Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hatch #3 a Success--Black Java Broodies Rock!

This hatch is our third since April. This time around, our broody was Minerva, my faithful and lovely Black Java hen. She loves to sit in a heat wave. In fact, I've learned to expect 100+ temps when she starts puffing up and clucking monotonously in the best box.

Minerva has a special place in my heart. She epitomizes the qualities that made Black Javas a standard breed among early American homesteaders. She is calm, slightly aloof, and doesn't get into squabbles with other hens. She forages successfully and is very watchful while free ranging. And she goes broody like clockwork, is relatively cheerful about being isolated during the gestation period, and mothers her chicks like she was born to do it.

I gave Minerva 15 eggs and 7 hatched despite several being cracked or crushed by other unnamed hens (looking at you, Mahalia, since you loooooove to lay your daily egg with a big clutch of someone else's eggs, and squabbled with Minerva daily to do just that, often leaving a broken egg behind.)

I took Minerva's chicks Inside on day 19 after seeing a bunch of tiny red ants all over the nest, since I had a couple of pips didn't want to take a chance on some horrible fate claiming these babies (especially after losing the last batch when they were orphaned by a very hungry fox.)

Proud to say that of the 8 eggs that made it to day 18, 7 hatched.

YouTube Video

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Candling Day for the New Clutch of Eggs

Candling Day! Minerva had 15 eggs under her until Saturday, when I found one broken. All the eggs had to be removed from the nest and washed in hot soapy water yesterday, and when I did that I found one with cracks. (I removed it not only because I thought it would not incubate properly, but because the extensive cracking meant Minerva was likely to break it and get the rest if the eggs dirty again. Upon inspection, it was infertile). So we were down to 13 eggs and I decided today was a good day to candle them. I was particularly curious about one egg that has a tiny hole in it.

To candle, you want to make sure your eggs are at least 6 or 7 days along. It's easiest to see movement on days 7-14 in my opinion. After that the egg is mostly just a dark mass, at least with my off the shelf camping flashlights that are nothing fancy in the lumens department like some you can buy! I got my light, my chicken notebook where I keep track of stats and stuff about my two flocks, a sharp pencil, and set all that up in the bathroom, which doesn't have a window and gets VERY for candling!

I took about half the eggs from under Minerva and brought them inside. This was all the blue eggs. I candled them and found to my disappointment that only one of Ruth's four eggs was still viable--and I'm not even sure about that one. Many Easter Egger and other blue egg layers have an egg that just isn't easy to candle. I could definitely tell those that were infertile or never began to develop though--they were light colored and translucent throughout, with no really dark masses inside. You'll see chicken people refer to these as "clears" but the yolk is in there too, a light golden color that doesn't add much darkness or shadow when candling. I cracked the two clears and sure enough they still looked like the eggs I had for breakfast. I made a note that Jules, the FCBM roo, doesn't seem to be making Ruth's eggs fertile. Only one of her four looks possibly viable. I had noted that when he covers her it doesn't seem to work well. She has a crippled foot and he is a big roo...I don't think everything is coming together as it should. On the other hand, all of Esme's eggs looked viable, so it seems to be that Jules is fertile, but just isn't making a consistent love connection with Ruth. This is disappointing because Ruth lays the biggest bluest egg if any of my adult hens, and she lays a lot of them, about 6 each week, even in the worst heat. These are traits I wanted to pass on to Olive Egger line, but Esmeralda's eggs are big too and she is also a prolific layer, at 5-6 per week. Her egg just isn't as pretty a shade of blue. When my Ameracauna babies start laying in the Fall, I can work on adding more blue to the line.

After candling, I put 4 EE eggs back under Minerva. These are my only chances this Spring for a few more Olive Eggers for my line, since I lost three when I had to rehome Gypsy's babies after she was taken by the fox. This will be my third hatch this year, and I only have one OE to show for it, and she won't lay and show her egg color until September or October. Babies born from this hatch won't lay until mid-winter. Working on a new line of birds is time consuming!

