Chick Watch: Week 1

Meet Jordy.  Jordy is a Buff Orpington hen, and is just over 2 years old.  Ever since she reached maturity, she goes broody in late Spring, and is always extremely determined to sit on eggs!  She often needs to be searched for, because she has hunkered down in any number of odd locations, wanting to make a nest.

broody buff orp
Jordy the broody Buff Orpington hen

This year, rather than fight her urges, we let her sit on some eggs.  We’ll keep up with her periodically in our blog series: Chick Watch.

Jordy has been “lightly broody” these past few weeks.  She would sit on top of the flock’s daily eggs, but would easily be shooed off.  She’d give her feathers a shake and a fluff, and then go on her merry way.  She wasn’t fully committed.  About one week ago, she … disappeared.  We didn’t see her in the yard, and noticed she didn’t come home to roost one evening.  So, the next morning, we sent out a search party.  She was quickly discovered, holed up under a pile of trimmed tree branches.  We knew this was it; she was ready to commit to sitting on eggs.

broody hen nest
Jordy made her nest under these branches

There is no rooster on the property, so any eggs laid by the hens at home do not have the potential to hatch.  They are not fertile, and can never develop in to chickens.  We purchased two fertile wheaten ameraucana eggs from our local feed store.  They’ll fit right in to our flock once they hatch, as we have majority blue eggs layers.

Jordy had chosen to nest under a pile of tree branches in the far corner of the one acre property.  Do we move her to the coop, or another location closer to the house?  Or do we leave her where she is?  A lot of thought went in to this decision.  It is often considered ideal to have a hen nest in a convenient, extremely secure location, where she can be easily monitored and kept safe.  However, there are several reasons why we decided to leave Jordy in her tree branch nest:

  1. No real threat from predators.  While yes, we realize that it is possible for a coyote or other predator to enter the yard, it hasn’t ever happened before, and doesn’t seem a likely scenario.  It’s a risk we felt comfortable taking.
  2. Privacy.  Jordy is comfortable in the back corner of the yard, away from the rest of the flock and other animals.  She will not constantly be bothered and feeling the need to defend herself and her eggs.  This is especially important because Jordy is lower in the pecking order.  The more dominant hens are pushy and nosy, and would constantly be invading her personal space were she nesting in the coop.
  3. Shade.  She is in an area that is shaded and cool at all times.  Last year, she nested on eggs in the coop, in July.  While out of direct sunlight, it was still so hot that we had to set up misters and fans.  There were many days that we were worried about the temperature being dangerously high.  In her tree branch nest she’s in the shade and will get a nice breeze.
  4. Security.  We took more trimmed branches and piled them up around her.  She’s got a bit of a tree branch cage going on, and is well hidden.  While we realize this isn’t incredibly secure, it’ll definitely do the trick for 21 days.  “Back in the day on grandpa’s farm,” hens would disappear and make nests who knows where, and then reappear weeks later with chicks in tow!  They do just fine on their own.

First things first, and a lesson learned from last year, we marked the fertile eggs with a pencil.  This will help us distinguish the fertile eggs from the non-fertile eggs laid by our hens.  Sometimes, when a broody hen leaves the nest momentarily to eat, drink, or relieve herself, another hen will decide to lay an egg in the same nest.  Non-fertile eggs in the nest need to be removed regularly, as they will start to spoil if sat on for too long.

fertile eggs
fertile wheaten ameraucana eggs marked in pencil

Given her isolated location, we set up a food and water station close by, so she doesn’t have to travel far to replenish herself.  A hen sitting on eggs puts her needs second to her duty of incubating, and that will take a toll on her body.  She will only leave the nest about once per day to eat, drink, and relieve herself.

Today is Day 7 out of 21 days of incubation.  What do our developing chicks look like?  The Poultry Site  has a great explanation along with photos of chick development as it happens day by day.  At the stage of development, our chick embryos have a head, neck, a body, and limbs.  The beak is beginning to form.  The brain continues to develop, but it now takes up less space in the body, as the body begins to grow larger.  In just two days, feathers will start to form.

Day 7 chick development. Thank you to The Poultry Site.

 

Keep an eye on our Facebook page and this blog as we post updates on Jordy and her eggs, which in about 2 weeks will be little baby chicks!  We can’t wait!

Unconventional & Alternative Watchdogs

Keeping animals on your property, whether they be birds, rabbits, goats, sheep, cattle, horses, or any combination in between, will attract outside visitors. They might be small prey animals looking for a peaceful nibble of your livestock feed, or larger predators looking to make a meal out of your animals. You may want to consider getting a guard dog or watchdog to protect your herd. Who better suited for the job then, well, a dog? There are a few alternatives that might surprise you.

Guinea Fowl

guinea fowl
Guinea Fowl make great livestock guards

Guinea Fowl are incredibly noisy birds, and make excellent alarm systems. Fans of guinea fowl claim that they are able to recognize familiar faces, and will alert the arrival of any strangers. They are also incredibly brave, and are not phased one bit when standing up against cats, dogs, even people. One especially great quality of guinea fowl is that they will even take on snakes!

Geese

geese
Geese are notoriously territorial!

Anyone who’s ever met a goose knows that these birds are all business. They are alert, with keen eyesight and hearing, and can detect unwanted visitors quickly. They will sound the alarm, and honk loudly when they sense something suspcious, easily heard by even a sleeping human. Geese are also notoriously territorial, and aren’t afraid to stand their ground. Their first instinct is not to run, but to confront, and they will hiss and bite in defense.

Llamas

llama
Llamas will spit, scream, bite, and kick at intruders

Llamas have been used to guard small flocks on farms for years, and farmers will a good guard llama will tell you they’re worth their weight in gold. Not all llamas will have great guarding instincts, but those that do will not only alert you to intruders, but handle the intruders all on their own. There are numerous accounts of llamas battling with coyotes, foxes, or dogs to protect their herds. It is advised to only have a single llama on guard, as having two means they will ignore the herd and just hang out with each other.

Donkeys

donkey guard dog
Donkeys make great guardians for sheep or goats

Donkeys are a great option for guarding grazing animals like goats or sheep, because they have very similar care requirements. Donkeys are the silent guard animal, and will rarely notify their humans of intruders. Instead, they will fiercely protect the herd themselves, using kicks and strikes with their hooves and bites with their large teeth. Not only are these territorial animals excellent for guarding, but they can also function as pack animals, making them useful in more ways than one!

Ostriches & Emus

ostrich emu
Ostriches and emus can be very intimidating to intruders!

If you’re looking for something really exotic, how about getting an ostrich or emu to guard your herds? Standing over 6 feet tall and weighing over 150 pounds, these birds are incredibly intimidating! They can run over 40 miles per hour, and can deliver deadly kicks with their strong, powerful legs.