More Co-parenting, Sort Of

This is just a brief update on the fate of Claire and the chicks of Baby Land.

The last time, I mentioned that Eugenie had gone back to Hen Things when the babies were 5 weeks old.

They are now 7 1/2 weeks old and Claire has yet to go back to Hen Things. She does wander away from them or them from her… occasionally. But for the most part, they are together. Just without Eugenie.

Not that you would notice a difference, because more recently, Pavelle and her baby AJ have been hanging out with them.

The older chicks treat AJ very well, and Claire seems to tolerate Pavelle so long as her babies don’t get pecked.

And then there was one…

Several weeks ago, I told you all about Claire and Eugenie, a mother-daughter duo who had decided to go broody and hatch eggs at the same time and how, after hatching, they endeavored to co-parent their four chicks. It was awkward at first, but as the weeks have progressed, we (the humans and the other chickens) have gotten used to the little collective of Six. Little Dude even nicknamed them Baby Land.

The chicks of Baby Land are five weeks old this week. They’ve had lots of teaching, lots of supervision, lots of protection.

Over the last couple of days, however, o e of their Mommas has started making the transition from Momma to Hen.

Eugenie, the daughter of the mother-daughter duo, has decided that three weeks of broody and five weeks of mothering is enough, and that, since her own mother is still willing to watch all four of the children, she can go back to doing Hen Things.

I first noticed her dirt bathing away from her chicks the other day. And other last couple days, she has not been hanging out with the collective in the pasture. Not did she sleep with them on the roosts last night.

She laid an egg this morning, too.

Claire is still going strong, though, for now, and will probably stick with the Littles for another week, at least.

She did, however, give me a very harried look last night, when instead of splitting the chicks with her daughter, she had four confused little ones trying to tuck up underneath her wings. I think she wound up sitting on one of them!

Time is running short for these Littles, though. Pretty soon, they will be all on their own.

Co-Parenting, Chicken Style

I’ve talked a lot about mother hens here on this blog. Go figure, huh?  We seem to always have baby chicks being hatched.  This spring/summer especially has been a boom of broody hens.  More than I’ve even mentioned, to be honest.

Pavelle, Rapunzel, Ashley, Tweety, Claire, Ashley (again), Eugenie, and Pavelle again.  Ashley got put in Broody Jail twice after her escapades in raising babies last year.   Poor Claire spent 6 weeks being broody because her first set of eggs didn’t hatch (some died, some were duds).

It’s Claire, along with her daughter from last year’s hatch, Eugenie, who are the subject of today’s post.

You see, when Claire lost the first set of eggs, I decided to give her new, because Claire is a proven good mother and I felt sorry for her losing her babies she worked so hard for.  Eugenie had started to go broody the day or two before and I was deciding what to do with her when I gave Claire her new eggs.

For whatever reason, I gave both of them four eggs each, for a total of eight chicks if they all hatched.

Last Wednesday night, the first chick began break out of his shell under Claire.  He was STILL breaking out of it Thursday morning when I returned to the coop to find Eugenie had two fluffy little chicks under her, and Claire had one more pipping.

By Friday morning, we had a total of four chicks, one dead EE (still in eggs) and two duds. ( and one which had been broken by Pavelle the week prior, because she decided she needed to go broody again,too, and needed to use Claire’s nest to do it.)

So… four babies, two mother hens.

I tried to put them in separate areas of the coop, but as has been the theme this year, the mommas’ both rejected my cat carriers in favor of the floor under the nesting boxes – – AND they decided to co-raise their four chicks together.

The first couple of days were rough all the way around. Both hens  were in extreme broody momma mode and in addition to chasing other chickens away from their wee little ones, Claire would lunge at Eugenie and chase her off, too.  Undaunted, Eugenie would com back, but had too much respect for her mother to chase back.

The other hens started laying eggs outside because it was too much drama to try and lay in the coop.

But as the weekend and the early part of this week progressed, mothers and babies fell into a rhythm that worked of all of them.

I’ve been amazed, watching them navigate a very confusing social situation.  Once the initial ‘turf wars’ were over and Claire accepted that Eugenie wasn’t going to give up her rights to her babies, they ironed out a system of rearing.  Co-parenting at it’s finest.