After returning the OE eggs, I took out the seven Black Javas and took them inside to candle. One had an obvious blood ring...a mostly clear egg with one dark line encircling the entire inside like an equatorial line. This was a sure sign that growth had begun but subsequently ended and the chick had died.

Sure enough, a tiny embryo was inside. This shows that development ceased after just a few days. The picture shows clearly the nature of the inner air membrane too, which the hatching chick pecks into to get the first breath of air that will sustain it as it rests and then pips through the external membrane and shell.

As usual, I was very pleased with my Black Javas. Of 7 eggs, 6 were obviously alive and very active. Even the one labeled Maeve 25, with a tiny hole in it!

By the time I was done candling, Minerva's clutch was reduced to just 10. I am finding that although the broody mama has many advantages over incubating in a bator (especially since I really don't enjoy hand raising babies with their smell, mess, and fragility), the attrition rate of eggs under the broody is certainly higher than in a good bator. After all, in my last incubated hatch, 23 of 24 hatched and lived. But it seems a normal sized clutch for a mama hen is 5-10 babies...more would be pretty hard to cover, incubate, and take good care of! Since these babes will be hatching just before we begin two weeks of moving to a new home, I should probably be thankful that not all the eggs will make it to chickhood.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Broody Mama Take Two! Minerva Gets Serious About Hatching Eggs

It really is lucky that Minerva went broody just a few days before we lost Gypsy the mama hen to the foxes. She is now setting on 15 eggs: 8 Olive Eggers and 7 Black Javas. Because I do not want to raise Gypsy's orphan chicks myself (especially in the same month when we are moving) a friend is adopting them, leaving us back where we started two months ago--no chicks to replenish our egg line or build our breeding lines! So it's especially lucky that Minerva has volunteered to bring more into the flock. Her chicks should be born around the 15th of July.

YouTube Video

This clip shows Minerva in all her broody glory, with a side of my daughter stealing the spotlight--she really needs to start her own chicken blog!

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RIP Gypsy--Finally, We Lose Birds to the Local Foxes...

I am sad to report that we lost two good hens in the last two days. First, Maybell the Black Java pullet was not with the other birds when they came to the coops at dusk. We went looking and found a few piles of feathers in the field, and the last one had fresh droppings that we carefully gathered (without touching--animal scat can carry all kinds of nasty bacteria, larvae, and viruses) and researched online. Gray fox. The next night, we didn't get outside quite fast enough, and I found Gypsy's five babies in the coop alone. We looked around, and there in the field were two young foxes--teenagers, really--with her crumpled body, trying valiantly to drag her off.

These foxes are the offspring of the magic fox, as I called her, from last year. She wasn't afraid of me, and didn't make a move on my chickens, despite me having baby chicks that regularly frequented the field where she hunted fireflies. Come to think of it, it was almost exactly a year ago, and Gypsy was one of those chicks. The fox mother got within just a few feet of me and let me talk to her. She was really quite amazing, and I felt truly blessed to have a nightly encounter with her over the course of almost a whole month. Her children, however, are very normal foxes. They are super skittish--running away when we get within 100-200 feet of them, whereas their mother was often within 6 feet of me while I talked directly to her. And they, unlike her, are definitely interested in eating my chickens. This is their mother, last year (notice the sounds of chicks in the background--I am standing in the chicken yard).

What a great loss. Gypsy laid an amazingly large, deep brown, speckled egg, and she was a good broody, even if she did lose a couple babies her first time brooding. And she and Maybell were both purebred birds, and they made money for me with their eggs. But losing the mama for five babies was even worse. At four weeks of age, they aren't fully feathered out yet, and still need to be kept warm at night. Their sad little peeps as they looked for her all day today were really hard to hear. Worse, they lack the instinct to stay away from the shady creekbed where the foxes grabbed the two hens, and they are small enough to slip through the fence I closed off so that none of the bigger birds can go back there as they have all been accustomed to doing on a daily basis.

