My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


Hatching baby chicks for beginners – Lesson # 1 – Nesting area for broody

This is  Hannah Hen sitting on her chicks just after they had just hatched. You can’t see them of course as they are all tucked away underneath her. This is what she also looked like for 21 days patiently waiting for her chicks to hatch.

The photo below was taken when I first bought this coop. This is where Hannah, Hilda and Helen Hen were all living when Hannah went broody. Hannah always laid in one of these nests at this end of the coop as they are smaller than the two nests at the other end where the bigger Barnevelders usually lay. (I moved the two Barnevelders into another coop once Hannah went broody to let her sit in peace.)

If you see on the nests below, I had made a minor change to the nesting box design by adding a piece of board to the front so that the eggs wouldn’t roll out of the nests after the chickens had laid. Thinking back now, I probably didn’t need to do that. I may not put it back in. You will notice in the photo above where Hannah is sitting, there is no front board on the nests.

I had realised close to the end of her sitting time thatI would need to remove this board. This gave me some anxious moments wondering when to take the board out. If I took it out too soon, the eggs might roll out. If I took it out too late the baby chicks won’t be able to get over it.

If I took it out while she was sitting in the nest, it might bother her and she might abandon the nest. (I was paranoid about that. As it turned out I needn’t have worried but being a first time chicken mum, that’s what we do.) She came off the nest so rarely and when she did it was only for two or three minutes and I am at work most days so I would be very lucky to see her off the nest and then even luckier to be quick enough to get the board out before she went back on.

Well, I was lucky. I was working from home the day before the first chick hatched and I happened to see her off the nest at a time when I was on my way out to listen outside the nesting box for pipping sounds. So I moved very quickly and very quietly and I managed to wriggle the board enough to get it out. Thank goodness I hadn’t screwed it in.

I have read in poultry forums where some people have left their broody hens in a nest that is high above the floor of the coop and when the chicks hatch, they fall from a great height. That is one lesson I didn’t have to learn.

So this first lesson is to think about the nest that the broody is going to spend her 20 to 22 days sitting on and make sure the nest is also suitable for her and her chicks once they have hatched. I have read since that other people have the same removable boards in front of their nesting boxes and they take them out the day before the chicks are due to hatch or the day that they hatch. However, I don’t think my very bossy broody would take too kindly to me wriggling a board in front of her as she was on her last stages of sitting.


Baby chicks drink such a lot of water

I read that baby chicks drink a lot of water. I also read that they can drown in their water bowl if it is too deep.

So before they hatched, we took a trip to the local farm store and bought a special chick sized feeder and waterer in readiness for our baby chicks arrival. On the first day after they had all hatched, I put the feeder and waterer in the coop and then moved it into the run on the second day when their mum took them outside.

The little chicks dipped their tiny beaks into the water and then tipped their little heads so far back to swallow, that they almost lost their footing and toppled backwards.

Oh how I have missed watching the chicks this week while I have been at work. I see them for a few minutes in the morning as I leave to go to work and by the time I get home, Hannah Hen has taken them to bed.


Harriet Hen-Chick causes a drama and she is only one day old

Harriet Hen-Chick is the first born of our five chicks. Yesterday morning Hannah Hen (aka Mama Hen) tried to bring her chicks outside into the run for their first bit of fresh air and sunshine. But only one chick was brave enough / clever enough to jump over the little lip at the top of the ramp to go outside (you can see the little lip in the photo below). And that was Harriet.

So Mama and Harriet were both outside in the run and the other four chicks were inside the house looking out. So Mama Hen went back up the ramp to encourage them down. Then she came back down to show them how it is done but still the four sat at the top of the ramp peeping loudly as though their little lives were in danger.

So Mama Hen gave up went back up the ramp and into the house. I didn’t see her go back in because I had run off to get Haitch to tell him the chicks were on their way outside. But when we came back outside Hannah Hen had already gone back in to calm her noisy little brood.

Because this was the very first time we had seen the chicks out of the nest, we decided to lift the roof of the hen house and peep inside. Then of course I had to get my camera and take a couple of photos.

So after marvelling at these cute little things for a few minutes, we went back inside and Haitch left to go to the supermarket. But just before he left, he said “I only saw four chicks in the house. Did the one that was outside go back in”? Without thinking I said “Yes, she must have been behind something in the house somewhere and we just didn’t see her.”

But then after he had driven off, I thought I had better check to make sure all five chicks were present and accounted for. I opened the roof to the hen house and counted, one, two, three, four. I peered around the feeders and behind Mama but still only four. (The photo above is one Haitch and I had taken earlier. There are four chicks, one is just visible between Hannah Hen and the water bowl.)

