My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


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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.

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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.


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My bantam sat for 57 days on her infertile eggs

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As you can see, my little bantam, Aunt Dorrie is now back in among the rest of the brood. (She is the one nearest to King George.) After sitting on her infertile eggs for 57 days, she finally gave up.

For each of those 57 days she came off the nest to eat, drink, stretch her legs, and do her ablutions and then she would go running back. I always made sure there was plenty of fresh water but I was worried about her not having enough food. I would always leave food out for her in the mornings before I went to work but I know that the other chickens and the birds probably ate it all before she came out. But then I had to remember that she is a “wild bantam” who has lived across the road on the farm without being fed by anyone, for a long time before she came to my house. So I had to trust that she knows how to survive without me.

And then one day in the weekend, I saw her come out and run towards our chooketaria. A chooketaria is a self feeding chicken feeder that opens up when the chicken steps on the lid. She is far too light surely, to open the lid with her tiny little bantam frame.

This is a picture of one of my other bantam, Hannah using the chooketaria, with Hilda Hen waiting in line.

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But no, Aunt Dorrie went straight up to the chooketaria, put her feet onto the step, the lid opened and she raised herself as high as her little body would allow, and leaned in and started pecking at the delicious grains.

So that is how she has been keeping herself fed. What a clever little bantam.

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So Aunt Dorrie is off her nest and back with the rest of the brood looking no worse the wear for her ordeal.


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How long will a mother hen sit on her infertile eggs before she gives up?

Aunty Dorrie has been sitting on her eggs now for 49 days. Now you may think that I am very cruel to leave her for that long on her nest but I can’t find the nest and she is too wily to be caught and locked up when she comes out to eat, drink and do her ablutions.

She is sitting in among very dense vegetation. I have followed her to her nest site many times but I always lose sight of her when she goes over  the fence and then squeezes her tiny body through the dense and prickly vegetation and then just like that, she is gone! I think she chose such a dense site just to make sure I didn’t find her like I did last time. 

I think this time she is only sitting on her eggs and not a nest that has been shared with the other girls. I could be wrong but I don’t think the Barnevelders would be able to get their little fat bodies over the fence and into the thick vegetation. When Aunty Dorrie sat last time for so long, the only egg that hatched was one of the Barnevelder’s and the single chick didn’t survive the nightly hedgehog visits while she continued to sit trying to hatch the rest of her obviously infertile eggs.

This time she could have hatched chicks and lost them again but somehow I think she is just sitting and sitting, and sitting some more, on her infertile eggs once again. I think she is just too tiny for our very huge rooster.

When I am home in the weekends, I see her come out once each day to feed and water and she is looking healthy and fit. Better than the rest of my girls who are all moulting and scruffy.


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Aunty Dorrie is broody again

Aunty Dorrie is broody AGAIN and is sitting on her eggs somewhere “in the wild” AGAIN. We know the general direction where she is sitting but can’t find her or the nest. A repeat of last time and such a short time ago.

I have seen her running across the lawn towards the feed container.

I have patiently waited and watched from a distance, while she feeds, drinks, does her ablutions, dust bathes, drinks some more, and then feeds some more.

I have followed her with stealth, as she runs back across the lawn.

When she disappears down the steep hill I hurry so that I don’t lose sight of her, whilst at the same time trying not to let her see or hear me. This little bantam is so clever she will go in the opposite direction if she knows I am following her.

I have seen her disappear behind a Toetoe bush.

But I have not been able to see where she goes from there. I think she goes over the fence as there is a lot of thick vegetation but I just cannot find her.

I have leant so far over the fence and poked my head into the gaps as far as I can without falling into the bushes but to no avail.

And the worst part is that her eggs are due to hatch today or tomorrow and I am going away tomorrow for a week! Once AGAIN nature will have to take her course with Aunty Dorrie and her chicks.


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Apologies to my chicken, Aunty Dorrie

Dear Aunty Dorrie,

I am sorry that you were left in the farmer’s paddock across the road and saw all your friends (exceptKing George) get taken by the hawks.

I am sorry that King George came across the road to my place and left you on your own to fend for yourself against the hawks.
But I am so pleased that you survived and followed him over a few weeks later.

I am sorry that I wasn’t able to capture you and put you in a coop where you would be safe and that you ended up sitting on thirteen eggs out in the bushes.

I am sorry twelve of your eggs were infertile eggs.
But you did hatch one baby chick.

I am sorry that you sat and sat for another week trying to hatch your infertile eggs while you were trying to look after your one baby chick.
I didn’t know. I couldn’t find where you were.

I am sorry that one night when your chick was six days old, at 11:37pm something sneaked up and took the chick out from under you.
I heard your strangled cries of fear and your desperate flapping of wings as you tried to protect your baby.

I am glad I was able to find you and move you to the safety of a coop.
I am sorry that you were not happy and kept trying to get out but it was for your own good.

I am glad you decided to keep sitting on the six infertile eggs I put back under you.

I am glad I had a friend who had Orpington eggs in an incubator that are due to hatch in four days and I am glad she let me have three for you.

I just hope you stay sitting on the new eggs for four more days. You have been so determined to be a mum. I know you have now been sitting now for thirty five days, but just four more days.


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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.


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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.