So all day I was on pins and needles wondering if they would be predated as well, and was unable to catch them all in the thicket of briars and vines that line the creekbed. What a stressful day! With my husband's help we did get them all back into the coop at dusk, and no birds were lost today--a goal I was not sure I would be able to achieve after losing two birds in two days! Still, I was happy to get a message from a friend tonight that she will take all five babies tomorrow. Five less things to try to keep alive! And with Minerva, who raised Gypsy, setting broody on a clutch of eggs, I'll have plenty to do without having five orphans on my hands.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Charming Family Life of Chickens

Watching Gypsy the mother hen bring her chicks out into the flock today was just a delight.

YouTube Video

Jules, the French Coppered Black Marans roo in our flock, is shown here. He is Gypsy's mate and the father of three of these chicks--and the father of all our Olive Eggers at this point. He is taking well to having the babes underfoot and can be seen calling them for a treat at one point.

YouTube Video

Everything seems to be going well. So glad these chicks are being raised by mama outside!

Monday, May 30, 2011

And Then There Were Six--Trial and Error with a Clumsy Mama Hen

Video of Mama and Babies
I almost hesitate to post this as the number may change again by tomorrow.  Since I last posted, I found another mortally wounded chick in Gypsy's nest, we had a very touching little funeral (mostly because the kids were with me when I found the dying chick), and I took the chicks AGAIN, for good.  Then I spent an hour or so breaking down the broody area and setting up the big terrarium inside for the remaining six chicks.  It's a chore--finding the right light to get the temp right meant going to the store to buy a bulb, since we really only have the new cool compact bulbs in the house nowadays, and I had to spend some time cat-proofing the brooder as it was going to be in the studio. No more chicks in the house, I've decided. 

Then I had to just accept the fact that I was raising chicks, AGAIN, and that was really a buzzkill.  But it seemed inhumane to hand helpless babies to a completely incompetent mother for whom negligent homicide was second nature.  Right?

I was pretty frustrated with Gypsy and had a very hard heart as I took the chicks and broke down her brooding area.  It was easy to ignore her thoughts on the matter.  But she was still digging in the coop's deep shavings 6 hours later when I put the birds up for the night, and I dreamed about her looking in the woods for them.  When I went out the next morning and let the flock out, she (normally a pretty standoffish bird) immediately came right up to my face as if to ask where they were.  Then she followed me around.  The insistent clucking--the noise a mother makes to get her chicks to come to her side was heartbreaking.  She hopped into the other coop and started digging it up.  Her babies, she was convince, were lost somewhere, and she wasn't giving up on them.  That, I understood.  My own heart, focused on mothering so keenly, couldn't ignore her.

I took some time to set up a new space for her, a separate pen from the rest of the flock, and got the babies from their isolette.  I took them to the pen in a pet carrier and opened the door..  The look on her face as she found them in her next clucking, scouting circle was priceless.

Video #2 of Mama and Baby Chicks
It was a hard decision.  But they are her babies, not mine.  I remember hearing my grandmother saying "I didn't take them to raise!" as a child when recounting a story of someone needing more help than she thought she should give.  It's a pretty powerful maxim.  I have three chicks of my own; baby, girlchild, and demi-man, and I have my hands full with them.  I take on all the stress of keeping them alive because they are mine, at least for a time, and they depend on me alone.  These chicks have a mother.  She may not be great, I thought, and she might even kill them accidentally, but she deserves a chance to raise them.  To be a mother.

I worried I would find one less chick this morning.  Or worse.  I worry that I'll find another dead or broken and dying chick tomorrow morning.  But it's her business, and I'm committed to letting go of the process.  I can't save everything. Knowing what and who I "took to raise" is wisdom I need to take to heart.

