(Or, “How to Get a Broody Mama to Adopt 15-20 Hatchery Chicks”)
There are 35 chicks in my front yard right now, split between two wonderful mamas. I can tentatively declare that we have success!
The 26 mail order day old chicks came this morning. Jason went and picked them up at the post office and helped me tuck them under the mamas. Here’s a summary of their current status:
MAMA A (who was brooding in the nest box in the hoop coop, sitting on 14 eggs)
- Surprised us by hatching four babies Sunday 8/15 while were were up north. We found them upon our return.
- Took one of her babies to give to the other mama (see below), who only had one at the time.
- Moved her to the A-frame little chicken tractor (4′ x 8′) in the front yard Monday evening.
- She surprised us again by hatching three more babies yesterday, bringing her total up to 6.
- She surprised us AGAIN again by hatching one more egg by this morning (either 8/18 or 8/19/10; I found broken egg shells and only one egg left in her nest this morning; there were two eggs when I went to bed). Bringing her home-hatched total up to 8, 7 with her in the A-frame.
- We stuck 13 babies from our hatchery arrival underneath her this morning. We covered both mamas with upside-down cardboard boxes last night, anticipating the arrival of chicks, so they wouldn’t leave their nest and think it was daytime yet. We quickly removed the box and covered her with a soft folded blanket, then tucked the chicks underneath her one at a time. Then placed her and her now 20 chicks (!) back into the A-frame, waited a few minutes while the chicks all calmed down and were silent and comfy, and removed the blanket and one of the four cardboard pieces holding the chicks and bedding in.
- Now the chicks can move freely in and out of the nest through the holes in one side of the milk crate. Mama A has been sitting beautifully, and has had all 20 underneath her at one point. She is out and about in the frame with the chicks, showing them how to eat and drink. She sits frequently and huddles chicks under her for naps. The chicks are all healthy, imprinting on their new mom, and vigorous.
- Mama A is very nurturing, not at all restless, and is doing a beautiful job. Like she was made to brood 20 babies.
MAMA B (who was brooding on the floor underneath the nest boxes in the hoop coop)
- Originally had 11 eggs underneath her.
- Hatched one baby sometime on 8/8/10, who we found dead that evening upon our return from a day trip. Don’t know why or how she died. Found her on the floor of the hoop coop, behind the big feeder. No blood, just a dead chick.
- We immediately moved her and her remaining five eggs (now sure where the other five went; couldn’t find them) into a blue plastic bin with holes poked in it, covered her with the lid, and left her in the hoop coop.
- Hatched one egg on 8/9/10, inside the bin. Moved her inside in a cardboard box with her chick and four remaining eggs to see how many would hatch.
- Moved her outside next to the front door in the blue plastic bin, tipped sideways, with hardware cloth enclosing her and her baby. Tossed her four eggs after several days.
- Gave her one additional chick stolen from Mama A (see above) so her one chick wouldn’t be lonely, and to see how she’d do with adoption. Just tucked him underneath her. She did fine, although she seemed cooped and restless in the little enclosure we had made for her.
- We let her free range one afternoon with her now two babies, and she went a little fast for the new stolen baby. But she never left him behind, and came running to his protection when I got too close for her comfort. She’s just a really restless chicken, and likes to be out walking, scratching, pecking, etc. She doesn’t like to be still.
- Moved her to another makeshift coop setup (we are building a new moveable chicken tractor tonight), involving an old cattle watering trough turned sideways, lots of garden stakes, hardware cloth, and scraps of osb/fiberboard/pine flooring for cover. Firewood to cover little chick-sized gaps. It’s working for now. We gave her a nest box with four cardboard sides lining it to contain the pine shavings. The holes are big enough for chicks to fit through, and one of the cardboard sides is very low, so they can jump over it with the help of firewood “steps.”
- Due to her restlessness and tendency to be up pacing (rather than sitting on her two babies), I was very concerned that she wouldn’t adopt new chicks very well. I chose to gave her less chicks overall (15 total, which is still a lot) and watched her carefully to make sure she didn’t abandon or hurt the new chicks. The process was the same: remove the cardboard box, quickly cover her with soft folded blanket, tuck chicks underneath her as fast as I can, put the whole rig inside her makeshift coop, wait a few minutes for everyone to be quiet and cozy, remove blankets, remove fourth cardboard side so chicks can move freely.
- Success! This formerly restless mama has calmed right down, and sits on her chicks as needed. She is still more active than the other mama, but she has hopped back in the nest several times, and also sits on the grass when chicks cluster underneath her. She just needed more chicks to help her settle. There has been absolutely no pecking or abandoning chicks.
It helps that all this is done in August weather; it will be a sunny day, rain-free, and in the 80s. The mamas are doing just beautifully, and I’m so excited to see all those fluffy little babies out there. They’re so incredibly cute. As the chicks get older, the tractors will get a little confining, but we plan to free range them as much as possible (as they won’t need to lay eggs in a nest box, so we won’t bother keeping them cooped up until afternoon, like we do with the layers). I still can’t believe we went from one lonely chick Friday to 35 a week later, but there you go. It happened, and under the circumstances, everything is going very well. We are very, very busy. Jason has his two jobs, and I have four kids, a nearly constant flow of tomatoes to can, cucumbers that need to be pickled, and chicks to tend to. Homeschool? Put off until at least next week. I was going to start mid-August, but I’m content to wait until early September now.
By the way, the chicks are just gorgeous. We ordered an assortment of heritage breed dual-purpose males, so they are all sorts of fun colors. I have no idea what they all are, but I’m hoping to be able to tell by lots of Googling as they grow. Maybe I’ll post some photos at BackyardChickens.com and ask for help identifying.
Speaking of photos – I will go take some later today, when the lighting is better. I know this is kind of a mean post to put up without pictures, but I have none as of this point. That whole busyness thing.