I was starting to get a bit anxious by now. I put the roof down and checked in the nesting boxes at one end of the house, the ones with the upturned buckets in so that she couldn’t mistakenly sit in the wrong nests. Maybe the fifth one was hiding behind the buckets. No, there was no sign of her. So I went around the back of the hen house to lift the lid of the other nesting boxes to see if she was there.

As I was walking around the back, I heard a very loud peeping. It sounded like she was outside. Surely not! How would she have got outside? So I bent down to look under the house where I heard the sound coming from and there was tiny, wee Harriet huddled under the nesting box outside on the ground. She must have been out there for at least fifteen minutes.

I carefully stretched my hand towards her and she scuttled off further under the house. Oh my gosh! And I am home on my own. How am I going to do this? If she goes further under the hen house I will never reach her. Some kind of net (like a small butterfly or fishing net) would be perfect but of course we don’t have a net, do we!

So as I was frantically running inside to look in the cupboards for something that I might use, I thought of my kitchen sieve. So I grabbed it out of the drawer and went quickly back outside trying not to frighten Harriet further back under the house. I knelt down and there she was, still in the same place peeping loudly for her Mama who was just above her in the house clucking back at her. Thank goodness for that. It was keeping Harriet in the one place.

So I quickly but carefully stretched the sieve towards her, eased it over her and pulled her towards me. Relief! I was able to catch her and pop her back in the nesting box with Mama. I could not believe my luck at being able to return Harriet Hen-Chick back to the brood.

I quickly checked the run for gaps. I was sure I had made it chick proof. I had gone around the perimeter of the run so many times with my fingers to make sure there were no gaps between the base of the run and the ground that was big enough for a mouse to squeeze in.

And then I found it.. There was a little gap under the pop door / ramp. I hadn’t checked there. I fixed the gap so tightly that I don’t think even  spider could have crawled it! By the time I had finished and got the pop door open again, Hannah Hen had all of her chicks out of the nest and was ready to try again. She went back down the ramp and into the run. This time after a few minutes, all five chicks had followed her down into the run. One at a time braved the little lip before getting onto the ramp and running down to join the others.

I was so paranoid that I have spent the last two days counting chicks to make sure there are still five.


Meet Harriet and the rest of the new chicks.

Hannah Hen brought her chicks outside today into the run. I didn’t get much done today because I spent most of the day watching these amazing little creatures. Tomorrow will probably be the same.

The middle chick in the photo was the first born. She is the one I saw for a fleeting moment the day she hatched. Her name is Harriet. How do I know she is a girl? Well apparently, accordingly to the breeder you can usually tell the Partridge Wyandotte bantam girl chicks by the heavy eyeliner look. Lizzie, a lady who also hatched chicks from the same breeder can confirm that this is a reasonably good way to tell the girls from the boy. She guessed correctly the sex of most of her chicks using the eyeliner method.

So the little chick on the right of the photo is clearly a boy going by this method. The others? Hard to tell. The rest of them have more eyeliner than the one of the right but a lot less than Harriet. Oh well, we will just have to wait and see.


The hatching has finished

This morning before I went to work there was still only two empty eggshells on the floor of the coop.  Maybe there are more than two chicks hatched and their empty shells are hidden under Hannah Hen. But at this stage, there are five eggs unaccounted for.

Tonight when I got home from work there was another empty eggshell on the floor.
And then I saw not far from the empty eggshells two unbroken eggs. I picked them up and they were cold and I am guessing she kicked them out of the nest when she realised they weren’t going to hatch.

So that leaves two eggs unaccounted for. Because she was still sitting tight on the nest with her chicks all tucked under, I couldn’t see whether she had any eggs left to hatch or even if the chicks that had hatched were alive. I had only seen the first chick for a fleeting instant before the spider disturbed me.

I went back inside and left her in peace. A wee while later I went back outside to feed Helen and Hilda and I heard Hannah Hen clucking to her chicks and their answering peeps. So I threw the food at to the two girls and rushed over to the coop. If I angled myself properly, I could peep through the chicken wire of the run and then peer inside the coop through the little door and there they were! Five (I am pretty sure I counted five) very cute and very fluffy and very tiny chicks.

Mum was teaching them to peck on the floor. I opened the run door to get a better view but she decided that I was too close so she went back to the nest, clucking to the chicks to follow. She settled herself in and then the chicks, one at a time climbed under her outstretched wings.



Have my baby chicks hatched yet?

I couldn’t sleep last night worrying that my chicks were dead before they even had a chance to hatch.

So I got up near midnight and started working on plan b. I would give these eggs till Saturday afternoon to hatch. That would be day 22.5. Plan b was to find some baby chicks for sale to slip under her and trick her into thinking they were hers.

So at midnight, there I was searching Trademe (New Zealand’s equivalent of Ebay) for newly hatched chicks for sale close to where I live. I wasn’t expecting to find any but there they were. Just down the road from where I live were baby “Silver Laced Wyandottes, Splash Buff Laced Wyandottes and Light Sussex hatched 7th November“. So plan b was ready to put into action if I was going to be a first time chicken mother failure .