Video #3--Good night  Please, everyone be alive at dawn, ok?
As you've no doubt gathered from the pics and videos in this post, mama and babies were all fine this morning. This last video shows my last minutes with them yesterday evening, just as mama went in to the carrier for the night and I went in to the house crossing my fingers she was committed to taking them to raise.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Success! 7 Healthy Chicks Peeping Under Broody Mama

Beware:  the cute in this video is intense.
Well, that was a hair-raising adventure.  After removing one chick from the nest whose egg was crushed as it hatched, so it could finish hatching in the incubator inside, and then finding the first, beautiful chick dead in the nest on the morning after it was born, I was very worried Gypsy might be a great broody, but lack mothering skills.  What's the point of having a hen hatch eggs, worrying about her getting on and off the eggs and keeping other birds away from her, providing separate food and water as needed, only to have to hand raise the chicks?  That would have been the worst of both worlds and the most time intensive choice imaginable in hatching babies. 

So it is with great happiness and relief that I report that I was able to transfer 3 chicks, the oldest 3 surviving, all Olive Eggers, to Gypsy yesterday, holding my breath that I would find them in a non-mashed state at dawn.  I hoped by that time that the newly hatched Black Javas in the incubator would be ready to transfer, if all went well.

 This short clip shows Gypsy's response when I put a very fiesty day old under her (the aforementioned chick of Esmerelda Weatherwax, my very favorite hen, who was a strong as a small horse after being allowed to hatch and recuperate in the incubator).

Here is what I found this morning when I went out.

Gypsy has the hang of mothering.  I put the other four under her and she seems as happy as can be, clucking and settling around them.  There should be an idiom for happiness and contentment that refers to a mother hen when her chicks have hatched and are safely tucked beneath her, peeping and peeking out at the world.  Sigh.  I may have found my spirit animal.

Enjoy the pics.  I'll post more when she decides to bring them out to meet the rest of the flock.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sad News for Gypsy's First Babe, and an Intervention

The chick I removed from Gypsy's nest yesterday, an adorable white or silver baby, has been in the incubator for 12 hours.  It has kicked the rest of its shell off, and is FINALLY trying to stand. I am still not sure about the viability of this chick, as it seems very very weak.

That's at least somewhat hopeful.  I hate to report that the beautiful Black Java chick that was healthy and strong last night was dead in the nest this morning.  I guess it was crushed by Gypsy.

With 0/2 chicks healthy and strong,I made the decision to take Gypsy's remaining pipped eggs and put them in the bator with the weak chick.   There are three Black Javas and two from a truly elegant silver (blue) bird named Nanny Ogg, a prolific light blue egg layer. 

I plan to give Gypsy's chicks back once all the eggs in her nest are hatched...or I may give these to her once they hatch, and take the unhatched eggs from her at that point and try to hatch them inside and then give her a second helping of babies tonight or tomorrownight, depending how the timeline goes.

I have no way of knowing what happened.  But my gut tells me that the weak chick got stepped on or mashed a bit as it was hatching, and the Black Java was flat over an egg.  I think Gypsy may be having trouble with the combination of eggs and chicks at the same time.

Update later.  Sad morning.

Update, 9:30 am
Esme's chick is spending more and more time on her feet.  She has been joined in the incubator by a new hatchling, Nanny Ogg's baby.  Looks to be silver but she isn't dry enough yet to really tell.  Both these girls should lay Olive Eggs.  Two more Black Java eggs have sizable pips.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gypsy's Hatch--Tale of a First Time Broody

I am so proud of my girl!  It's been a bumpy road, and we've lost a few eggs, but Gypsy is sitting pretty on a clutch of peeping eggs and one cute, wet Black Java chick.

Gypsy has been a dedicated broody.  I've taken her off the nest daily as she just wasn't interested in meeting her own daily needs--a sure sign of a hard-core broody instinct.  I'm sure she would have hit her own wall at some point and left the nest to take care of her business and fed and watered, but she never willingly hopped up and off the eggs when I was around, and I didn't want to just leave her nest area open to the world while I was gone for long periods, so I dutifully put her down on the ground every morning and late afternoon.