It began in the coop, with one mother sitting on some of the chicks while the other taught one or two to scratch and dig.  Then they would swap.

They babies usually sleep under Claire at night, while Eugenie sleeps in the nest above them.

Claire took the first brave chick outdoors at three days old, while Eugenie mothered the other three in the coop.

When all four babies were in the coop playing and eating, Claire would teach while Eugenie stood guard against threats (or perceived threats) from other hens.

After a few days, Claire got all four of them outside.  Eugenie followed and they took turns showing the babies how to dig in the dirt to find yummies.

When they go outside, one mother (usually Claire) leads them down the ramp and the other (usually Eugenie) follows behind the stragglers, ensuring that no baby is left behind.

The little yellow/cinnamon colored one likes to sit on both her/his mothers’ backs, which I read somewhere is a sign of love and affection.   Of belonging to that hen.   I guess that means the babies really do belong to both of them, no matter who they hatched under.

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Here is the happy, if unorthodox, little family of six.

I’m not sure if I will ever let two hens hatch out at the same exact time again, but I have no regrets about letting Claire and her daughter raise these ones together. It’s working for them, strange as it may seem to us.

Hatchings, Integrations, Broodies and Hard Decisions

If it’s not one thing with these chickens, it’s another.  And this is shaping up to be a busy week for my little flock of 40.

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I’ll start with this little piece of precious fluff.  Because, really, doesn’t that face just make you want to saw “awwwww!”

A few weeks ago, I had two broody hens.  Claire, one of my veteran broody’s from last year, and Tweety, my small Buff Orpington and a new broody.   I gave them each 3 eggs.  Claire, some barred rocks, and Tweety, some Buff Brahma’s.

And then a week after I gave them their eggs, went into the hospital for my surgery and have been limited to light duty.  Somewhere in there, no one candled the eggs to see what was going on.  Today is Hatch Day, and it is nail biting all the way around because I don’t know if any of the eggs (except this one, obviously) will hatch.  None of Claire’s eggs have hatched yet, but yesterday, Tweety was blessed with this sweet little Brahma.

No other eggs have hatched, but neither hen seems ready to give up the nest, so I won’t let myself worry until Saturday morning.

HOWEVER, the addition of a new little baby has brought out a different Worry, one which will have to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Rapunzel tried to attack Tweety’s baby, in a similar fashion to what she did with her own.    She forced her way into Tweety’s nest and began going after the baby, lunging at it even when it was under Tweety.

Both the kids and I removed her and she went back to try again.

The last time, we put her in the Broody Jail, and there she is going to stay until DH comes home this weekend.   After that… well, I can’t have a hen who will attack and harm babies.   If she was just doing this to her pwn babies, we wouldn’t give her eggs.  But attacking other hens’ babies is an entirely different thing.  It means no babies are safe.

And right now, I have Claire and Tweety to worry about… plus Pavelle thinks she wants to go broody again is in a pre-broody stage right now.   And Eugenie (Claire’s little snowball from last summer) is 98% definitely broody now, and will be worse by the time Rapunzel gets out of the Broody Jail this weekend.

(I was planing on putting Eugenie into broody jail tonight, after we integrate the Brooder Bunch, but now that’s not going to happen and it’s all Rapunzel’s fault.)

But Rapunzel will not be released back into the flock.   I’ve made the decision that DH needs to send her to Freezer Camp.   I can’t rehome her, because if anyone else tries to have chicks around her, or gives her eggs (Buff Orpington’s are supposed to be good broody mommas, after all) then she will do the same thing to them.   I couldn’t ethically do that to some innocent person, so Freezer Camp is the only viable option.

The babies in the brooder are 6 weeks old, and mostly feathered out.  The Brahma,whom we have decided might be a hen are calling Rachel, Cutie and Grumpy and the only hold outs, but they have enough feathers to be okay.  They don’t sleep under the brooder lamp anymore anyway, and also, they are all getting HUGE.

What you see in the above pictures represents their last day in the brooder box.   It’s raining, so they didn’t go outside.  But tonight, after everyone is sleeping, the kids and I will sneak them into the coop and put them on roosts.  When they way up Friday morning, they will be a part of the flock.  As you can see,Dots already likes Winnie.  He was very kind to her.

