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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Helping Aunty Dorrie to keep her chicks safe – an epic failure

  • Trying to get Aunty Dorrie to sleep and lay her eggs in the coop and not outside in the bushes? – Failed
  • Trying to find where Aunty Dorrie was sitting on a clutch of eggs in the bushes? – Failed
  • Trying to keep Aunty Dorries’s single chick alive in the wild? – Failed
  • Finally capturing Aunty Dorrie and getting her safely in a coop with some “almost ready to hatch” eggs for her to sit on? – Success
  • Trying to get Aunty Dorrie to stay sitting on those eggs? – 50% success, 50% failed
  • Trying to get Aunty Dorrie’s second clutch of eggs to hatch? – Failed (one egg hatched but the chick wasn’t strong enough and died shortly after. The other two eggs didn’t hatch. She must have been off them too long.)
  • Trying to get Aunty Dorrie to realise the coop she has spent the last two weeks in, is a safe place to sleep? – Failed


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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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The best laid chicken plan……

I had a plan to integrate our new chicken, Aunty Dorrie, into our backyard brood. She is the last of the chickens from the farm across the road to run away and come live with us.

She was at the stage where she was spending every day, all day with my girls (and boy) but would sleep somewhere in the bushes down the hill in front of our house.

Aunty Dorrie was by now, used to the purple the treat tin. She didn’t feed from it while I held it but did when I put it on the ground and moved away. So the plan was to entice her into the spare coop with the purple treat tin and shut her in for a week. This way, she would get used to sleeping in the safety of a coop and then it would only be a matter of time before she followed the others into their coop to sleep at night and I would have a fully integrated chicken brood. And of course, with the bonus that Aunty Dorrie would be laying in the nesting boxes.  The next step of my plan was for her  to go broody and become a mum. (My other bantam, Hannah Hen hasn’t gone broody yet this Spring which is unusual.)

The plan to capture Aunty Dorrie was to be carried out on Labour weekend because that would give me three days to see my plan through. But on the Friday morning before Labour weekend, my husband informed me we were going away for the long weekend on a surprise trip.  Oh no! I would have to leave my capturing of Aunty Dorrie to the following weekend.

But when we got back from our trip on Monday afternoon, there was a chicken missing. Aunty Dorrie was not with the others. Did a hawk finally get her? Did a possum or a weasel get her while she was sleeping in the bushes alone? The next morning she wasn’t waiting outside the coop for the others to be let out, like she always does. I felt bad. If I hadn’t gone away for the weekend, I would have her captured and safe.

Then I had a thought. Maybe she is safe and sitting on a clutch of eggs somewhere.

And the following weekend, there she was. She was obviously on a feeding and ablutions break. She was making that familiar bok bok sound they do when they are broody. She was incredibly hungry and thirsty and in a rush to do everything. Then when she had finished, she ran as fast as her little legs would carry her, back to the bushes where she disappeared.

She had foiled my plan. Clever chicken. That was twenty one days ago. I am expecting her to bring her chicks out any day now.


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My 6 month old partridge wyandotte chicken has gone broody

Well, the six month old partridge wyandotte chicken isn’t exactly mine anymore but I did hatch her and raise her so I am guessing I can still call her “mine” when it suits me of course.

I had a call from her new chicken dad yesterday and he said she was sitting on a clutch of eggs in the bushes and that she was quite protective if they went near her.  She is only six months old! I was amazed that she had gone broody so young.

He is going to shift her and her eggs into the hen house as it is winter here in New Zealand at the moment and she will need protection from the rain and wind while she is hatching her eggs. The rooster, Harry Hen-boy may be too young to fertilise eggs so they are going to candle them in a few weeks time. I am not sure at what age roosters are fertile but he is also six months.

They are all doing well at their new home and all of the three girls are laying regularly. But there is only one boy left. (But at least there is one.)

 


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To sell or not to sell the chicks

The master plan for growing my brood of chickens from three to a maximum of eight (which my husband agreed to when we bought the bigger coop but has since forgotten the conversation), was to hatch a batch (or is that a clutch) of eggs each time my bantam went broody. I would then keep one of the girls from the hatch each time and sell the remainder. In this way, it would take a few years to get to my maximum number of chickens and it would give me time between broodiness to decide on the breed for the next hatch, while watching the new chicks grow.

My last (and only) hatched batch (or clutch) are now fourteen weeks old. I have three girls and two boys. The plan was to keep all of the chicks until the girls started laying and then I would keep one (Hazel with the crooked toe) and sell the other four. I decided if I kept them until the girls were laying, I might have more chance of selling the four of them as pairs. That way the boys may get a chance of surviving and living a happy life.

I say that was my plan because Hannah Hen went broody again far too quickly. (Only two weeks after she abandoned the chicks at ten weeks old). The maternity coop which I would need to move Hannah into, still had the chicks living in it. So the easiest thing (after weighing up a number of options) was to sell my four chicks early. But I was not ready to let my chicks go. I wanted to see my baby girls lay their first egg. I wanted to see what the magnificent boys looked like as fully grown bantam roosters. I wanted to enjoy the chicks for a couple more months.

But I knew how to go about selling them and that was to list them on the Trademe website, which is New Zealand’s equivalent to Ebay. So the first thing I had to do was to follow the chicks around and take some photos. The photos had to have the chicks looking as magnificent or as cute as they could, so I could entice a nice owner into buying them. At least I could take the photos. I didn’t have to list them just yet.

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Here they all are innocently sitting together not realising they were posing for their Trademe photographs.

