My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


Temporary fencing to allow my chicks to free range


I have six adult chickens and six chicks. One of the chicks is free ranging with her mum and has been since she was four weeks old. Mum does a good job at looking after her.

But my five chicks that were hatched in an incubator don’t have a mum to protect them from the big girls but I wanted them to have plenty of space to run around in.


I went online and here is the answer to my problem. It is Omlet temporary chicken fencing, now available in New Zealand. It is easy to put up (once you know how) and is easy enough for one person to move when the chicks need fresh grass every few days. The chicks have been using this fencing now for about four weeks with no problems. I was a bit worried to start with that they might tangle themselves in it or the big girls might fly over into it but of course that didn’t happen. Just me being a worrier when I am at work all day, leaving the chicks and chickens to their own devices.

I would be careful though if you had dogs or predators around. This is definitely not a predator proof fencing but a temporary chicken fencing. We are lucky here in New Zealand that we are essentially predator free and I do not have dogs that come onto my property (touch wood but not so far in four years of having free range chickens). Read the reviews if you are unsure before you buy this fencing.

This allows my chicks to be amongst the rest of the chickens, meaning I should have less problems integrating them once I decide they are big enough to take the fencing down to join the rest of the flock.


At last I have my own Orpington

My friend has Orpingtons. I love the fat, waddly way they walk. I love their colours and I love their nature.

I knew one day the time would come when I would have my own Orpington chicken.

A couple of months ago, I bought two Plymouth Barred Rock chickens, Hillary and Henley, in their first laying season. I bought them because I needed to boost our egg production.

A few weeks after the girls settled in, Henley, became broody. I had to weigh up whether to her let her become a mum and drop our egg production for a few months, or try to break her broodiness. I took the easy way out and let her become a mum.


So of course, I called my friend and within a few hours, she had delivered four fertile eggs from her wonderful brood of Orpingtons. She recently had to get rid of one of her roosters and so was unsure of how fertile the eggs were.

Henley had been sitting tight on her golf balls for three days. I had read that it was best to put eggs under a broody at night when they were sleepy and less feisty and they will be more accepting of the eggs. My last broody was a very nasty protective mama and would try to attack me every time I went near her. She would come at me with claws and wings out, and her beak open. She was one scary mama.

But Henley was a very friendly girl and even as a broody she was quite happy to eat out of my hand when I offered her food on her broody nest. So I don’t think I need to wait until dark. I hobbled very slowly outside (I had just had a foot operation a few days before) and reached under Henley to remove the golf balls. I had to give her a little nudge to get all of them. After a few gentle bok boks, Henley wriggled herself and settled right down on top of those eggs.

Twenty one days later, she hatched one beautiful Orpington chick and discarded the rest of the eggs two days later. (I checked and they were infertile.) I am hoping my one Orpington chick is a girl. If not, I will have to try for my Orpington another time. I think she is a girl. Time will tell.


Brinsea mini advance incubator hatching photos

The first time I used my incubator, I had a complete failure (problem was with the eggs, not the incubator). This time I had five eggs hatch out of six.


When I got home from work there was one chick hatched and another two hatched shortly after. (I think the second two waited for me to get home so I could watch them.)


Then another one pipped. You can see the little egg tooth peeping out.


Then it zipped it’s way around the egg.


Then it pushed on the shell to make enough room to get out.


Hello world.


Exhausted and time for a sleep. After all, the pip did start at 7pm and the chick greeted us at 1:30am. Ah, hrrm, yes, well I did sit up watching the whole time. It was my first hatch after all. One of the previous chicks pipped, zipped and greeted us all within 20 minutes. These are Speckled Sussex chicks.


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Plans and animals don’t always work out

I bought an incubator because I had two roosters and no broody hens and wanted more chickens.

I bought two Plymouth Barred Rocks at point of lay as I desperately needed to boost our egg production.

Now I have no roosters (so no fertile eggs for the incubator) and one of my new Plymouth Barred Rock girls is broody (so a sudden reduction in my daily egg production)!

Oh well, at least I will have baby chicks.


Henley is a first time mum so I hope it all works out. She is sitting on four Orpington eggs that are due to hatch in the next few days.


Incubator hatch disappointment

We had the incubator humming quietly away in our kitchen for 23 days with no sign of hatching. The eggs were due to hatch on day 21. On the morning of day 24 I gave up and turned the incubator off.

