So, after coming home to a dead chick on the coop floor Sunday night, I am happy to report a new, live, fluffy chick was born yesterday (Monday 8/9/10 – what a cool birthday!). She is doing well, and I saw another egg was cracked, so I’m hoping for at least another chick soon. I hope she makes it out okay.
Now, the details of the sad story. This is the first chick we’ve lost, ever, including our day-old chicks from the hatchery; all have survived until Sunday. We have had two broody mamas in the hoop coop. We have three nest boxes in there – they are milk crates, zip tied together and zip tied to the side of the coop, about 12″ off the ground. Sometimes the hens like to dig nests underneath the nest boxes and lay eggs there, especially if we’ve left the coop in one place too long. This is what happened in July, and Mama (who hatched out our five now-teenager chicks on 6/2/10) took over some eggs underneath the nest boxes one day and couldn’t be persuaded to budge. She was really tucked in there, such that we didn’t really have a way of moving her if we wanted her to stay broody. I saw her get off the nest one day (to eat and drink) and counted 11 eggs. She is such a good broody, so I knew she’d sit the full 21 days. I wasn’t sure, however, what to do when the babies came. Since she wasn’t in a nest box, I couldn’t just cut the zip ties and move her to a private pen, like we had done last time. We figured this would be a good time to see if keeping the flock integrated would work out. I’ve done research and read that some farmers keep their broody mamas with the larger flock, and she protects the babies. There are no integration problems this way (other than the initial kerfluffle when the new mom shows the other hens who’s boss and teaches them to leave her babies alone). We noticed the second broody in the far left nest box (the favored nest box, where most eggs are usually laid) shortly thereafter, and figured we’d move her when the babies came.
We weren’t sure when the babies would come, as we didn’t really know when they started sitting. But Jason tucked some additional eggs under the nest box broody on 7/25, and we figured the mamas had been sitting for up to a week prior to that. So in early August, I started checking the mamas every day, looking and listening for babies. A problem developed with the nest box broody – since she was in the favored nest box for laying, the other non-broody hens were hopping in and laying eggs in her box, so soon she was sitting on more than 20 eggs! Eeek. If we had been smart, we would have marked her first eggs with crayon or a Sharpie so that we could know which eggs to remove every day, but we didn’t, as our prior broody (Mama) from May/June had chosen a little-used nest box. So instead, we googled and learned how to candle eggs. Jason used a flashlight and looked at the eggs, marking 14 with a “c” with a Sharpie and giving them back to the nest box broody and moving her to the least-used nest box. He said most looked pretty full of chick, and a few were smaller, but it was clear to him which had babies in them and which didn’t. It worked; she stayed on the 14 eggs in the lesser-used nest box.
Until she didn’t.
She soon noticed that there were eggs in the other nest boxes (every day before we collect eggs). I don’t know if it’s because she’s stupid or confused or stubborn, but she would abandon her own eggs to sit on the freshly laid ones. Probably she figured the nest box she had chosen was just fine, thank you, and she’d prefer to sit on whatever eggs were over there. She did it at least twice. The first time, her chick-eggs were still warm, so I moved her back, and she stayed. I started collecting eggs diligently, every time I checked for new chicks, and she didn’t hop back again for a while.
Sunday was our niece’s first birthday party. We had a fun time celebrating there, and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
When we came back, two things were awry:
- There was a dead little chick on the floor of the coop.
- The nest box broody had jumped ship again, and this time, her eggs were cold. (Or as cold as they can be on a 90 degree day in August.)
I was (and remain) so, so sad. A little life, lost, and I might have been able to prevent it. We assume the little chick hatched from Mama, the ground broody, and wandered around after she dried off and found her land legs. We aren’t sure how she died, and that’s the trouble. If she was attacked by the other hens, and perhaps Mama wouldn’t leave her nest to protect her, then she would have been bloody. But she wasn’t. Did she lose her way, get cold, and die of a chill? I think this is unlikely, as it was 90+ degrees, and she was only a couple feet from Mama. Mama would have called her back, too. Was she sick, and would have died anyway? We’ll never know.
Well, I knew we needed to move Mama. Everything I read says not to move eggs when they’re about to hatch, but I wasn’t going to risk losing another chick this way. So we got a plastic bin, put air holes in it, filled it with shavings, and moved her. Jason held Mama while I (with Cal on my back) reached under the nest boxes and moved six eggs to the bin. Then J put her on them, and we shut the lid. We left the whole bin in the coop until morning. When I found a new chick the next morning (yesterday), we moved the whole bin into the lower level of the house to keep her cool until however many babies come. Then we’ll put her outside in a new little coop we fashioned out of firewood.
(If you’re doing the math, you’ll recall that 11 eggs became six. How? I don’t know. There is no evidence of them being broken. I have no idea where the other five went.)
As for the nest box broody, who I want to name Fickle – I put her back on the now-cold eggs. As of today, she hasn’t hatched any chicks, and none have pipped at all. I’m assuming they are dead, all 14, because she left them one time too many.
Now I’m praying/rooting for that pipped egg to hatch into another healthy chick. Normally, all the chicks would come within 24-48 hours, so I’m wondering if two chicks is all we’ll get. From 25 potential babies, we have two chicks. Amazing.