Monday, May 30, 2011
Well, as it turns out there was a bit of an operator error on the chick hatching front. Our "low tech off the grid incubator" went for a walk and Buck and I did not communicate well, so she was let out at the wrong time, and another broody hen tried to take the nest. What happened while I was gone only the chickens know, but I came home late to find no one on the nest and everyone on the roost.
The next morning I had to throw all the eggs into the woods and start over. Eggs won't finish hatching if they get chilled. I wrote it off as a first time mom thing.
Then Everyone wanted to sit. Only four hens were laying eggs. Before all of this, I loved the Cuckoo Marans because they always laid in the same nest box- I didn't have to search all over the farm for the eggs. Well, this is where that trait is not so handy. They would squeeze into the nest box and lay an egg and the other hens would just stay put, growling and clucking.
One day I pulled five hens out of the box. Seriously, it was like a clown car act.
but I have always had a bigger hen house and owned chicken breeds that would just find another place to lay their eggs if the box was occupied. Back then, when it came to hatching eggs, I would let my hens choose their own nest and hatch out a clutch there.
But for now, until I get the old granary rehabilitated into a hen house, I'll just have to make the best of what I've got. So I adapted.
By the next week I had saved up 12 more of the nicest dark brown eggs and marked them with a pencil. I put a big X on each one so I could candle them later and throw out any stray eggs in case some hen horned her way into the nest box and laid an egg. I didn't want that for two reasons: The eggs may not be of the quality I wanted (very dark brown) and extra eggs would decrease the likely hood of all the eggs hatching because the hen won't be able to keep them all warm at the same time or, at the very least they won't hatch at the same time.
I waited around until a broody hen volunteered and settled down in the nest box with the eggs. Then I put a nest box next to her so the other hens would use it instead. And for the most part it worked. I can't honestly tell you if the same hen kept sitting on the nest but A hen always sat, so I didn't care if they wanted to job share.
12 nights later I pulled the eggs out from under her and candled them with my super powered halogen flashlight. There were 5 stray eggs. I threw them out, re-marked the "keeper" eggs and popped them back under her. She viciously pecked the heck out of my hand in gratitude.
I had one other hen who just wouldn't give up trying to sit, no matter how often I threw her off the other nest so I decided to put her to work. I went down to the farm store and bought 10 Cornish Cross chicks and stuck them under her the next night. She has been an excellent mom, letting the chicks ride around on her back, clucking and cooing so her chicks come running to each found morsel of food.
The other hens then decided they wanted one of those too and would not stop prowling around the cage and clucking to the chicks.
Mr. B on the other hand would like to have one for a different reason. MMMM Crunchy Chick.
I will say that the Cornish Cross chicks are much more lively and intelligent than I expected. I've always had a bias against Cornish Cross because I used to earn money, as a kid, catching these chickens at the local poultry farm. I guess I never really put the fact that those chickens were raised in a huge airplane hanger of a barn with no outside stimulation, together with the fact that they just laid on the floor and helplessly let us pick them up three in each hand to load on the truck.
They were nothing like our chickens at home. But now I am open to the idea that those chickens were just stupid because they had nothing to be smart about.
These chicks are perky and inquisitive, and growing at a shocking rate. I am not giving them free choice food, hoping to slow their legendarily fast growth. The gal at the farm store said they can be ready to butcher at 7 weeks. I have read that if you give them free choice, high protein diets they can reach 5 lbs at 5 1/2 weeks- the downside of that is that they are then prone to heart attacks and legs that are unable to carry them. Because of this, it seems that if I want to have them be truly "free range" I will need to keep them a little hungry.
I am hoping that their "mom" will keep them busy chasing bugs and worms and eating grass and they will grow more slowly and stay stronger. It is an experiment and I don't really know what will happen. At any rate they will be eaten. The fact that they cannot survive happily as an adult chicken, gives me no choice but to follow through with my plan to put them in the freezer. I cannot duck out of this one like I did the turkeys.