The three times I left her out (and her nest box accessible to her should she want to get back to setting before I returned) to run around a bit while I attended to other matters around the house or garden, I came back to find a cracked egg.  I was down to 12 eggs by day 17/18 (remember, I set eggs over the course of two days), when the worst happened.

I let Gypsy out that the morning and then put her back in and locked her door, thinking she was safe in her 4 ft high circle of hardware cloth that bounded her nest area, along with her food and water and some bathroom space should she need it (a good idea for a broody's area--if she doesn't have enough space to go and she ever really has to, it can get on the eggs and create a huge smelly mess that has to be cleaned up, increasing your chance of bad eggs and of disturbing the broody away from her work).

But I left the lower front door to the coop open--the one that the other hens use to get in to lay eggs.  They were still separated from Gypsy by the Wall of Broody hardware cloth, so I wasn't concerned about it.  Mistake #1.

I left for work around 10 am and didn't return until almost 6 pm.  I found Gypsy out with the rest of the flock and her door locked as I had left it.  In her nest was a broken egg with a fully formed and perfect baby Black Java inside. The rest were cold, cold, cold.  I deduced that another hen had come into the coop, flown up onto a roost (very odd behavior during the day) and over her fenced in area and tried to lay in her nest or take her eggs for her own.  A struggle ensued (at least in my imagined re-enactment) and a baby was killed.  Gypsy was "spooked off her nest" as broodies sometimes are by this kind of entanglement, and flew up and over the hardware cloth (though I've never seen her fly up four feet and she's pretty weak, it had to happen like that, or she wouldn't have been out) and then couldn't figure how to get back over and in. Regardless of what really happened, her eggs were cold and, I felt sure, dead.

I went to bed heartsick, after putting Gypsy back on her eggs (and she immediately went back to brooding like nothing had happened).  The next day I candled the eggs and to my surprise, 2 of the random 4 I picked out were definitely alive.

And today two hatched!  It's day 19/20.  One, a healthy Black Java, is under mama's wing right now, and I saw a pip in a second BJ tonight. One, an Olive Egger from my beautiful (and favorite) hen Esmerelda Weatherwax, hatched but is not thriving.  I put it into an incubator inside to see if it can perk up--details soon.

I expect several more chicks to hatch in the next two days.  I hope the extended untended period hasn't created any weakness in the chicks....

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Gypsy Goes Broody!

Just on the heels of a very successful hatch, and the decision to bring the Montessori chicks home to raise until they can live on the schoolyard there, our good French Coppered Black Marans hen, Gypsy, who lays the most fabulous dark brown speckled egg, went broody.

Broody means a hen has stopped laying and does nothing but sit on her eggs and keep then warm--if you let her, and if she is a 'good' broody. Many folks don't let a hen express this normal part of their life (and most hens don't ever go broody...more on that below) because they don't want her to stop laying eggs, or because they don't have fertile eggs for her to hatch and don't want to buy them, or they don't want chicks. (If this is your experience, you can get good suggestions by searching for "breaking a broody". But most folks are delighted when a hen goes broody.)

Black Java Minerva & adopted FCBM day old chicks, including Gypsy.
I like seeing nature win out over humans' efforts at modern selective breeding. Most breeds have been systematically "broken" of broodiness on the population level by factory production of eggs. Broody hens are not profitable if it's eggs, and lots of them, that you want. (After all, a broody stops laying for 21 days to incubate her clutch, and then has several weeks, while rearing her chicks, of rest from egg laying.) So broodiness has bred out of most modern breeds. Most heritage breeds, like Black Javas, still go broody. And FCBMs, which were only recently imported from France, where factory production of eggs (and selection against broodiness) is not the norm, go broody often.