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Here are the boys on their own so that the first person to want one of the pairs could see the boys colouring and choose which one they wanted.  I know it is not the best photo to show off their colouring but I had only just started taking photos. I was going to spend much of the weekend getting the right photos for  their prospective buyers. But this is as far as I got.

The mite drama and Hannah Hen being driven off her broody nest suddenly took precedence over getting the chicks to pose for photographs.

I feel terribly sorry that mites attacked Hannah Hen. It was obviously not very pleasant. But at least I can now keep my chicks for longer.


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Did red mites kill my chicken?

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This has been a very traumatic week.

This is a picture of my partridge wyandotte bantam, Hannah Hen. This is her, when she first chose us to  live with. She has been with us for approximately nine months and we worked out after finding out where she came from that she is quite an old bantam.

Hannah Hen has hatched five beautiful babies for us and looked after them until they were ten weeks old before she decided they were big enough to make their own way in the world. The same day she abandoned her chicks, she laid her first little green egg since being broody.

A week ago (three weeks after she abandoned her chicks), Hannah Hen decided it was time to hatch some more babies. So she started sitting on a golf ball and two of her eggs which she managed to hide from me.

Oh no. Not again. Not so soon. I still have a batch of teenage chicks living in the coop (without the ramp) that Hannah Hen would need for new chicks. I don’t want to move the teenagers into the coop with the big girls because Helen Hen is mean to them.  I don’t want to sell my teenagers yet because I want to watch them grow into fine adults. Perhaps I could get out my original smaller coop for the teenagers (they’re only small) and then Hannah Hen could have her maternity ward back.

Then I had to quickly think about what breed of chicks do I want to have next time. I don’t have a rooster so I buy fertilised eggs, so therefore can select any breed of chick, depending on what eggs are available at the time.

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So I decided to have her hatch some Barnevelders because they have such wonderful personalities and they are so pretty.

Hannah Hen had been happily sitting on her golf ball and her two little green eggs for about five days, so I thought it safe and arranged  to get some fertilised Barnevelder eggs on Sunday from the same breeder I got Helen and Hilda from. I had until the weekend to sort out the coop situation.

Then on Saturday morning around 7am, Hannah Hen got off her eggs and didn’t go back on them until midday. Very unusual, as once she is broody, she sits tight, hardly getting off for eating and ablutions. She was a bit puffed up and didn’t move far. I took the opportunity while she was off to check the nest for mites as I know they can force a broody hen off the nest.

I had had an outbreak of mites in the chick’s coop but had worked hard to get rid of them. I had not seen any mites in the big girl’s coop  as I had DE’d it as a mite preventative (I had forgotten to do the chick’s coop when I bought it) and so far the big coop had been mite free. But you never know, so I checked the nest. No sign of any mites, even under the eggs and golf ball.

I phoned the breeder to cancel the fertilised eggs for now as I think something is not quite right.

The next morning (Sunday) Hannah Hen again got off the nest at 7am but this time stayed off the eggs all day. She didn’t look well and was fluffed up and looking very lethargic for most of the day. She stood around and didn’t move far and at one stage I saw her standing with her little head bowed with her eyes closed. She did not look well at all. I decided that when she goes to bed that night, I would pick her up and check her over. I am not able to do that during the day as she won’t let me get too near her. I checked her nest again for mites, but nothing again. And none to be seen anywhere else in the coop.

Then in the afternoon she perked up and started looking her normal self. So that night I didn’t bother to check her out.

Monday morning we went to work in the dark and the chickens were still sleeping so I opened the door of their run so they can free range.
Monday night we were late home and the chickens were in bed and so I just shut the door.
Tuesday morning we left again in the dark before the chickens were up and opened the door.

Tuesday evening we were home at six. (The chickens bedtime at the moment is 8pm.) Hannah Hen was missing. How long has she been missing? I haven’t seen them since Sunday and she had been very poorly Sunday morning. I started to get worried. I checked in her nesting box in case she was sitting back on her golf ball. But she wasn’t there and to my horror, the nest and the golf ball were teeming with mites.

How could this happen? I had been so diligent in checking (or so I thought). I know that mites can kill chickens by causing anaemia. Then I remembered her little droopy head and her eyes closing while she was standing up. I remembered that she was lethargic. Why didn’t I see the signs and rifle through the nest, lifting up the wood shavings and hunting those mites out? How could my inexperience at chicken management cause the death of my Hannah Hen? She had lived for years across the road on the farm on her own and I took her in to keep her safe. How could I do that to her?

She didn’t turn up that night. I cried. I felt so bad and so sad.

I went to work the next day and was very sad but I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. Not even my kids. If I had even a hint of sympathy, I would have burst into a fresh set of tears, so I told no one.  I will tell them once I have worked through what I have done.

Wednesday evening we came home and I was sadly and lethargically going about my business of preparing dinner. I asked my husband if he would go outside and look through the bush for Hannah Hen’s body so we could bury her.

Then a few minutes later, my husband called out to me, “Hey, Hannah is outside!” I looked out the window and there she was, looking bright and perky  doing the evening pre bedtime preening with the rest of them. Not long after this, she wandered off into the bushes for the night. The mites had driven off her nest and out of her coop.


The night I discovered the mites, I sprayed and DE’d  and sprayed and DE’d some more like a mad woman. But this weekend my plan is to empty the coop of wood shavings, spray it with Poultry Shield, let it dry, dust it with DE, put in fresh shavings and one day soon, try to encourage Hannah Hen back into her nest. I have a few plans for how to do this. But first I need to find where she is sleeping.