So then I spent the next thirty minutes lying in bed trying to sleep with my mind on which breed of chicks I would choose. So about 1am I started thinking this is very silly. I have to get up at 6am for work. I need to try to get some sleep.

So I switched the light back on (I had gone into the spare room by this stage so as not to disturb Haitch), sat back up and picked up my book, Leningrad Tragedy of a City Under Siege 1941-44. And as the title suggests this is not a light read, so this should take my mind off the chickens and help me to sleep. And it worked. I was asleep about 15 minute later.

So this morning before I went to work I rushed out to see if there were any chicks, gently lifted the nesting box lid, still no chicks. At least I was happy that I had a plan b ready to go, so all was not lost and off I went to work.

Tonight we didn’t get home until 7:30. I tried to not look too eager and nonchalantly changed into my old clothes, gave Hilda and Helen some treats and then steeled myself to look into the nesting box.  First I listened outside the box hoping to hear peeping of little chicks. Nothing.

So with a degree of sadness, I lifted the lid of the nesting box…………………There sitting in front of Hannah Hen was a tiny little dark coloured baby chick. But then that instant, there out of the corner of my eye, I saw a very large spider running towards me on the lid of the nesting box. I put the lid down quickly and ran inside yelling out to Haitch. “I have a chicken but I need to you come and kill a big spider!” “Hurry!” I didn’t want the spider to get into the nest. It was huge and may have caused mayhem.

So we both went running back outside and Haitch got rid of the spider for me and then we both gently lifted the lid of the nesting box and peeped inside. The chick had disappeared underneath her mum, probably terrified by the spider commotion.

Did I imagine a chick? No, because there on the floor of the hen house was an egg shell. I peeped back in a few hours later and there was no sign of the chick but another eggshell was on the floor. How wonderful nature is.

I will go out again tonight before I go to sleep for one last check to see how many egg shells there are.


Still waiting for baby chickens

I worked from home yesterday and today so that I would be home for the hatching of my babies!

It seems that I misjudged the hatching day terribly or the three hours that Hannah Hen spent sitting on a golf ball instead of her eggs were more detrimentals that I thought.

Apparently the hatching time for these bantam eggs is anywhere from 19 days to 21 days. I put the eggs under her on the evening of the 1st November so that makes tonight the 20th day (or night actually). So I am still hopeful that they will hatch.

I have read that you can hear the chickens pipping in the shell (whatever that means) before they hatch so I have been lying outside the coop with my ear to the outside of the nesting box willing myself to hear pipping. (Not all the time of course, only every few hours.) But no. No sound. I even went out with a torch and lay in the dark before I went to bed. I think Haitch thinks I am nuts but oh well. Maybe I am.

I have been wanting to take photo of her sitting on her eggs but I am worried that the flash will frighten her and cause her to abandon then nest. I can’t risk that at this late stage so I will continue to wait and continue to be hands off. I have decided not to candle the eggs and just wait and see.

UPDATED a few days later.
I have found out what pipping means.


Two German Boys and Chicken Sitting

A few weekends ago, we had the pleasure of two German boys breaking down in our driveway. They hadn’t been in the country long and were driving North when they decided to drive up our “no exit” road to find a place to put up their tent for the night. Just outside our driveway, their car broke down.

What do you do with two young German tourists and a broken down car in your driveway? Well you think about what you would like someone to do for your boys if they were in a similar situation in another country.  You invite them to stay as long as it takes and  you arrange for a farmer/neighbour/friend who is good at fixing things, to come and look at the car. It took a couple of days but they were soon on their way North again.

This weekend Haitch and I were booked to go away for another long weekend. The tickets were booked long before Hannah Hen became broody. I was pretty sure that I had timed the eggs to hatch after we got back from Adelaide but being a first time chicken mother (me that is) I was a bit worried that Hannah Hen may have had enough and abandon her eggs at the last minute. So the German boys agreed to come back to chicken sit while we were away.

They must have thought I was the ultimate mad chicken lady. There were enough instructions to confuse the most avid chicken sitter, e.g. letting Hilda and Helen out each morning early, closing them up at night, where to refill the purple treat tin, watch out for Helen because she pecks at Hilda, what kitchen scraps to feed them and where to store the container, etc, etc. Haitch had warned me not to go overboard with instructions but I believe I was restrained and kept them to a minimum.

But the most important instruction of all, was to take care of Hannah Hen, mum-to-be. All they needed to do was to make sure that she didn’t abandon the nest. I explained that she comes off every second day or so for about 3 minutes to drink and eat and then she runs back onto her nest. I said I had read that eggs can be cold for up to 12 hours and if they can be put under an incubator within this time, they have a chance of survival.