Gypsy, my FCBM, was herself raised by a "good broody"-- a Black Java named Minerva. I sometimes wonder if being reared by a broody has a cueing process for broodiness as an adult, but that's an open question--nurture and nature often work together, after all, to form adult behaviors.

Broody "stinkeye". If looks could kill...
What constitutes a "good" broody? I mean one who is fully committed for the long haul. Broodiness can be incomplete in a hen (another consequence of the selection of non-broodiness in chickens in factory production). A hen may start the brooding process but give up. The risk of this can be minimized by creating optimal conditions for her. Read on to make sure you help create those conditions for your would-be broody.

A broody wants to be left alone. She is still and focused, and only wants to come off her nest a couple times each day, when she eats, drinks, uses the bathroom, and sometimes sunbathes briefly. Generally she will return to her clutch within about 30 minutes, though some broodies take much shorter breaks and rarely one will not get off the nest at all. In this case one should take her off and make sure she gets the sustenance she needs at least twice each day.

Minerva's broody box. I replaced her eggs w/ day old chicks.
A broody, like any new mother, needs her own space. Other hens wanting to lay in the nestbox will stress the broody and will confuse you, as you may not be sure which eggs have been incubated for several days and which were just layed, for example. And keeping her close to her eggs increases the likelihood that she will stick with the broody process rather than slacking after a few days and leaving you frustrated and with ruined eggs. A pet carrier or box that is large enough for her to sit and move around, but that keeps other hens out, is ideal. I like to have the space for a broody be about three-four times the total size of her nest. In my case we have a large coop with enough room to encircle the hen in her chosen nesting area with a ring of four foot hardware cloth (wire). I like this method because it doesn't involve moving a broody and her eggs into a new space, which can often lead to her abandoning her eggs. Esme was climbing into the nestbox with Gypsy to lay, so
I redid her area and created a separate nest box (actually two) for the disgruntled hens who don't understand why Gypsy gets the "best" box (a broken down Rubbermaid tote that they LOVE despite a nice looking rustic wooden box being available).  I gave them the damn plastic box (held together by priority mail tape, sue me) and made a depression in the shavings so Gypsy had more space to hunker you'll see in the last video.

Once your broody has shown she wants to sit on eggs, give her a few you don't care about. Mark them so you know they are not to eat. Let her set on them a day or two, and watch her patterns. Does she act like Gypsy, above, when you approach her clutch? Does she stay on the nest all day (and night, instead of going up to roost with the other birds?) Then test her commitment to setting by arranging her broody box or space, and moving her and the test eggs to it, preferably at night when she is more likely to be calm and complicit. If she doesn't abandon the eggs and continues to act very broody after a day or so, give her eggs you want to hatch. The 3-4 days you have been observing her to measure her commitment is the perfect time to gather the eggs you wish to hatch from your hens.

If you want to hatch eggs that need to be shipped to you, do so as soon as is reasonable, making sure they ship via priority mail from as close to you as possible. Then place the gathered or shipped eggs under her, at night if you have any concerns. If you prefer to place chicks under your broody, make sure she sets at least ten days or so to get her hormones set for mothering (unless this is an experienced broody and you know she is reliable). You must get the youngest chicks olds are best. These can be shipped directly to you from any hatchery. If you buy chicks from a breeder or especially from the feed store, make sure they are no more than a couple days old. Worst case scenario? The broody will reject them and either refuse to mother then or outright attack them. In either case, you just be alert, observant, and ready to hand rear the chicks if need be. In the best case scenario, she'll do all the work and you have chicks integrated in your flock in a few weeks.

I gave Gypsy 15 eggs.--4 FCBMs, 5 Olive Eggers, and 6 Black Javas. I hope she can cover them all!  After losing a few to imperfect hatching conditions and a first-time broody, and then culling roos, I'll likely have about 5 hens to keep.

