My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


An emerging wattle on my four week old chick


This is Harry Hen-Boy (on the right) and his sister Hedvig Hen-Chick enjoying their first taste of yoghurt. I had tried them with it earlier and they had been a bit scared of the BIG GREEN pet bowl and wouldn’t go near it. But now they are bigger than the green pet bowl, I thought I would try again, this time sprinkling chick crumbles on top to encourage them to try.

This photo was taken just before Christmas. I was still coming to terms with my decision to leave Hazel Hen-Chick’s little curled toe and I was peacefully spending time watching the chicks, taking photos and being amazed at how much they had grown.

Then I saw it! What on earth is wrong with Harry Hen-Boy’s mouth. He is bleeding. Just under his beak, I see blood. I looked around the run to see if there was any sharp bits of metal sticking out. What could he have done? How did he cut himself and what a funny place to be bleeding. The other chicks seemed to be ok.

I am not a good mother to my chicks. I only have five and I have a curled toe and a bleeding beak. Maybe I am just not cut out to have chicks. Poor little things. I feel sorry for this lot being my experimental chicks.

Harry seemed fine and the blood didn’t seem to be dripping so I decided once again to let nature take it’s course and leave him to it. It doesn’t seem to be bothering him at all. He was loving his yoghurt and he was very active.

Eight days later after watching Harry Hen-Boy grow bigger and bigger, I realised how inexperienced I actually am at this chick thing. It wasn’t a bleeding beak. It was an emerging wattle!



My partridge wyandotte chicks love to chase flies


Someone asked me the other day if mama hen and her chicks get bored in the run all day.

I have often wondered this myself. My chickens free range all day but of course, mama hen and her baby chicks are in lock down until the chicks get a bit bigger. I know some people free range their chicks with the mama hen from a few weeks old but others leave it until the chicks are closer to eight weeks.

I have decided that I will let the chicks free range with mama hen for an hour or so each day from about seven weeks. If they begin to free range while mama hen is still caring for them, they will probably learn to be “street smart” a little quicker.

So meanwhile, do I think they get bored in their run all day? I don’t think so. Not on hot days when there are pesky flies around. This fly got away after an ungainly pounce from chick.


Partridge Wyandotte Bantam Mama’s back is a safe place to sit


Ever since the chicks were a few days old, Mama Hen’s back has been a favourite place for them to sit and watch the world go by.

Now the chicks are four weeks old, Mama Hen is not quite as patient with these big kids sitting on her back.


So a slight raise off the ground of Mama Hen’s chest, the big chick goes sliding off.


Update on my partridge wyandotte chick with a curled toe

This is an update from a previous post about my little chick, Hazel who developed a curled toe at about two weeks old. A friend had offered to come around this weekend and help me try to catch Hazel to see if we could do something for her little toe.

On the way home from work on Friday, the local vet was still open (yay we all got told to go home early for Christmas) so I decided to pop in to see if she had any advice for me. I was not expecting much as most vets in New Zealand aren’t chicken experts and my understanding is that our vet training doesn’t cover  more than basic chicken anatomy.

But this vet was wonderful and what’s more, she seemed to love chickens and know lots about them. When I told her about the toe, she said that these things often happen in nature and it would be best to leave the chick alone if she is moving around well and doesn’t seem to be distressed or in pain. I asked her about the skin on the toe that Hazel would be walking on and the vet said that she will develop a callous on the skin which will become as tough as the sole of her foot so she shouldn’t develop skin problems. She also said that hens (and especially bantams) are light and won’t cause too much pressure on the toe.

So then I asked about Hazel’s ability to roost and her answer was that chooks are extremely resilient and that they adapt themselves and are usually able to do everything a normal hen can do. The only thing she said to watch is that the nail might need cutting later but at the mo, it is just growing in the air and it is not digging into any skin.

So I have decided to take the vet’s advice and leave her toe and let nature take it’s course.

I spent a bit of time on Saturday morning, (well lots of time actually when I was meant to be doing housework and Christmas planning) sitting outside the run watching them. In particular I was watching Hazel. There she was, standing up on the log on one foot (the little curled toe foot) while she cleaned her wing with her other foot. She was very strong and stable standing on that little foot.

A while later I saw one of the chicks lying down having a dust bath (in the grass and spilled wood shavings from the coop) and scratching and kicking vigorously with both feet and having a lovely roll around. It looked like Hazel but surely she wouldn’t be scratching so vigorously with that little curled toe. I waited and watched and sure enough, it was Hazel Hen-Chick kicking and scratching with both feet and having a ball.

So I am now comfortable with my decision to leave her little curled toe be. I will continue to monitor her progress.