I had candled the eggs at day 19 and thought that at least one egg (a cream coloured Plymouth Barred Rock) had a fully formed chick inside and potentially one of the Barnevelder eggs but it was difficult to see inside their brown speckled eggs.  This was also my first time candling eggs so I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for.

That evening I broke open the eggs to see how many were fertile and at what stage had any chicks died inside the shells.

Six of the seven eggs were either infertile or hadn’t started to develop for some reason, possibly because they were too old at the time of setting the eggs. The seventh egg had a fully formed chick inside that had absorbed most of the yolk so must have died just before it was due to hatch. I have since learnt that I shouldn’t have candled the eggs after day 18 when the incubator goes into lockdown, so I am guessing that may have harmed the chick.

I was of course disappointed with the outcome but then I did know there was only a slight chance that the eggs were still fertile after losing both our roosters a few weeks before setting the eggs.

So what next?

I now have six Speckled Sussex eggs that I bought off Trademe (New Zealand’s equivalent to eBay) in the incubator. They are a reasonably rare breed in New Zealand so I hope they hatch. They are due on December 6th.


A new incubator and a terrorising rooster


My chickens do not go broody so I bought an incubator.

Well, that is not entirely true of course. Aunt Dorrie, my bantam has been broody many, many, many, many times before but for numerous reasons, has not resulted in any chicks.

It all seemed to happen at once. We decided to increase our egg production and bought two beautiful Plymouth Barred Rocks in their first year of lay.

We also bought an incubator to hatch some of our own eggs since we had two roosters and were not having any luck with broody hens. Hannah Hen did go broody a few years ago and hatched chicks from fertilised eggs we bought, but hasn’t been broody since. Possibly something to do with the fact that she is almost 8 years old. The two Barnevelders have never been broody in their three years.

So an incubator, it is.

The weekend that the Brinsea Mini Advance incubator arrived, happened to be the same weekend that the Plymouth Barred Rocks arrived and the same weekend that we had King George put down.



The following weekend we had to get rid of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.



With King George gone, Jonathan Livingstone, my Silver Spangled Hamburgh, took his place but as the main rooster he started terrorising my girls. He chased them relentlessly. They were running for dear life and squawking and even flying against the glass doors to get away from him. Hilda, my usually slow moving Barnevelder, ended up running into the hen house with Jonathan close on her heels. She jumped into the nesting box to get away from his terrorising advances. Jonathan relentlessly paced up and down the hen house waiting for her to get out of the nesting box. He finally gave up and came out and chased the others. Hilda stayed in that nesting for a full 24 hours.

Needless to say all egg production ceased that weekend and Jonathan was “taken away” the very next day.

So now I have an incubator and no roosters. If I could get some eggs into the incubator this week, fertility shouldn’t be an issue. With George having been so ill, he had not been doing his roosterly duties but Jonathan more than made up for that. But did I really want his aggressive genes in any of my chicks?

We were going away on holiday in a few weeks time and if I set the incubator this week, we would be away when the eggs hatched. That would be no good.

So we set a mixture of Barnevelder and Plymouth Barred Rock eggs in the incubator a week or so later. The chances of the eggs still being fertile were fairly low, but it is worth a try. I have low expectations so won’t be too disappointed if nothing hatches.


Have our Plymouth Barred Rocks settled into their new home?


The two Plymouth Barred Rocks we bought a month ago have settled in surprisingly well. Even Helen, our resident “not very nice” chicken didn’t bother them, apart from the few raised hackles when the girls were confined to the coop. Maybe it helps that these girls are bigger than my Barnevelders.

We got these girls on a Saturday and kept them locked in a coop where the others could see them. On Monday I had to take a day off work to take King George to the vet where he was put down. That afternoon when I got home, I decided to let the new girls out for a few hours while I was there to supervise. Ever since they arrived at our place, they have been very friendly girls, even coming over to me whenever I opened the door of the coop and letting me touch them. I was pretty sure they were not going to run away.

I let the girls out and sat on the grass beside them to supervise. No supervision necessary. The girls all mingled together, a little bit apprehensive of each other but no fights. In fact they were so good, that when I went to work the next day, I let all of them out and they have been free ranging together ever since then.



And I can even tell them apart. Henley has a smaller comb and is not quite as big as Hillary.

I think I have been very lucky.


How many chicken coops does a girl really need?