I think it will go well.  All of the nice days, the babies got to be int heir playpen and the rest of the flock got to see them and know they were there.  It will be an adjustment, but it should work out fine. .

 

 

 

Broody Girls

It’s spring, and after a long and snowy winter, in which the hens spent more time in the coop than outdoors.  The weather is warming up, the grass is growing.  Flowers, weeds and bugs are everywhere.  Life is good if you’re a chicken.

A couple of weeks ago, several of my hens started exhibiting signs of being broody.   Hanging out in the nests longer, or later in the day.  Puffed up feathers and growling or yelling while they are in the nest.  Growling and yelling at other hens when they are off the nest.

This kind of thing happens every spring.  Hens thinking that maybe they want to go brood on some eggs and raise some babies.  Its a natural, hormonal instinct for chickens, albeit one that the hatcheries have tried to breed out of their birds because egg/meat production is more profitable than hens sitting on eggs.   But if you’re a back yard chicken owner, homesteader, or farmer who wants a self-sustaining flock, a broody hen might be what you’re looking for.

My first year as a chicken owner, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know if I wanted broody hens.  Most the websites and blogs who talk about broodies talk about how to broody break them, because most people want eggs.   And I had Abby, who went broody less than two months after laying her first egg.   I broke her the first time, but decided when she did it again a month later, that it wasn’t worth trying to break her again, and just gave her eggs.

Watching Abby raise her chick – the rooster now known on this blog as Pip – was all it took.  I was bitten hard by the bug, and now wait with anticipation for the sign of broodies I can give eggs to.  There is something of wonder about watching a mother hen raise her Littles, seeing them explore the world at her side.  Learn and grow, and become a part of the flock.

I also like seeing the way genetics plays out in the 2nd Gen chicks.  I have a small group of ‘barnyard mix’ hens and two mix roosters who are all very unique in their looks and personalities.

So… anyway… I had five hens who started to act like they might go broody.  Penelope, Claire, Julia, Rapunzel and Pavelle.

Penelope an Julia really didn’t do anything.  They did that last year, too.  Walked around bucky for a week or so and then just stopped.   I don’t expect this year to be different.

Claire is STILL puffing up while she’s on a nest and sometimes while she is off it.  Given that she actually DID go broody last spring, I’m watching her closely.  She might.  And she was a good momma, so I would have no qualms about giving her eggs.

Rapunzel went HARD. Rapunzel is a Buff Orpington and Orpingtons are known to be goody broodies.  Rapunzel spent the least time ‘going through the motions’ and after a couple of “well, maybe” days, she hopped in a nest and committed to sitting on ceramic eggs.   She is very dedicated to them, and I’m going to let her stick with the ceramic eggs because I have special plan for her.  Little Dude is going to be doing an Embryology project for 4-H, which means we will be hatching eggs in an incubator and documenting every step of the way.   I have eggs coming from My Pet Chicken, because Little Dude wanted Barred Rocks.  So we have 4 Barred Rock eggs and 6 “assorted” eggs, which could be any breeds, coming later this week.  I’ve decided that I will be giving Rapunzel the chicks that hatch from those eggs.  Hopefully, she will accept them as her own.  Otherwise, I will have to put them in the brooder and raise them separate of the rest of the flock.

In the meantime, Pavelle is sitting on six eggs.  Three are hers, and three came from Padme, the little Easter Egger hen.  They are the smallest eggs I have, even though Pavelle is very impressive when she is puffed up and screaming at you, she is still a small hen.  Any of the babies she raised will be bigger than her at 6 weeks of age.

If anyone else goes broody in the between time – I’m looking at you, Claire – I will probably share the wealth, rather than give more eggs.  Claire, for example, could take on some of the 4-H babies, so Rapunzel, who is a new mother, doesn’t have to raise a potential ten babies on her own.  But that is a big IF that has a lot of variables.  IF Claire or anyone else goes broody in the next 3-4 weeks.  IF the incubation is successful and all the eggs hatch.  I’ve never used an incubator before and I’m borrowing one from DH’s aunt for the project.  So many variables.