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Big News--Chicks As They Grow

The chicks have been moved from the Montessori classroom to the Charmed Life Chickens farmstead. This was due to one child being allergic to feathers and one parent being prohibited by his job from being near chickens. The last thing I wanted was for the chickens to be a burden on anyone. So they are here with me, where I will care for them and update via this blog as they grow, and they will cone back to the Montessori school once they are big enough to live outside in a coop. They'll need all their feathers before that can happen! So they'll be here a few more weeks. Here are some adorable shots of children in the classroom on the last day with the chicks.

These pics show how the chicks have grown in the past two weeks. On the day the left the school, they were still cute little puffballs. They really did not have their feathers coming in yet.

Now, they are starting to lose some of the fluff and beginning to grow feathers to keep them warm. They are enjoying being outside on warm days for short periods in the sun.

Yesterday they were getting a little noisy and stinky, and I decided to put them in the big coop outside, but they still have to be kept warm, around 80 degrees day and night, so I created a safe, snug, warm portion of the coop by running electricity to their area. I also had to make sure to put up an impermeable barrier between the chicks and the adult chickens. Chicks without mothers are often pecked badly or even killed. They need extra protection while they are little!

I am sad to note that one of the chicks had a malformed beak that could not be fixed, and died yesterday.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Charmed Life Chickens in Action

Just had to share this video of some of my birds, doing their thing in the chicken yard. My toddler and I took out some kitchen scraps and enjoyed watching them for a few minutes. We were talked into sharing our granola bar and banana by the very sweet and persuasive Roo, Malcolm. It's so hard to turn him down because every bite he gets or finds, he shares with his ladies.

The soft clucking you hear from him when my son throws down the granola bar is his call to the hens, letting them know he has foraged up some grub for them.  In this way, a feedback loop gets established--a good rooster teaches the hens that when he calls them, there is always something good to eat to share, and this means that when he calls them for other reasons (like when he thinks they are too close to other rooster's pen, or when he wishes to gather them for a free ranging forage run, or when he tells them to come to him because a hawk is flying over or a dog is nearby) he is likely to have them listen and come running. 

I love watching my birds interact with an eye to how evolution has shaped their behaviors.  In this case, the behavior of a "good" roo is such that his generosity with food and protection increase his likelihood of passing on his genes, by making the hens trust him and want to stay nearby, thus increasing his chances of access and success in mating.  A bad roo?  One who doesn't share consistently runs the risk of having hens that don't learn to come when he calls.  One who hurts the hens by being too rough or doesn't spend the time necessary to build trust, in my experience, has hens that do not stay close to him and in fact often attempt to put distance between him and themselves.  This increases their likelihood of being predated or mated with by lesser roosters who may exploit access to hens not in a tight harem near the roo.

Malcolm (which, ironically, means "Dove) is a joy to keep.  We have a mutual respect that I take care to preserve, and we've become friends over a long period of time.  I truly value his work in keeping my egg-layers and mothers safe, well-fed, and happy. He is exceptional with young chicks, never trying to kill them as many roos will.  He even tolerates an underling roo in the pen with him.  I kept the best cockerel (young roo) from his offspring last Fall, and Merle ("Blackbird") is coming along, learning from his father.  Because he is in the pen with Malcolm and his mothers and aunts, he seems to be learning how to be respectful and humble--something I require from my roos if they are to make the cut and be allowed to breed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Schoolyard Chickens Project--Setting Up a Brooder for Chicks

We're down to 20 chicks in the Montessori class, but at one week of age they are getting bigger quickly!  I just switched them over from a 37-gallon aquarium into a gigantic Rubbermaid container (the one we usually use for all our camping equipment).  I'm getting a little concerned that they may fly out of it soon, though.  All this leads me to believe we need to set up a roomier brooder in the classroom this weekend.