Melissa at vuchickens had a new chicken house built. I watched her coop building posts with ever increasing envy but I already have three coops so I dare not to suggest to my husband that I would like a new one like the one vuchickens has. DSC_0001_2045 This is my very first chicken coop before I knew what I was doing. I bought this one for the stray chicken that turned up at my place but when I introduced 2 Barnevelders to the mix, it quickly became apparent that this coop was far too small. They did however, free range all day so they really only had to sleep in this. DSC_0108_2430 A very short time later, we decided to upgrade to this coop. This was advertised to house eight to ten chickens. That should be enough room for our girls.


But then my bantam went broody and we bought her some fertile eggs. She hatched her chicks but we decided they needed their own nursery coop away from the main hen house. So we got this chicken coop for her to raise her chicks in. We sold Hannah’s chicks shortly after but decided to keep the coop as a future maternity coop. We also kept the first small coop as a sick bay if it was ever needed.

Then somehow we had a chicken population explosion.

Firstly a rooster arrived from across the road. He preferred my ladies, my food and my accommodation. We kept him. His name was King George.
A few months later, his girlfriend from across the road also came to live with us. Her name is Aunty Dorrie and she is a silkie cross bantam.
A few more months went by and then a Silver Spangled Hamburgh rooster turned up, also from the farm across the road.
Then we decided we didn’t have enough egg laying poultry. We were only getting eggs from two of the six poultry living with us
. So we bought two Plymouth Barred Rocks who had just started their first laying season. So when we brought the Plymouth Barred Rocks home (Hillary and Henley) and my husband and I were outside  trying to rearrange the coops to fit everyone in, he said “I think we need to buy a proper chicken coop to keep all these chickens in”. DSC_0025 So after a quick happy dance and before he could change his mind, we went inside to do some internet shopping. We found the perfect chicken coop that houses up to 20 chickens and comes in a flat pack. The site for the new chicken house was cleared of trees and the footings have been put down.


I need some new chickens to boost my egg production


I currently have four chickens but I am only getting eggs from the two Barnevelders and their eggs I would describe as rather minimal. They average five to six eggs between them each week. And since my household has more people living in it than it used to, I need more eggs than what these girls can produce.

Hannah bantam is almost eight and lays at the beginning of the season for a few weeks and then stops. Understandable of course at her age. Aunt Dorrie bantam lays in the bushes and is an expert at hiding her little creamy coloured eggs.

So my husband and I agree to buy two new pullets. How exciting choosing a new breed.

My criteria was:
Available now as point of lay or already laying in their first season
There must be two so they would always have each other
Heritage and heavy breed (my rooster is large)
Friendly and calm
Good layers

It is the beginning of the hatching season here in New Zealand and do you know how difficult it is to find a pullet? There are almost none. One breeder told me that she did not sell point of lay pullets due to the cost to keep a chicken to point of lay and the inability to recuperate that cost. I was quite surprised to hear that. I wonder if it was just the one breeder I spoke to or if that is common practice. She sells hers all as chicks.

So I searched Trademe (New Zealand’s Ebay) and a few weeks after starting my search, I found these beautiful Plymouth Barred Rock girls who had just started laying in their first season. This was a breed I and been looking for and these ones must have been meant for me as they were just down the road from where we live. Quick, press the “buy now” button before anyone else can buy them.

We bought them home and settled them into a coop near where the main coop is and where the girls can all see each other as the free rangers wander past.


As you can see, Helen stopped to say hello.
Helen, meet Henley.
Henley, meet Helen.
If anyone was going to raise hackles I knew it would be Helen.

She is second in the pecking order and would be horrified to think that might be in jeopardy.

You can see King George’s cage in the foreground. We made sure he was involved in all of the action while he waited in the cage to see the vet.



King George and his trip to the vet



We did manage to get KingGeorge into the cage.

After a few failed attempts at catching him, we decided to put some of his favourite treats into the cage and hope that he would just walk in. The cage opens fully at one end.

And yes, that is exactly what George did. He saw me sprinkle the treats on the cage floor and he wandered in and started to eat. I was behind him to shut the door.

King George behaved himself in the car and at the vets but unfortunately he is not with us anymore. I made the decision to have him humanely put down as he had a tumour on his spine and would not have recovered. At least now he is not in pain.

So for someone who did not like roosters and never wanted one, I am really sad at the passing of George. He was so gentle and caring of his girls and would eat out of my hand when I offered him treats.

I guess Jonathan Livingstone will take over the running of the flock now that King George has gone.