Spring Cheepers

We had a sweet little surprise this weekend:

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Three fluffy chicks under our first broody australorp.

It’s a long story – there were some problems at the beginning with her not keeping her eggs under her – she kept kicking them out by accident as she turned around, some broke and made the nest dirty… eventually all the eggs died, with only a week to go til her hatch date. I was pretty upset about it. (And pretty impressed at the powerful stink of a rotten egg, too; even when broken carefully – to check that I was correct – inside three sealed ziplock bags, I still had to shove them into glass jars to keep the stench at bay. Like moldy armpits mixed with the smell of death…. ugh.)

But Dana at Moose Manor saved my bacon. She had some eggs that were set just the day after mine, perfectly on schedule, and offered me six. It was an hour and a bit each way, but worth it. I’m so pleased with these little puffballs, and excited to see what they turn out to look like. We know little about them except that their fathers were lavender orpingtons.

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And this is the way to do it, man: leave the hard work up to the hen. It’s a bit of a chore to keep her water and food separate from the others – I had to make her a separate nursery pen out of old crib sides and zip ties – but it saves so much effort in the long run. I’d have to incubate the eggs for 21 days, carefully turning them and monitoring humidity and temperature twice a day at least… then keep them inside for 6 weeks or more, changing stinky bedding all the time, moving heat lamps around to keep them warm or cool, giving them supervised outings in cages that then need to be cleaned up and put away. No way. Mama chicken keeps the eggs perfectly all by herself, then makes sure her chicks have food and water, and takes them on outings herself, protects them from the rest of the flock, etc etc. while I just sit back and absorb the cute.

I love it when the things I grow are self-sustaining. :)

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It’s not all sun and rainbows, though. Of 6 eggs, we got 3 chicks.

There was one other dark one who hatched but didn’t make it – some of his (or her) insides were on his outside, and he was really struggling by the time I found him. Not sure if it happened through nature or trauma, but we had to put him to sleep. Ziplock bag, 2 tbsp baking soda to 8 oz vinegar, made carbon dioxide and the tiny guy just went to sleep. Tears all around – but that’s raising chicks for you. A lot of them just don’t make it.

The irony was not lost on me that if he had been a male, when he matured into a rooster he would have ended up on my supper table anyway and with many fewer tears. But he would have led a long, full, natural chickeny life at that point – it just doesn’t seem fair that this little guy didn’t even have a chance. Farm life is full of contradictions like this, I guess.

The last two eggs simply didn’t hatch, which is also very common. I opened these unfortunate eggs to show the girls the chicks developing inside, which I figured is a cool science lesson they won’t get to see more than a couple times a year. One looked like it had actually stopped developing about a week ago – equal size of chick to yolk sac. The other looked nearly perfect and had almost fully absorbed its yolk, which I pointed out to the girls. It had simply died before hatching, and interestingly it looked like it had no eyes… I could be wrong, of course, because they are awfully tiny at that point, but it might be one of the reasons it failed.

I wonder, if I had been more aggressive about taking out the unhatched eggs after the due date, if it might still have been alive enough for me to help. I guess we’ll never know.

It’s hard to remember the joys of the three sweet little chicks that did make it, without also feeling regret for the ones that almost did. Even when you know to expect it, it’s still hard.

 

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