Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Clueless Broody and the Emergency Rescue

We had been planning on adding to our existing flock this year and Spring is the perfect time to do it. The weather is warming up (well, maybe not so consistently where we are!) and it's the time that more chicks hatch naturally as mother hens go broody.
That's another reason for our timing - we had a broody hen, Blondie, for weeks now. She has hogged the nest and made herself appear scarily huge while she guards her non-existent chicks. So it seemed the right thing to do at the perfect time.
We wanted pure breed chickens again, I have talked before about our reasons for this and against short-lived crossbreeds, bred for intensive egg laying. Australorps and Rhode Island Reds are good layers and well suited to our climate, as well as making good pets, and generally lovely looking chookies :-)

We travelled down to Barters Hatchery who were extremely helpful and not only gave us the eggs we wanted, and gave us 15 for the price of 12, but also gave us ones that were in the process of hatching so we didn't have to wait the usual 21 days! The owner said he was worried that our broody would finish her stint before the 3 weeks was up as she had been sitting for so long already. So home we rushed with our Australorps and Rhode Island Red chicks, with 4 hatching out on the way home (!!!!) wrapped up in their boxes and towels for warmth, carefully guarded between our 2 kids in the back.
We got home and quickly prepared the area and calmly popped the eggs and new chicks under Blondie. She seemed happy so we left her to do her thing in peace and privacy.

It seems no-one had explained to Blondie what she was meant to do. Now most hens will naturally know how to hatch and raise chicks, they've been doing it on their own for thousands of years after all. But when we went back to check about half-hour later, she was off the nest, making a huge fuss and racket, and there were the eggs and chicks ...... left alone and very cold. In fact she had buried the 4 chicks under the wood shavings in the nest.

Hubby quickly gathered up the eggs and I got the 4 chicks (3 of which were very cold and lifeless) got them inside in my jumper and then between my cupped hands to try to warm them, breathing on them and rubbing gently. We got the incubator out and set it up in record time (about 1 minute!) luckily we kept it from our last hatching although I didn't think we would need it with having a broody hen.... grrrr...
anyway, all we could do is pop them all in to warm up and cross our fingers.

The 4 first to hatch, with one Australorp just hatched in the incubator

Incredibly, the 4 chicks that I had tried to save have all lived. They are now happily chirping away as I write. Of the remaining 11 eggs, one was half-hatched and unfortunately dead in the shell when we found it. The rest all hatched later that day or the following day, although a couple had difficulty with the shell membrane drying out as they had very prolonged hatches. I had to assist a couple with drops of water onto the membrane, and also peeling off tiny sections of shell as they had trouble breaking out. Probably because of this and the time they were left cold, we did have one chick born that was unable to walk. It was painful to see it throwing itself around blindly, knocking the other chicks over and generally suffering. We waited until day 3, but when it was clear it wasn't going to improve we had to put it down. It is an awful thing to do, but I suppose also part of responsible ownership.

From this .... this- in under an hour!!

First lot, out of the incubator and into the brooder box

We have also had a couple of chicks with suspect limps, but one improved over the first few days and is now walking perfectly and another I have splinted at the moment and is looking very good now. The splinting procedure for splay legs is explained HERE -- although our chick was not nearly as severe as that one, just standing with one leg too far out to the side rather than under its body.

Chick physio! Section of band-aid used as a spacer

So, all in all we have ended up with 13 chicks from 15 eggs, which, although it is sad we lost 2, is an incredibly good hatch. We have 7 Australorps and 6 Rhode Island Reds. Of course buying them at 'almost-hatch' helped (whilst giving them to a clueless broody did not) As for Blondie, well most annoyingly she went straight back to being broody and is still hogging the nest. It is difficult to be sympathetic now, after we gave her a chance and she blew it. Mind you, we do get to keep this lot inside now ----

Because our hen rejected the chicks they will not be properly cared for outside,  so we will continue to raise them inside for a while, until they are fully feathered and large enough to cope with outdoor weather and our other chooks.

We plan to keep some hens for ourselves, maybe 2 of each breed, perhaps a rooster too. Since we still have our existing 5 girls, I think any more would classify me as the local mad-chook-woman! The rest I am hoping to sell on to good homes once we find out who is who.....

Love my chickies  :-)