My chicken is moulting after hatching her chicks


I used to look like this. I think I was rather majestic looking if I may say so myself!


Then I was very lucky and I was given eggs to hatch. Twenty one days of sitting on those eggs, I hatched these adorable things. Five of them. No one noticed at the time because we were all too busy oohing and aahing over my babies, but there is a tell tale feather in the bottom of this picture.


Then I started to notice more and more of my beautiful feathers on the ground of the run.


I have no idea how many feathers I will lose in this moult but look at me. Just look at my bottom! My beautiful tail has gone!

The big boss (that is the person who thinks she is my owner but of course she does not own me) went online to her poultry central forum website thingy and she found out that we mums often moult after we have hatched our babies. Well no wonder, what on earth does she expect. It is very hard work and stressful on my body to be sitting in that confined space for 21 days and not to have much time to eat or drink. I can’t let my eggs go cold, you know!


Partridge wyandotte chick with a curled toe


Meet little Hazel Hen-Chick.  She is sitting in front of her sister, Hedwig Hen-Chick.

Hazel is very cute but when she was about ten days old, I noticed she had a curled toe. You can see it in the photo. Her little outside toe on her left foot curls underneath her foot and comes out the other side. She is no less cute because of this little curled toe, just a bit more vulnerable than the other chicks and of course, unsaleable.

She walks (and runs) extremely well and doesn’t seem to be in pain or bothered by this little curled toe.

I have read lots of stories about chicks with curled or crooked toes. Many of these curled toes are said to be caused by incorrect incubator humidity just before hatching. But of course, these little chicks were hatched under a broody, so I am guessing there were no humidity issues but then this is my first hatch, so how would I know?

Maybe there was not enough humidity due to the lack of wood shavings in the broody nest. Maybe I should have put an upturned sod of earth under her nest. Maybe I should have given the eggs a spray with water just before hatching. But then I think that hens laying in the wild don’t have people to spray water on their eggs!

Maybe we hurt Hazel’s toe by mistake when we were trying to get the baby chicks into the coop on day one after we realised they couldn’t navigate the ramp. No, I really hope we didn’t.

Some say curled toes could be due to a lack of vitamins or riboflavin in the diet, but I feed my chicks on commercial chick crumbles and I doubt that would be lacking in chick nutrition.

But then maybe, just maybe it is hereditary. I have a friend who got eggs from the same breeder and she also had a chick with a curled toe develop after about two weeks. I am hoping that is what it is. That way I can absolve myself of any blame.

So what have I done about Hazel Hen-Chick’s curled toe. Well I haven’t done anything. There is lots of advice on the internet about putting splints on the toe to make it straight but much of the advice also says that if they are running around quite happily and the crooked toe does not seem to be bothering them, it is best to leave it alone.

I have taken this advice for two reasons. 1) I have a “vicious” broody and it would cause so much stress if I tried to fix the chick’s toe, and 2) I noticed the toe on a Sunday night and I had to work for the week and I am pretty sure if you are going to splint the toe, it needed to be done when you first notice it.

I hope I am not damning Hazel Hen-Chick to a life of pain and suffering. But then I wouldn’t let that happen. I just hope I don’t live to regret my decision.

UPDATED December 23rd
See an updated post that I wrote after reading the thought provoking comments below in this post.


Hatching baby chicks for beginners – Lesson # 3 – Lots of wood shavings in the nest

Because Hannah Hen only got off her nest for a few minutes every few days (and I work away from home 6:30am to 6pm week days), I did not get many opportunities to check on the eggs. Just before hatching day I happened to be there when she got off for some water and a few pecks of grain and so I quickly rushed around to the nesting box and lifted the lid to check on the eggs.

I was surprised by what I saw. Hannah Hen had scratched and scruffled around so much to make her nest comfy that the eggs were virtually sitting on the wooden floor of the nest box surrounded on the sides by a pile of pine shavings. Oh dear. Thank goodness that they hadn’t broken sitting on the wood. But maybe they won’t hatch with the cold air coming up from the gaps in the wooden slats. Oh dear.

I was tempted to lift the eggs up and put some pine shavings underneath them but I decided that was probably not the wisest thing to do when the eggs were due to hatch anytime.  She might get cross with me for messing with her eggs and abandon them.You see, that nest was never designed to sit in for 21 days. It was just the plain old nesting box that the girls laid in.

My third lesson for next time is to make sure that whatever nest she is going to be spending her 20 days in, has lots and lots of pine shavings.


My Barnevelder girls are very interested in Hannah Hen’s chicks

The day the chicks were hatching under Hannah Hen, my Barnevelders (Hilda Hen and Helen Hen) were very interested. They hung around just outside the nesting box and paced up and down like expectant aunties. They definitely knew there was something going on in there.


