Chick Watch: 5 Weeks Later

Our little chicks are in their 5th week of life outside an egg!  It has been such a joy to watch Jordy be a mother hen to these two, and to watch the chicks growing and learning about the world around them.

hen and chicks
Mama Jordy and her two chicks

Jordy is the epitome of an overprotective “helicopter mom”.  She never lets the chicks get too far from her side, and never lets anyone else get too close.  It has been quite a task to get photos of them or to check up on them, because we can hardly get within 10 feet of them before they are led away by cautious mama.

As the days and weeks pass by, mother hen is expanding the area she is comfortable letting the chicks explore.  What started out as a small perimeter directly around the nest has grown to about half of the one-acre property.  She is doing a great job of showing them the ropes – how to find delicious plants and bugs to eat, how to take a dust bath, where to find the best spot for a nap on a hot afternoon, and when to take cover from danger.  She is in constant verbal communication with her chicks, and after watching them for hours, we have noticed different sounding clucks that must have distinct meanings.  A “come eat this!” cluck, a “be careful kids!” cluck, and a reassuring “mom’s right here,” cluck for when they wander too far.

hen and chicks
Keeping a safe distance

She is also starting to bring them around the rest of the flock more and more.  Chickens are not welcoming of outsiders, and any new chick or chicken is viewed as an enemy to be eliminated.  Sometimes even flock members that have spent time away, perhaps due to illness or injury, have to be reintroduced carefully.  Mama Jordy is keeping a safe distance, but the other flock members are able to see and get used to the new additions being out in the yard.  Jordy and the chicks are still sleeping in their cozy nest, and have not relocated to the coop just yet.

The chicks are growing like weeds, and at this age their juvenile feathers are really coming in.  Based on their feathering right now, our hypothesis is that we have two girls.  Of course, we could always be wrong!  It’s still a guessing game at this point, and we won’t know for sure until about 16 weeks.  We once had a chick we swore was a rooster right up until it laid an egg!  Turns out she’s just a bit masculine in her appearance.  So time will tell, but for now they are healthy and happy!

Chick Watch: Week 3 – They Hatched!

Major pro of having a broody hen sit on eggs and hatch chicks:  she does all the work.

Major con of having a broody hen sit on eggs and hatch chicks:  you might miss out on all the excitement!

It’s a good thing we had our calendar marked with an approximate hatch day for our two Wheaten Ameraucana eggs, otherwise we’d still have no idea that the chicks were free from their eggs and out in the world!

We went to do our evening check up on Jordy.  She was being extra grouchy and protective of her nest, growling at us and biting us as we tried to check on the eggs underneath her.  So much so that we couldn’t get a good look at the eggs.  We almost walked away before we noticed tiny little “peeps” sounding off, and a little yellow head poked out for a split second.  The chicks had already hatched!

hen and chicks
Jordy and her two new chicks!

We didn’t actually have visible confirmation that both eggs had hatched for about 24 hours.  We only knew we had at least 1 chick.  It took two of us to move Jordy just enough to get a peak at our new hatchlings.  Two healthy, fuzzy, little yellow chicks!  We were disappointed that we didn’t get to witness “the miracle of birth,” but happy to see that the chicks were already dry, scooting around, and comfortably tucked up in the warm blanket of mama’s wings.

Jordy is certainly a proud mother, and deserves some kind of award for her fiercely protective, helicopter-mom style.  She is in constant communication with her babies, and is always on the lookout for intruders.  We can only get within about 5 feet of them before she puffs up and gives her chicks the cue to stop exploring and come seek protection under her wings.  She even attacked the dog when it came over for a harmless, merely curious look at the new additions.  There is no doubt that these chicks will be safe in her care!

hen and chicks
Learning important life lessons from mom

Slowly but surely, mama will lead her babies further and further from the nest, and teach them about life outside.  She will teach them to scratch and find food, take them over to the water bowl for a refreshing drink, and take a nice dust bath with them.  They will remain separated from the rest of the flock for a while, until Jordy is comfortable enough to introduce them.  Given Jordy’s ultra-protective instincts, it could take a while!

Chicks that are raised outside by a hen, rather than inside in a brooder, generally mature more quickly.  They shed their baby down and grow in feathers faster, they grow in size faster, and since they aren’t under the light of an artificial heat lamp 24/7, their sleep cycles are more regulated by natural light.  Plus they get the added benefits of getting plenty of fresh air and exercise.  They also learn better social skills because of the teachings of their mother, and can integrate into the adult flock fairly seamlessly.

Keep checking back, as we document these two chicks as they grow and mature in to adult birds!  Will they be hens or roosters?  Let’s find out together!

Chick Watch: Week 2

14 days down, about 7 more days to go!  Jordy the Buff Orpington hen is doing a great job sitting on her eggs and protecting her nest.  Since we take a very hands off approach to this process, there won’t be much excitement until hatch day.

We make sure to check on Jordy twice a day, but otherwise leave her undisturbed.  She is doing just what Nature intended.  Her nesting location has worked out extremely well.  The other more dominant hens have come over to investigate, but Jordy feels safe and secure under the tree branches.  She has also been nice and cool, even during days the temperature has been quite hot.  Overall, she’s looking to be in great shape and performing her duties like a champ!

