Sunday, May 22, 2011

Baby Chicks Part Two

In my blog Counting My Eggs, I promised to keep my readers informed when the fertilized chicken eggs my hens were sitting on hatched.   Although I started out with eleven eggs shared by Mumbles and Thelma, Mumbles decided she'd been sitting long enough and threw in the towel.  Then Buffy, the Buff Orpington, thought she'd wax maternal and sit on the eggs.  In between all this, there were times when the eggs weren't covered.  One by one, they rotted and cracked.  They were literally half-cooked, maybe fertile, maybe not.  I'm sure the phrase, "last one's a rotten egg" comes from the situation where chicks start hatching and the
egg(s) that never hatches is rotten.  The stench is unmistakeable. 

Thelma prepares for motherhood
In the end, we have two viable chicks, a blond and a reddish-brown one.  Since the person who gave the eggs to me doesn't know the breeds of her chickens or her roosters, this is a guessing game.  The brown one has feathering on her legs so it'll be interesting to see how he/she/it develops.  I'm automatically referring to the chicks as girls, but I honestly don't know the gender.  Chickens, unlike puppies, are very difficult to sex at this age.  I'm thinking of naming them adrogenous names like "Pat", "Chris" or "Terry".  Any suggestions are welcome.

I felt guilty at taking the pheasant chicks away from Thelma after all her dedication to hatching them and want to give her a chance to enjoy motherhood.  If she never becomes broody again, then perhaps she will have learned that children are too much work.  Since I'm trying to let these chicks grow up with their adopted mother Thelma (Buffy proved too aggressive to be allowed this privilege), I have a new set of challenges.  Normally I would raise the chicks in a cage with a heat lamp in my basement until fully feathered at five weeks.  At five weeks they are adolescents and ready to move outside.  The nesting box the chicks were hatched in is about two feet off the ground so it would be difficult for fuzzy peeps to navigate that height, even with a ramp.  Plus, the other hens are not maternal toward the chicks and could present a danger to anything in their nesting boxes. 

Thelma demonstrates how to scratch out a snack to her peeps

Luckily our garden has an eight-foot fence around it, part of which is sectioned off for the chickens to keep them out of the planted veggies.  During the winter, we strung fishing line every three feet across the top of it to deter the hawks so the chickens would have another safe place to hang out.  Since our compost pile is in the corner of the garden, this provides a lot of enjoyment for the girls to rifle through our leftovers, spread the compost around and pick out worms and grubs. 

I decided the hens' fenced in garden area would become the nursery.  I turned the bottom half of a large doghouse over and placed a cat carrier on top of that.  Chickens need to roost off the ground, thus the doghouse base.  The cat carrier can be locked up at night.  I drape a sheet of plastic over the carrier at night for further warmth and rain protection.  Probably not as warm as the nesting box in the coop, but I keep in mind that Thelma's underside had to be about 95 degrees in order to have been able to incubate the eggs.   I put food and a waterer in the carrier with them, which the chicks quickly learned to use.  The garden is closed off to the other hens, something they resent, but have to accept.  The idea is that as the chicks grow, the rest of the flock will get used to them behind the safety of the fence so that the new members will be able to acclimate seamlessly. 

Our contraption we're calling the nursery

Thelma is a big girl and a wonderful mom.  I have to lift her up to see the chicks.  When it's warm, they come out from under their mother.  Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed that we can keep them safe until they are grown and that both are hens.

Thelma and her brood in their nest

As a sidenote, I am now a blogger on the Ledyard Patch, a local online newspaper.  I will be blogging about the same types of subjects as I do here, perhaps revamping some of my old stuff.  If my followers could please comment or click the Recommend button on the Ledyard Patch blog to indicate their support, I'd give them each a Maine Coon kitten.  Not really, but still, I'd be grateful.

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