So do I have an incubator? No. So what were they to do if Hannah Hen abandoned the nest? The German boys were to phone daughter , Aitch (they hadn’t met each other but I was sure none of them minded. This was a matter of chicken life and death). Aitch was then to go online to the Trademe site (New Zealand’s version of Ebay), she was to buy the incubator that we had agreed previously, she was to pay for it and drive to the buyer to pick it up. She was to drive it to my place and she and the German boys were to set it up and put the eggs in, all within 12 hours (and she works full time!). If it didn’t work it wasn’t their fault but I wanted to try. Everyone (I think) was happy with the plan. Haitch thought I was silly but it doesn’t matter.

So last night we returned from our four days away. Hilda and Helen Hen were safely tucked up in their coop by the time we got home. And what about Hannah Hen? Had the incubator plan been put into action? Had she been a bad mother and abandoned her eggs? No, she is a very good mother and is still sitting tight. The boys said that she had not been off those eggs since I left until today when they noticed her food had been touched.

Thank you to the wonderful German boys and their chicken sitter skills.

And how long does Hannah Hen have to sit on those eggs for? They should start hatching tomorrow or the next day. I have arranged to work from home both days so I can keep an eye on proceedings.


Chickens getting used to laying in the new accommodation

Helen Hen and Hilda Hen have been banished into temporary accommodation due to the pecking order challenges made on my poor little broody mum-to-be and also because I needed to block off all of the remaining nesting boxes so the broody knew which nest to get back onto.

Luckily I had the spare coop. I am using the first coop I bought when I thought I would only have a maximum of three chickens. (Most chicken owners would knowingly laugh at that as maximum numbers have a tendency to expand.) The two Barnevelder girls are very familiar with this coop as they spent three months in there when they first came to our place and they both laid there first eggs in it.

But I can’t expect Hilda and Helen to remember that so to avoid confusion (because they are now locked out of the other coop where they were laying) and the possibility of eggs being laid under bushes whilst free ranging, I decided to lock them in their temporary accommodation on this first day .

But Helen Hen was having none of that. At about 6:17am (just after daybreak) she started to make such a raucous racquet and she went on and on. I went outside and gave her my angry face glare but she ignored me and carried on making her noise. Then Hilda Hen joined in. I can’t leave them locked in all day if they are going to be making that kind of fuss. The noise might stress Hannah Hen out (mum-to-be) and because I am at work all day, I can’t keep an eye on the proceedings.

So out you go noisy girls. Free range to your hearts content.

Helen Hen – one.
Me – none

That evening I came home and opened the nesting box with some trepidation. You never know, they may not have needed to be locked in to remind them to lay in the nesting boxes in the temporary accommodation. Ah, thank you girls. I didn’t need to worry after all. These girls were not confused or stupid. They did know where to lay their eggs. And they were not in the bushes, they were in the nesting boxes in the temporary accommodation.


Broody hen sat back on the wrong nest

It has been just over a week since we put the fertilised eggs under Hannah Hen so that she can have the pleasure of being a mum and I can have the pleasure of being part of baby chick raising.

When she first became broody, she was sitting on the middle nest with a golf ball and one of Helen Hen’s eggs. Then one day after she had been off for her stretch, she ran back (she always runs so as not to leave the eggs / golf balls for too long) and promptly got onto the nest in the corner beside the one she had been sitting on, fluffed herself up and made herself comfortable. I didn’t think much about this as it didn’t matter which golf ball she was trying to hatch.

Then we put the eggs under her and she sat for three days without getting off. She was giving those eggs a really good start! And then early on Sunday morning she came out for a stretch and refreshments and fended off another of Helen Hen’s pecking order challenges and then ran back to her eggs. Because it was Sunday and because it was still very early, I went back to bed for a leisurely start to my day.

About three hours later, it suddenly crossed my mind that Hannah Hen could have got back on the wrong nest. Surely not! Hmm, perhaps I had better check on her.

Oh dear, there she was sitting in the middle nest on the golf ball and her seven little egg were left to go cold. I promptly reached down, picked her up, she squawked and pecked my hand and her little legs were flailing as I lifted her up and gently plonked her back on the eggs.

I crossly removed the golf balls from all of the nests in the hen house and replaced them with upturned plant pot and paint tins. There was no way I was going to risk having her park her bottom on any nest other than the one with the eggs. What made her do that! Was she being stupid or was she somehow getting me back for capturing her and making her live at our place!

I was very lucky that it was Sunday and that I was home to see this happen. I would have been devastated if I had got home from work and found she had been sitting on a golf ball all day! I am pretty sure that the eggs will survive the three hour abandonment. That was last Sunday and all has been well since then. I have also shut the door of the run so that she can’t get out to where Helen Hen is and therefore she won’t have to endure more pecking order challenges.

Helen and Hilda are in temporary accommodation until further notice.