|Mumbles - Blue Silkie|
In casual conversation with fellow volunteer Lorraine at the horse farm, I learned that she not only had many chickens, but also had pheasants. She was interested in hatching her eggs, but none of her birds had the maternal broody instinct. I'll remind the reader that I do not have a rooster, so although my hens lay daily, none of the eggs are fertile. Lorraine has both genders of chickens and pheasants. I was at the point where I needed to break Mumbles of her broodiness, but after talking to Lorraine, we decided to give Mumbles a job.
We put 8 tiny, dark green pheasant eggs under Mumbles, removing the golf ball decoys to encourage the other hens to lay in other parts of the nesting boxes. Hens like to all lay in the same one or two locations, even to the point where one will stand on top of another. They will cue up like women waiting to use the public restroom, waiting for one hen to finish delivering her egg du jour (which can take over 30 minutes) just to use that particular nesting box. The empty spaces on either side of the laying hen are ignored unless there is another egg (or golf ball) there to indicate that this is also a suitable place to leave one's egg. Even with the golf ball decoy, some hens insist upon using the same box each time.
Once Mumbles started happily incubating her pheasant eggs, Thelma decided she wanted to go broody too and took over Mumbles spot. Mumbles was dedicated to sitting on her eggs, but with her small size, it's too easy for the larger hens to push her off the nest. If I did this the right way, I'd have a separate nesting box caged off just for broody hens. The problem is getting a hen to adapt to a new space once she has started sitting. I tried bringing Mumbles inside, setting up a large cage for her and the eggs. Like I'd suspected, she was so freaked out at the move that her unhatched babies were forgotten in her anxiety. Back out they all went.
|Thelma - Jersey Giant|
Finally, the pheasants started pipping their eggs. It can take a day or two for a chick to work its way out of its shell enclosure. Unlike mammals where the mother's body does all the work to push the baby out into the world, the process of hatching is completely up to the chick which has now outgrown its womb. The really incredible part was being able to hear the peeping and pecking and feeling the heartbeat in my hand while holding the egg. Unfortunately, hatching takes a toll. When the hatching started we had 7 eggs as one had broken in the nest previously. Two chicks went through the process of hatching only to die immediately. Two eggs never hatched. Three eggs eventually revealed viable pheasant chicks. We were amazed at how large the chicks were compared to their egg. It was twice as much chick as egg.
|Pheasant egg hatching|
Lorraine has since gotten an incubator, a method I would employ if I wanted to hatch a lot of eggs simply because it leaves less to chance. She did, however, give us eleven fertilized hen eggs to try when she picked up the pheasant chicks. Thelma and Mumbles are at it again, partly because I feel guilty for taking their babies away. I drew a black line around the fertile eggs with a marker to differentiate them from our other eggs. Lorraine has agreed to take any chicks back that we don't want. Hatch date is May 21st. I'll keep you posted.