Every since I watched Abby hatch and raise her wee little Pipsqueak, I have been in love with the process of hens raising chicks. They learn so much more from their mothers and it’s nicer having them with the flock rather than needing to be in the brooder box.
So, when Rapunzel went broody right after Pavelle did, I jumped at the chance to let her raise Little Dude’s 4-H chicks. We even let her hatch some of them by hand.
It seemed to go well at first. We snuck the three who hatched from the incubator down to Rapunzel in the middle of the night and slipped them under her. She snuggled in and seemed content to sit on them.
They all seemed really happy together for the first week and I had a lovely set of Week 1 photos to show off… and then at about the week-and-a-half mark, that all changed.
Rapunzel, who had by this time, been broody for 5 weeks already while we waited for the special order eggs to come, decided that she wanted to take her broody outdoors and see the sunshine. They’d already been moving about the coop under her supervision and that didn’t seem like an unreasonable request.
However, at some point in time, she had begun pecking at the feet of some of the little ones. I noticed the first one on Friday night. Little ‘Cutie’ – one of the little gray ones we couldn’t identify – had bloody and swollen feet and as I watched, Rapunzel kept pecking at them. I removed the chick for the day, treated the feet with Vetricin and Scarlex Oil, and put her back under Rapunzel at night. By Saturday morning, a second chick – the Grumpy one -was also sporting bloody tootsies. I removed BOTH chicks, treated them again, and put them in the broody.
I spent a good part of that Saturday observing Rapunzel with the other chicks. She would sit on them, warming them, with no problems at all. Then, she would get up, go to scratch in the dirt, call for them to come see what she had found, and then forcefully pecked the feet of the first chicks to approach. She got Rocky (Little Dude’s Barred Rock) and the light Brahma chick a couple of times while I observed.
Sunday, Cutie and Grumpy were walking better and healing up some, so I risk putting them back with their family. Rapunzel accepted them under her, but during the day, the scene of ‘call them over and then peck’ repeated. She would target Cutie, Grumpy and now Rocky, who now had a wound forming on one foot. Now and again, she would go after the little Brahma, too, possibly because of his feathered feet.
She only did this when they were out playing and eating. If they were under her, she was a happy momma, bucking softly and talking to them.
I had the sinking suspicion that she would slowly work her way through all the chicks, pecking and maiming all their feet. So, in order to save them, I took them all away from her.
These pictures, below, are the last pictures of them as a happy family, before the blood bath began.
It was heart breaking to them away. You see? She wanted them. She wanted to sit on them and nurture them. She paced the coop for days, talking them through the walls even though she couldn’t see them and when she figured out where the brooder was in relation to the coop, she jumped up on the roost to peer over at them, making screeching noises at me to “get away and give me my babies back!”
They, in turn, called out for her, alarmed and upset and NOT happy in the brooder. Who can blame them? She was momma and it was a strange box with a red light.
Every morning, I put her in with them, thinking maybe she would forget about their toes (which were healing nicely) and that just maybe I would give them back to her.
Each time, she went to them, calling and bucking softly, sitting with them and letting them gather under her, and they’d be fine for about 10-15 minutes. Then she would get up, go to explore the brooder and scratch to show them things… call to them to come look… and yes, you guessed it – attack their toes again. Cutie, Grumpy, Rocky… then anyone else.
This happened thee days in a row.
I gave up trying to let her try.
I don’t know why she did it. She certainly acted like she wanted them. But I couldn’t let her ruin their feet. As it is, poor little Cutie has one toes that is now broken and misshapen. He/she can walk on it, but it will never be the same.
So I stopped letting her in to see them. This was still heart breaking. She would alternate between returning to the coop to look for them and following Pavelle and her chicks around like a forgotten nanny.
In the meantime, I had another dilemma to deal with. How to raise these chicks so that the flock -who had just started to get to know them – didn’t forget them? I want a seamless integration and with the last re-design of the coop, we can no longer split it down the middle.
During a string of hot days, hot enough that 2 week old chicks wouldn’t need a brooder lamp, we had the idea. DH built a little playpen for them. On the hot days, I can take them outdoors, for a couple hours at least, with water and food.
They get the sunlight, grass and bugs their one-time momma tried to introduce them to, and the other chickens get to socialize with them.
The first two days we used it, Rapunzel went to them and attempted to talk and call to them through the chicken wire. Only half the chicks would respond to her. They were starting to forget ‘momma’ even if momma was not ready to forget them.
I tried – once – to put her in with them outdoors… to the same, sad and heart wrenching conclusion as the other times.
It just isn’t meant to be.
I don’t know if 5 weeks broody was too much for her brain, or if she still thought they needed to be eggs, or if 7 was too many chicks for a new mother hen to take on. Or if broody hormones made her insane. I. Don’t. Know. Sometimes, the only answer is that ‘some hens don’t make good mothers.’
Which is sad, because as a Buff Orpington, she made a wonderful broody. She went quickly, stayed with the same next, was dedicated to her eggs.
But I don’t think I can risk giving her babies again. I could let her hatch and I could raise, maybe, but she couldn’t be trusted not to ruin their feet again. Could she?
As of the writing of this post, Rapunzel has gotten over the ‘baby thing’ entirely and gone back to Hen Things. She is pissed that Pip is gone. He was her chosen boyfriend and Luke does nothing for her.
I need to get more pictures of Grumpy, Cutie, the light Brahma and Rocky. It’s harder in the brooder because they are quick and scared.
Chipmunk, Goth Chick and CW are all feathered out enough to start flying and they have been, as you can see from the pictures, coming out of the brooder to explore the world. These three adventurers are bonding with myself and Little Dude because they sit out there and talk to us while we do morning chores. Chipmunk is especially friendly.
By next week, they will be old enough to withstand 75-80 degree temps, so they should be outdoors, in their playpen, a little more often. Unless it rains. I have been bringing Pavelle’s chicks to say hello to them, in the hopes that they can be ‘cousins’ once I try to integrate. Eggy is terrified of them. That will be fun.
My Pet Chicken finally gave me an updated version of which breeds we have.
Chipmunk – still a Partridge Welsummer. Also, accorrding to this site, a little pullet. Because she still has her ‘mascara’ on her eyes.
CW – still a Columbian Wyandotte. Gender unknown.
Rocky – still a barred Plymouth Rock. Gender also unknown.
The little Brahma is still a little Brahma. Little Dude calls him/her ‘Rap’ and I don’t know why.
Goth Chick, the all black one, is no longer (or never was) a Svart Hona. Instead, according to the breeders, Goth Chick is one of My Pet Chicken’s ‘Mad Scientist’ chicks. They are calling them ‘customed crosses’ and did not tell me what when into the making of this chick. Possibly Svart Hona, possible Cemani? Possible God knows what? Supposedly, if it is a hen, it could lay green eggs.
Cutie and Grumpy are both different flavors of Rocks. One is a Silver Penciled Rock and the other is a light Barred Plymouth Rock…. so essentially, the same as Rocky only gray and white, not black and white. They both have barring on the wings now. I think they will look very similar, to be honest.
I’m going to end this post with some random pics from this week. We had a deer visit the pasture, and half the chickens were terrified. Pavelle chased it because it was too close to her babies. It was amusing.
And that’s about it for this week. I am having surgery on Monday, the 26th, so if there aren’t updates for a while, this would be why. When I return, I promise pictures of the Brooder Babies, who should be more feathered out by then.