The first day Hannah Hen bought her chicks outside, Hilda Hen and Helen Hen were very interested. They walked round and round the run, looking in and seeming to have a look of wonder on their faces.


Since that first day, they spend a lot of time each day just hanging outside the chick’s run, preening, pecking, chatting and doing lots of looking.

Only once have I seen Helen Hen (who has challenged the pecking order since Hannah Hen has been broody) issue a half hearted challenge towards Hannah through the run fence but Hannah just ignored her and went about her chick raising business.


This photo was taken tonight . The chicks are three weeks old and their mum had just called them all to bed. As they hurried in after mum, Hilda Hen was probably wondering why they were going to bed so early. It was still two hours until she was due to go to bed.


My partridge wyandotte bantam chicks are growing fast

My partridge wyandotte bantam chicks at 2 days old. Just cute little balls of fluffs.



My partridge wyandotte bantam chicks at 9 days old. Much bigger and with barred wing feathers starting to grow.



My partridge wyandotte bantam chicks at 16 days old. Much much bigger and the barred colouring is all over their wings and their backs and they have bits of fluffy down sticking out. Someone visited today and thought they were baby ducks. It must be the little tail feathers that have started to grow.


I can’t believe they are growing so fast. They are changing daily!


Hatching baby chicks for beginners – Lesson # 2 – The right coop without a ramp


The day after Hannah Hen’s chicks were hatched, she brought them outside to start teaching them to scratch and peck. After a few false starts and a Harriet Hen-Chick drama, all chicks were safely outside in the run watching and learning from mama hen.

(The blocks of wood at the back of the run are to plug any gaps where a curious chick could get out as per the Harriet Hen-Chick drama above).

The sun was shining and the chicks were cosy and warm and happy outside with their mama.They had learnt to come down the ramp and they had learnt to eat chick crumble and drink water. (This photo was taken just before I put the feeder and waterer in the run.) Mama hen would call them now and again to take a nap under her wings, which they happily did, although I am not sure if she realised some of them were peeping out from behind and pulling at grass when they were meant to be napping.

This peace and happiness continued until it was time for mama to take her chicks to bed.

Mama went up the ramp in the early evening, making her “follow me” clucking sounds as she went. The little chicks all went running after her as fast as their little spindly legs would carry them. Until they got to the ramp. They stopped at the bottom and peeped their little hearts out and looked up at mama. So she came back down the ramp and turned and walked back up, clucking slightly louder each time. Some of the chicks managed to get a little way up the ramp before they either ran off the edge or slipped back down. One or two even managed to get up the ramp and into the coop but each time she came out to get the others, the ones inside came back out and got stuck again at the bottom.

This went on for about ten trips up and down the  ramp by mama hen before she realised that the chicks were not going to follow. So she came back out and settled herself on the grass and called all of her chicks under. Oh dear, what were we to do. She can’t sit outside all night with the chicks. (Well maybe she can but I would prefer them not to do that.)

So she sat there for about fifteen minutes or so and then she decided that she would try another tactic. She got up, calling her chicks as she went up the ramp and into the house and then stayed in there calling to them. They tried and failed the ramp and then they all ran into a corner of the run peeping loudly and running over each other and the bits of wood. Hannah Hen remained in the coop, clucking loudly. I think this is what you call tough love.

So Haitch and I quickly shut the pop hole door with Hannah Hen on the inside of the coop and the five baby chicks outside. Haitch crawled into the run and grabbed each chick, one at a time, and handed them to me. I opened the nesting box lid and popped each loudly peeping chick inside and they ran over to mama. She was extremely upset and each time I put my hand in the coop to deliver one of her chicks, she made a rush at me all puffed out and squawking with her best angry voice.

After all five chicks were delivered inside to mama and they were all quietly settled for the night, I went straight inside and onto TradeMe (New Zealand’s equivalent to Ebay) and looked desperately for a coop without a ramp that we could move them into.

This is what I found and had delivered the next evening (but not before we had to go through this trying ordeal one more time).


So the lesson here is, do not expect your baby chicks to navigate a ramp. No matter how small the ramp is, they just don’t understand the concept. So when your hen goes broody, think ahead and move her to suitable accommodation that has the right nesting area and is suitable for chicks once they have hatched, ie without a ramp. You could always put a broody box in your run. I had planned to do that but hadn’t found the right height broody box for the run and neither Haitch nor I are any good with hammer and nails. (If you are going to be moving your broody and you haven’t done it before, check the internet for information on how and when, as there is a risk that she will abandon the new nest.)

Rosemary, Lavender and Thyme has also written a post on chicks and ramps.