In the last picture, you can see that Pavelle and ‘Punzel are in a prime location. Pavelle will steal eggs from the nests around her, and I constantly have to check underneath her for extras. Which is funny because one time, she had three extras and they were sticking out because she is so small they don’t all fit!

 


Pavelle

Rapunzel

Broody Ashley

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so this is Ashe, all grown up into the very lovely Ashley. My Girl insists we call her Ashley, since she isn’t a boy, but I still call her Ashe.

Ashley is 6 1/2 months old and very broody.  She spent two weeks being buck-bucky and pulling her feathers out of her chest.  Literally, she was bald on her underside but wasn’t sitting on eggs.  I actually thought she was sick or something, because she’s too young to molt.

Last Thursday, she was walking around puffed up and screaming at everyone, challenging other hens at bedtime.  Being really confrontational.  Still not on a nest.  I’m thinking, “someone pissed Ashe off!”

Friday morning, she had chosen a nest and tucked in on two eggs. That was the point where I said “ahhh!  This is what a broody Australorp looks like!”

She spent Friday and Saturday nest hopping, mostly because she kept choosing nests that other hens like to lay eggs in.  The other hens, some of them older and scarier, forced her out of said nests.  The nest thing is a common problem.  I don’t exactly know why because we have 28 laying boxes.  That’s one box for each laying hen, plus a couple empties.  But they lay in … 4 – 6 of them.

I know… I have nothing.  I don’t understand chicken logic.  I’m pretty sure it isn’t logic.  But there you have it.  28 boxes, 24 hens, 3 more young pullets who start laying soon… plenty of boxes.   They use a max of 6.  (If I ever convince DH to revamp the coop in any major ways, I will insist on fewer boxes, maybe like 12 or 15, and more roosting areas.  Perches and ladders.  But I would need to convince him first. ;-))

By Sunday night, however, Ashley had managed to find a box no one cared about, settled in on a ceramic egg (I have an egg eater.  I slipped ceramic eggs into some of the boxes to discourage her until I can figure out which hen she is. We’re all betting on Stacey, given her weird behavior but have not caught her doing anything naughty.)  and puffed up grumpy.  When she stayed there, same nest through half of Monday, I selected six of our own eggs and slipped them under her.

 

Ashe’s eggs.  I do NOT know which hens are responsible for these eggs.  Given the color and size, I am hoping a good sampling of all my breeds.  At least as far as the mommas are concerned. 

The darker eggs are most likely Rhode Island Red, or possibly the sexlink/Comets.  I chose a sampling of colors and sizes, to get hopefully, some eggs from my older and younger flock.

Dots and Pip have both been active mating with their girl friends, so either could be the Papa.

I had considered sending away for more Easter Eggers.  But the nice lady I bought Pavel and her brothers from couldn’t verify fertility this last in the year, and My Pet Chicken couldn’t ship until next week.  Given that it’s going to be getting colder in the next few weeks, I really didn’t want to make her wait a whole week sitting on a ceramic egg.

Especially not when she’s so young yet and I don’t know what kind of momma she will be.  I’d much rather give my own eggs to newbies, until I see how they will react to babies.  Abby and Claire can have ‘pay for babies’ because I know, now, that they will be awesome moms.

Hatch Day is October 24th.  I’ll probably candle the eggs sometime next week, at the 2 week mark.  There’s not going to be much to see before then anyway.

Fertility, based on last weeks dozen eggs, is at least 3/4.  This is NOT scientific.  I took a fresh dozen eggs and made up a pan of scrambled eggs to feed the chickens.  Protein for the molters.   I checked each egg as I cracked it.  I counted 9 bulls-eyes out of the 12 and the remaining 3, I simply couldn’t see from the way the yolk dropped into my bowl.  Not scientific, no.  But it does mean I should get a small handful of babies.

The only hitch in this is that I was planning our Fall Coop Cleaning for the next couple of weeks and now I’m going to have to clean and spray for mites AROUND a broody hen.  because moving her would be stupid.

They never make it easy, do they?

 

 

 

 

 

 

If it’s not molting, it’s…

… ??

