My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


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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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Did locking my hens up stop them from laying in the bushes?

I suddenly stopped getting eggs in my nesting boxes and suspected that my free ranging girls were laying somewhere in the bushes but I have never found their nest.

So I locked them up each day until late afternoon, for one week.  During that week, the Barnevelders, Helen and Hilda got the message and started laying in the nesting boxes again. But Hannah Hen, my best layer, only laid one egg during that week.  She has not laid an egg in the nesting box since.

While they were locked in for that week, my neighbour was letting them out each day after 3pm and I am now wondering if that wily bantam was holding onto her eggs  until she was let out and then scurried off to her bush hideaway to lay her egg.

I don’t mind Hannah Hen living here and eating my lovely food and not producing eggs. But if she is producing eggs, I want them. I do wonder if maybe she has just stopped laying. I think she is probably quite old and maybe has passed her egg time. But I am not so sure.

The only way to tell if she is laying or not is to lock her up for a week and not let her out for an afternoon walk. So I have set up the spare (maternity) coop and tonight after she has gone to bed, I am going to grab her and put her in the spare coop. I got it ready for her today with nice fresh wood shavings and fresh water and food bowls. She will hate it but at least I will know if she is laying or not.

 


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My chickens have forced me to do an egg hunt!

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Where on earth do I start to look for a nest of eggs? There are so many wonderful and safe hiding places for a chicken to lay her eggs. I am sure the nest is on this side of the house, somewhere in these bushes because this is where I saw George patiently waiting.

So Haitch and I entered the bush and started scouring the undergrowth for a nest of eggs. Surely the eggs would stand out against the dark floor of the bush. This shouldn’t take long.

We looked and looked and looked in the general direction I had seen Hannah coming from the day I thought George was protecting her whilst she laid. But there was no sign of a fresh nest.

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But although I couldn’t find the new nest, I found an old nest hidden under the fern fronds. I had no idea that any of my girls had ever laid in the bush before. And here I was thinking they were such good chickens compared to other people’s! Clearly not.

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When Haitch put these eggs in the bowl, one slipped out of his hand and cracked and oh dear. This is a very old nest. Smelly, smelly eggs. I am surprised that no critters had eaten these eggs, weasels, stoats, ferrets, possums even?

My girls are currently being locked up every day until mid afternoon when my wonderful neighbour comes up each day to let them out. We will do this for the rest of this week and see what happens in the weekend.

Hilda and Helen are both laying in the nesting boxes while being locked up but Hannah has not yet. She is either not laying at the moment (hmmmm) or she is holding onto her egg and then laying once she is let out. I might have to leave her in all day if she doesn’t give me any eggs over the next few days. She may be cleverer than I thought.


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My chickens may be laying outside in the bushes – but where?

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King George is a bit confused today. Things are not quite the way he is used to. He is waiting beside the coop door, so close to the coop in fact, that his tail feathers are squashed. What is he waiting for?

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He is waiting for his girls to be let out of the naughty room. I have not had any eggs for ten days. Now I know all three of them wouldn’t stop laying on the same day. They must be laying in the bushes somewhere.

So yesterday I watched the girls closely and I think I know the general direction of where the nest might be. I saw King George standing with Hilda and Hannah in the bush, just waiting. That’s what they do when each other is laying so I knew she must be close. They think they can outsmart me!

So I waited and waited and finally saw her come running towards the others. The bush where she has her nest is quite dense and after a quick look yesterday, I was not able to see it. But husband Haitch is going to help me look this afternoon. There should be a mountain of eggs in this nest!

But there is a bit of a twist to this story. Why would they all suddenly decide to lay outside for the first time in over a year of happily laying in the nesting boxes. There are no mites in the boxes and they are quite happily sleeping there each night. But I have had no eggs whatsoever in the nesting boxes for ten days.

Then yesterday while I was waiting very patiently for Hannah to finish laying in the bush somewhere, Helen trotted into the hen house and laid in the nesting box! Why today? Has she been laying in there each day and her eggs are disappearing! And if she has been laying outside, why would she suddenly lay in the nesting box today?

So today, I have locked the lovely chickens in their coop where they will have no choice but to lay in their nice clean, dark, warm, safe nesting boxes.

Let’s see what happens.

 

 


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King George the rooster has broken two of my rules

King George turned up at out place and made my chicken coop his home. We didn’t want a rooster.

But we decided to let him stay but with three rules.

Rule number 1 – He doesn’t crow in the early hours of the morning.
Well of course he has broken this rule! One morning my husband Haitch said to me “that rooster has got to go. He was crowing at 4:30”.
I said to him “if you want the rooster gone, you ring our neighbour / friend and you tell him to come and take his rooster away and kill his him. If he takes him back home across the road, King George will just keep coming back here”.

Rule number 2 – He is gentle with my girls.
King George is huge and I am scared he is going to squash my girls when he has his roostering way with them. I have never seen him doing anything with my girls so I was thinking that he is aware of his enormity and is therefore being a kind rooster and leaving my girls alone. After all, Hannah Hen, my bantam, only comes up to the top if his thigh!
I had some friends around last weekend and they know about chickens. They said that King George would definitely be having his roostering way, so to prove it, we broke one each of my girls eggs into a bowl.
Hilda Hen’s egg was fertile.
Helen Hen’s egg was fertile.
And yes, tiny, little Hannah Hen’s egg was also fertile.
And then a few days ago, I heard a ruckus and looked out to see Helen Hen looking indignant at King George and there was the tell tale sign, he had one of Helen’s feathers in his beak! So rule number 2 is on the verge of being broken.

