(Or, “My Hens Are Prejudiced.”)
So, after my initial glowing review of our day-old hatchery chicks’ first day with their adopted moms, things went a little south. After being with her new brood for over seven hours, Mama A (in the A-frame chicken tractor) started chasing and pecking the three little brown-variegated chicks under her care. It was so random; she left the black ones alone, and all the buff ones alone, but was attacking the brown ones. I watched for a while to see if she was really doing this, and she was, so I painstakingly rescued the three brown ones (had to wait for them to run by the door, which they were not keen to do while I was standing there) and snuck them in the pen with Mama B.
All was well for another hour, when I noticed Mama B pecking and attacking some chicks as I watched from the kitchen window. Unbelievable! After mothering her new brood perfectly for eight hours (including showing them all how to eat and drink, sitting on them for naps several times, displaying incredible mothering/nurturing behaviors), she suddenly decided that she didn’t like the darker ones, either. She didn’t have any black ones, but she had several grey/tan/brown ones, in addition to the three extra brown ones I gave her from Mama A. I sat next to her for a while to, again, make sure this was really happening, and it was. Sigh.
My chickens are now segregated based on color.
I initially started taking all the dark ones out of Mama B’s coop, but then re-worked my plan when I saw Mama A starting to attack the black chicks. (Why she attacked the brown chicks first, and left the black ones alone for so long, I’ll never know. I need to research the vision of chickens. What colors can they see? This is so, so bizarre to me.) I then caught Mama B and her two original buff chicks (so much easier to type than than to actually do it) and put them back in their blue plastic bin with the lid on for a while to calm them down. I decided to move her back to the left of the front door, tipped her sideways so the bin lid was facing me like a door, and left her there to settle for a while and re-gain her bearings.
I caught all the poor black chicks from Mama A (again, way easier to type that than to actually do it; I drafted Maya’s help in scaring the chicks away from the other side so they would run toward my end, with the big door) and put them in the makeshift coop formerly occupied by Mama B. I replaced some of her black chicks with more buffs/goldens/yellows, and she seemed to take to them just fine. I left behind 17 chicks in the motherless coop: five black ones (with white/yellow spots), six gray/tan/brown ones (not the same breeds, but all in that color family), three bright yellows, and three golden. Mama A in the A-frame now has 16 (mostly) buff, yellow, and golden chicks. And Mama B has her two little buffs from before. Total: 35 cute chicks in my front yard.
So we are rearing all the dark chickies (plus some extras) by hand outside. It’s so warm that I only turn the heat lamp on at night. They are thriving. Maya volunteered her (washable) stuffed dog, Lily, to put in the nest box to give them something cozy to snuggle up under at night, and it worked. I had to gently toss a few in there to give them the idea, but now they all go to sleep under Lily at night, and it’s pretty stinkin’ cute. Initially, for 20 minutes or so after I removed Mama B, they cheeped and cried for her. But they have been fine and happy every since. (She immediately forgot about them and hasn’t even stopped to wonder about them as she ranges about the yard. Sigh.) Speaking of Mama B, she is free ranging all day with her two chicks, and she puts herself to bed in the blue bin at night, where we shut the lid to keep predators out. It latches pretty tightly, and it has air holes cut into it, so she does fine in there all night. Mama A is doing well with her 16 light-colored chicks, and hasn’t attacked a chick since. She is very protective of them and is doing a good job of mothering them.
Anyone have experience with this? Mother hens rejecting chicks based on color? I mean, what if our flock was mixed breed, and they hatched out their very own hybrid chick that was dark? Would they have attacked it, too? Both mamas adopted the extra buff/yellow/golden chicks without hesitation, so it’s not that the adoption thing didn’t work. It’s all about the color.
Jason and I designed yet another chicken tractor based on two cattle panels cut in half (thanks to our neighbor’s bolt cutters; those things are expensive!) and Jason worked tirelessly on Thursday night to get it built. It’s not done, but the chicks are doing great in the makeshift set up, so he’s got time. He’s working on it now. I’ll post pics and specs eventually. I’m thinking we ought to go into the chicken tractor design business, as we have learned so much from the three very different models that we have designed and built. Or chicken tractor design consulting; I can advise you the perfect chicken tractor design for your particular needs. Ha. Would you pay for that?
I’d post chick pics but I haven’t even snapped any yet. My sister has, though, so go bug her to post some. I’ve been so busy with the chicks and the garden (the tomatoes, they are overflowing!) that taking pictures hasn’t even had a chance of happening. Ask my baby, who is now seven and a half months and hasn’t had his six month pictures taken yet. Poor baby.