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the last week or better.  But here, for you, dear readers, I’ll back track…

It’s summer, it’s hot and yucky and I have been under the assumption that my older chickens began their molt early due to the heat.  Is that a thing?  I don’t know, but they are looking ragged, and several have stopped laying.

Double Dots, who is my easiest to catch loves to be held, had spots on his legs that felt like new feather coming in.  Hard, pokey new feathers.  I looked into the fluff on his legs and saw feather shafts with raised red skin around it.

Being new to chickens, and never having had any molt before, I assumed that the first adult molt made them irritated.

It turns out, as I have read in several sources, molting does NOT cause irritation.

So what do I have going on in my flock?

I have spent the last week and a half searching the internet, skulking in the Backyard Chickens forum, and the best I can come up with is mites or lice.  Or extreme picking and feather pulling.

Dots appears to have the worst of it.  His butt below his vent is awful looking, red, uber-irritated.

I diligently checked all the other chickens, young and old.  There’s a few with minor signs of the same vent irritation.  Pip has minor signs around his vent.  Not anywhere as bad as Dots.

However, given that Dots is the Head Rooster of this flock and he like to mate with his hens frequently, he could spread them?  Also, where is he getting them from?  What about Abby and Claire, my two broody hens?  Broody hens are susceptible to lice and mites because they sit and don’t go outside to dust bathe as often.

For anyone interested, Backyard Chickens has a lovely and informative guide to Mites and Lice.    Their forum is also full of good threads on what to do.  I spent a good amount of time there this week trying to figure this out, and make a plan of attack.

Ordinarily, I would have gone to The Chicken Chick or Fresh Eggs Daily first, but on this, I find myself unsure of the advice.  One of them supports natural/herbal remedies and the other says that herbs will not get rid of mites and lice.

So I’m going with Backyard Chickens on this one.

My plan of attack is a 5 Step program.

  1.  Clean the ENTIRE coop and beds.   Little Dude and I did it this morning, much to the chagrin of my little hennies who just wanted a nice bed of wood shavings and straw to lay their eggs in.
  2. Spray EVERYTHING in mite spray.   I’m using Gordon’s Goat and Sheep spray.    The inside label says you can use it goats, sheep, cattle, horses, and poultry.  It says, in reference to poultry, to spray it on the roosts, beds and walls of the coop (I did the floors, too) and even spray a fine mist of it over your birds.  (I did not do that.)
  3. Put down clean bedding.  I just did wood shavings.  See Step 5 for why.
  4. Powder Chickens.  This step is a bit controversial.  BYC and other sources list Sevin dust as a good method of killing mites and lice and other external parasites on your chickens.  It’s safe for the chickens, and like the mite spray ( step 2), you don’t have to withhold eggs.  However, Sevin dust also kills bees.  A lot of people are opposed to chemicals that kill the honey bees.  If you’re interested in knowing, you’re supposed to put the Sevin dust inside a knee high (panty hose) and tie a knot in it to create a powder puff. Then pick up you chicken, hold them tucked up in under your arm, slightly upside down, and powder their butts near the vent.  It’s best to do this at bed time, so you can just pick your chickens off the roost (as opposed to chasing them around).   Little Dude and I will be doing this tonight at lock up.
  5. Repeat Steps 1-4 in 7 days.    Repeating will kill any mites or lice that hatched after the first treatment.  This step is also the reason I only put in wood shavings and not fresh straw in the beds.  We took out 7 wheel barrow loads of bedding while cleaning the coop.  In 7 days, I don’t want to relive that.

I am super concerned about Abby and her Littles, though.  I’m not sure how the Sevin dust will effect them.  However, whatever is bugging the big chickens could kill them, so it needs to be done.

Now, the chickens were only concerned with where their straw beds went, how soon they’d return and OMG! Mommy locked us out of the coop!

And when I finally did let them back into the coop, I have 12 of them trying to lay eggs all at once.  The various renditions of the Egg Song were deafening.  Poor girls!

And then, there was this…

I don’t know what it was about, but Cinderella and Rapunzel seemed very freaked out by the straw-less beds and Pip was pretending to be Prince Charming and checked them out for safety measures.

Chickens are so weird sometimes.