Rule number 3 – He is not aggressive in ANY way
This is my most important rule. I have not seen any sign of aggression so far. He is very gentle and is learning not to run away from me when I go outside. He is learning that I have treats. He has even started coming over to me when he thinks I have food, but not too close of course.

So you see, King George has broken one rule and partially broken the second rule but he is still here. I know I said if he breaks any of those rules, he is out. But I’ve grown attached to King George the rooster and they are my rules, so I can choose to remove them on a whim.  (And then of course reinstate them, even without letting King George know.)
I hope he never breaks rule number 3, because there is no negotiation on this one.


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I had to buy my first eggs in twelve months

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Helen Hen (Barnevelder) stopped laying in February as she struggled with the New Zealand heat and drought and decided she would go through a very light moult. She hardly lost any feathers but it was her first summer and her very first moult and perhaps it was a bit stressful for her. Or maybe she just felt she deserved a rest from laying her 3 to 4 eggs a week.

But that’s ok, I still had Hilda Hen (Barnevelder) and Hannah Hen (Partridge Wyandotte bantam), laying which was enough to keep me in eggs and to provide a half dozen now and again to family.

And then in May, Hilda Hen decided she would go through a very light moult also. She lost her tail feathers and started looking very sorry for herself and a bit bedraggled. She had a break from laying her  4 to 5 eggs a week.

But that’s ok, Hannah Hen was still laying her 6 eggs a week…. Until we got to the middle of the New Zealand winter. Hannah Hen stopped laying mid July. Oh dear.  I had a dozen or so eggs in the fridge. I will use them sparingly until one of the girls starts laying again. Helen Hen is looking fat and healthy and her comb is red so she can’t be too far from laying.

But then the end of July came and still no eggs in my nesting boxes. I couldn’t last any longer. At the end of July I went to the grocery store and bought a half dozen eggs. It felt so wrong.

But then on Monday, there in the nesting box was an egg from Hannah Hen. And then on Tuesday there were two brown eggs, one from Helen Hen and one from Hilda Hen.  My girls are back providing us with eggs regularly and I couldn’t be happier.


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My Partridge Wyandotte bantams laid their first egg

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The egg at the top on the left is Hilda Hen’s egg. She is a Barnevelder. She always lays large, elongated eggs with freckles and two shades of brown.

The egg on the right at the top is Hannah Hen’s. She is a Partridge Wyandotte bantam. She lays small, light green eggs.

The two tiny eggs at the front belong to two of my three “babies”. They are Partridge Wyandotte bantams and they are five and a half months old. These two girls laid their first egg yesterday. I couldn’t be more proud.


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Is my five and a half month partridge wyandotte chick ready to lay?

I just happened to look out the window this morning and there was my five and half month old chick moving with a sense of purpose towards the chicken coop.

It is mid morning and the sparrows had probably finished off the chicken’s food that I had put out so I was watching to see if she would find anything to eat.

But no. With the same sense of purpose, she strode past the feed dish and  into the chicken house. The only thing I can think of is that she went in there to sit on a nest. Perhaps she is going to lay her first egg. How very exciting. I watched out the window for a few minutes to see if she came straight back out, but no. She stayed in there. What a shame  I have to go out soon and I won’t be there when she comes out.

But then maybe she is just familiarising herself with the process and she is not anywhere near ready to lay.


15 Comments

Waiting for chickens to lay an egg for my Christmas baking

Before Christmas I had been saving up my girl’s eggs for Christmas baking. I wanted to make my own sponge for my Christmas trifle (three eggs) and I wanted to make a pavlova (four eggs). At the moment I only have my two Barnevelders laying as my bantam is on motherhood duties and therefore no eggs.

Two days before Christmas I had six eggs and so I needed one more. The Barnies lay approximately one egg each every two days and Hilda was due to lay today and Helen tomorrow. My husband went to the grocery store and he knew I was one egg short for my Christmas baking and so he phoned me from the store to ask if I wanted him to buy eggs. I said NOOOOOO. I didn’t mean it to come out so aggressively, but come on….. NO. One of the girls will provide me with that last egg.

I made the sponges so that they would be stale enough for the trifle on Christmas morning. So that left the pavlova with one egg short. Hilda is reasonably consistent with her every second day laying so I was confident I would have a pavlova in the oven by the end of the day.  I kept my ear attuned for Hilda’s “I’ve just laid an egg” commotion. I didn’t need to listen too hard as she is very loud and proud and even the neighbours a kilometre down the road know when Hilda has laid.

but by mid afternoon, still no egg. Each time I saw her walking from the front lawn towards the back (where the coop is) I would rush out to see if she was going into the nesting box. But no, she was just going about her scratching and pecking business defying me by walking quickly in the direction of the coop and then she would stop and look up at me. I kept checking in the nesting box just in case today was a quiet egg laying day. But no, no egg today. (I felt like picking her up and giving her a squeeze but thought that probably was not the right thing to do.)

So the next morning (the day before Christmas) my husband offered to go down to the local store to buy eggs and I said no, we would go without pavlova if Hilda or Helen didn’t lay by lunchtime. I couldn’t bring myself to buy eggs. Particularly since the eggs at the local store are not free range. I would rather go without the pavlova.

Then I heard it mid morning. Hilda’s egg laying commotion.  Inside the nesting box was my final egg and just in time for me to make the pavlova. Thank you girls.

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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.