated from everyone else, in our small coop, the first two ducklings to hatch disappeared (see the sweet picture above). My husband and I looked everywhere, but eventually came to the conclusion that a snake had gotten itself a solid meal. We immediately removed the poultry wire, since they were locked in a secure run, we had only worried about the other chickens getting to them, and attached some hardware cloth all around, plugging up any tiny holes. It worked, and the two remaining babies stuck with their mommy tight.

As this was my first broody, I was unsure what to expect and totally unaware of how good of a Mommy chickens are. Coco was amazing to these babies. They are much bigger than she is now and would still be cuddling with her at night if it wasn't for her hatching some more babies right now. 

One of my more entertaining moments with Coco and her babies was when she decided they needed a bath and tried to teach them dust bathing.  The poor babies didn't know what was going on. So, I ended up picking up the ducklings and taking them inside for a bath, while Coco took some time to soak in her dirt for a bit. 
Next up was Wookie, the other Silkie hen who went broody a few weeks after Coco hatched her ducklings. We didn't have any fertile eggs for her and I was unsure if we really wanted to let her hatch any - for about a second - then I called a local farm and asked if they had any fertile eggs. They did and I ran out and grabbed a dozen. I put them all under Wookie and decided to let her decide how many she could handle. In the end, 7 of them stayed under her and developed. She hatched out all 7 babies, but two of them she pushed away and they died while still wet. She apparently knew something the rest of us didn't, so five babies it was.

Wookie was an amazing Mommy, teaching them how to eat, bath, everything that a Mommy does. They decided to hatch on the coldest day of the year and since the other two had died cold, I brought Wookie and her brood inside for about a week, to ride out the 10 degree weather in the warmth. 

Now, when the babies made it to about four weeks old, we came home and Wookie has disappeared. We have been doing a few things to keep hawks away, but it wasn't enough. Two days after Wookie disappeared, her baby, Lemon, also disappeared. With the loss of Wookie, we fenced in a shaded area and hung owl reflectors. When we lost Lemon, we hung more pie plates and kept a closer watch. Then we had a third attack. I was home during the day and heard the crows outside. I went out to watch everyone and saw the hawk sitting in my yard, she had grabbed another baby, my favorite one, Izzy the roo. I was able to get him back, but he was too badly injured and died shortly after. 

At that point, I brought out the big guns (not literally). We built a scarecrow and multiple coverage areas (cool gazebo below) for them to hide under. It didn't take log for the doodles to figure it all out and we have not lost anymore, thank goodness.

So, today, Coco is hatching another batch, this time it's her own eggs, fertilized by Pepper, the Silkie roo. We have two that have appeared so far and I am anxiously waiting on the remaining five eggs.

So, here's what I have learned about the broody hen:
  1. They are WAY better at hatching eggs than I am. Balancing the heat and humidity is not my forte. I can manage to hatch a couple of eggs here and there, but a broody knows what she's doing. The Call Ducks were Coco's first set and she was eight months old at the time. She did great.
  2. When babies are outside, instead of inside the house in a brooder, you have to think of snakes and animals that will only go for babies. This batch Coco is hatching today is completed enclosed in a small coop with hardware cloth. I found a hole about the size of a silver dollar and cut a small piece of cloth for it too. No risks!
  3. Hawks love bantams and teenage chicks as well. I have never lost a standard hen to a hawk and my ducks do fine as well, but the little ones are fair game. When these get bigger, they will only be out under my watchful eye until they are grown.
  4. Watching a broody teach their babies after the hatch is simply wonderful. The safety and comfort they give is beautful. 
  5. This was kind of sad, but wonderful as well - if a Silkie Mommy disappears or dies, a Silkie Daddy will step in and take care of the babies just as well. When Wookie disappeared, Pepper stepped in and he did everything she did, including sitting on them at night for warmth. Even though they're too big now at 9 weeks, they still snuggle with Daddy every night.
And here is Coco with her beautiful first baby chick, the only egg that wasn't hers. This is Mabel, our 1/2 Sapphire 1/2 Pepper baby.