While out feeding the horses one day, we heard a great big commotion – squawking, flapping, running, what a scene!  It was Jordy!  She had decided she was hungry, and needed to take a break from sitting.  Every second she was away from the nest, she was a hormonal and worried mother.  She was puffed up like a turkey the whole time she was eating!  After about 5 or 10 minutes of getting some food, water, and a nice stretch, she made her way back to her nest.  This was a great opportunity to observe her and evaluate her overall condition.  She looks to be in good health, and doesn’t seem to have lost much weight at all.  While sitting on eggs, a hen puts her body through quite the ordeal, eating and drinking only sparingly.  It is easy for them to lose weight and become dehydrated.  Jordy is in great condition.

broody hen
Jordy puffed up like a turkey

It was also a great opportunity to go take a peak at the nest!  We have our two eggs, hopefully developing into beautiful Wheaten Ameraucana chicks!  Have you ever heard the phrase “to feather the nest” ?  As you can see, Jordy has done just that!  She has plucked a few feathers from her breast to make her nest a little more cozy.

nest of eggs
Two eggs we hope to hatch!

At this stage of development, our chicks are basically fully formed.  They are just tiny versions of themselves.  They have down covering their entire body, a beak, and claws.  Eyelids have developed over their eyeballs.  Over the next 7 days, they will continue to grow in size, and utilize the nutrients within the contents of the egg.  Did you know, an egg white and egg yolk is the amniotic fluid for a developing chick?  Eggs are very nutrient rich!

day 14 chicken development
Day 14 Development courtesy of The Poultry Site

 

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!

What to Do with a Broody Hen

Around this time of year, when Spring is in full swing, your hens’ egg production has picked up, their appetites are good, and the sun is shining, you may notice a few hens going broody. Broodiness is triggered by hormones, daylight, and the availability of eggs to sit on. What does this mean to you as a chicken keeper? It means you may need to get involved and change your hen’s behavior.

What does “broody” mean and how do I recognize it?

When a hen is broody, it means her maternal instincts have kicked in. Her hormones are surging and telling her it’s time to sit on and hatch some eggs. It is pretty easy to recognize a hen that has gone broody. She will not be in her usual active, curious mood. She will stay camped out on a nest, whether there’s eggs in it or not. When approached by you or other birds, she will puff her feathers up, get very defensive, make a unique growling sound, and even peck at intruders. She means business and is insistent when it comes to sitting on those eggs!

broody hen, nesting
A broody hen that is puffed up and sitting on a clutch of eggs

If there are fertile eggs for her to sit on (and if you want baby chicks) –

If your broody hen is sitting on a clutch of fertile eggs, and if you don’t mind having a few baby chicks added to your flock, you are more than welcome to leave her sitting on those eggs. She will incubate the eggs at just the perfect temperature and humidity for about 21 days, and then you’ll have some new chicks added to your flock!

If your eggs aren’t fertile (no roosters present) or you don’t want chicks to hatch –

If your hen has gone broody, and there’s no possibility of her hatching eggs, you will need to intervene and put an end to her broody behavior, otherwise known as “breaking up” her broodiness. Why you ask? Because a broody hen will continue brooding until she hears the little peeps of baby chicks. Otherwise, she will sit on eggs indefinitely. This can have a seriously negative impact on her health.

The consequences of unwanted broodiness –

While a hen is broody and sitting on a nest, she will put all her energy in to sitting on eggs, and neglect herself in the process. She will only leave the nest to eat, drink, and relieve herself once or twice a day. She will become pale, lose sheen in her feathers, and lose weight. In hot weather, she can easily become dehydrated. While she can keep this routine up for 21 days, it is hard on her. Allowing her to sit on eggs that will never hatch is not fair to her and not in anyone’s best interest.

At the same time your hen is brooding, she will not lay any eggs, and she may inspire other hens to go broody as well. Broodiness begets broodiness. Before you know it, your whole flock could be on strike!

broody hen
A broody hen will occupy a nesting box and encourage other hens to become broody as well

How to break up the broodiness –

As soon as you identify broody behavior, get to work on stopping it. The longer a hen is broody, the longer it takes her to snap out of it. There are many techniques out there for how to break up a broody, but many of them are ineffective or even inhumane. The best, easiest (for both of you!) course of action is to put her in a “broody breaker” pen.

A broody breaker pen is basically a wire bottomed cage. It can be a rabbit hutch, a dog crate, or something of your own construction. It will need to be raised off the floor, to allow air to circulate underneath. Your broody hen will live in the broody breaker pen with food and water, but no bedding. The design of the broody breaker pen is two-fold; is allows air to circulate and cool down the hen’s breast, and also makes her generally uncomfortable. Broody hens prefer small, dark, private areas where they can snuggle up in the nest and incubate eggs. By placing her in a location without these amenities, it sends a signal to the hen’s brain that it’s not time to hatch eggs.

broody breaker
This wire cage will make a perfect broody breaker pen

It is essential to keep her in the broody breaker pen until she is fully back to her normal self. You can always test this by letting her out of the pen and watching her. If she gets all puffed up and hightails it for the closest nest she can find, right back in the pen she goes! Otherwise you are starting back at square one.

Some breeds of chicken are more prone to broodiness than others, and your hens’ individual personalities will also come into play. Some hens are frequent residents of the broody breaker pen, while others never quite feel that maternal need.