Makeshift brooder from Charity at Chicken Moon Farm
This is a great example of what we could do.  My friend Charity Lewis, owner of Chicken Moon Farm is a great inspiration to me.  Charity raises chickens and bees and sells sustainably raised meat, eggs, and honey. She also leads a variety of workshops on topics dear to the eco-friendly heart, like water stewardship, permaculture, and mobile chicken coop building--more on that last one in a separate post!  Charity ordered her chicks to arrive just a few days before ours hatched, and her makeshift brooder is just a great idea.  I did something similar last hatch, but didn't get any I'm grateful she posted some.  She has taped together several large pieces of cardboard to make a nice stand-alone brooder that her chicks can stay in until they are ready to be moved to the coop (around 5 weeks).  She has many many more chicks than we do, so we wouldn't need one quite this size.  12 square feet of floor space--for example, a 4' x 3' box-- would be adequate for our needs until the chicks "grow out" their outside feathers.

Extremely large boxes are rare, but fairly big ones are often readily available.  The basic process to make a large brooder from a huge box is easy--just set it up!  And if we could do that, I'd be delighted to just need to cut down the sides a bit for ease of care.  But what's more likely is that we'll get several fairly large boxes, and go from there.  Here's what I did last time. 1) gathered supplies--the biggest boxes I had, tape, box cutter.  2) took the first box and cut down two corners so that one wall fell down, still connected at the base, and became a floor piece for the next box.  3) did this a few times with a few boxes, until I had the size I needed.  I used three boxes, so on the middle box I cut down TWO of the side walls, on opposite sides of the box, allowing it to be the middle "car" in the box train.  Again the two side walls then laid flat and became a part of the floor for the brooder.

Do you have a large empty cardboard box at home, perhaps in the garage, waiting for recycling?  Or perhaps you know someone who just got a new TV or refrigerator?  If so, we can gather those supplies and a BUNCH of duct tape and a sturdy dowel, as shown, and create a safe and roomy home for the classroom chicks.  If your child is in the Elementary classroom, please let his or her teacher know you have a box or would like to help put together the brooder--or comment here.  I plan to be at the Montessori school this weekend working on this project, so just let me know if you can help out. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chicken Math--Read This If You Want to Adopt a Montessori Chick

Just a quick post that I will keep updated with regard to the chicks we have and who wants what.

We have 23 chicks that hatched.  I will keep 6 chicks for the Montessori school (this assumes ~50% will be roosters, and they'd like to keep and raise 3-4 hens if I understand the plan correctly).  I will keep 6 chicks for my family.  And 3 have been spoken for already.  That brings us down to 8 chicks available for adoption.  Several children have stopped me to assure me they are definitely taking some home soon, and a couple of parents have let me know they are considering it.

Chicks are $3 each and I am happy to help with any questions you may have about getting them started.  Many of the links found here, and my posts, have invaluable information on this process.

Let me encourage you to communicate with me asap if you do know you want to place dibs on chicks.  Commenting here would be best!

Thanks so much!

Schoolyard Chickens--Baby Chicks R Us!

Today I visited the baby chicks in the classroom to feed, water, and do some basic record keeping on them, and got some pics while I was there.
Boy, are they cute! I wonder how the teachers are able to keep the kids from staying near the chicks all day! I haven't had blonde chicks before, so I'm especially enamored with their fluffy sweetness.
The chicks were ready for a "big chick" waterer, and I put in an extra just to be sure they have plenty of hydration.  The water looks slightly orange, as I've mixed in an electrolyte/vitamin powder just to help them get a healthy start in life. In particular, sometimes chicks have some leg problems--splay leg and spraddle leg are the common names--that the proper vitamin supplement can really help alleviate.  I took one chick home a few days ago who couldn't stand, and banded her legs close together to allow her to stand and use them.  That plus the extra vitamins, and she seems to be making a a full recovery.
(Left) Chick with spraddle leg (Right) Normal chick
I had my oldest and youngest children with me today, so I enlisted help from my teen and toddler to get some action pics as we observed and collected data on each bird.


I was collecting data on three things--feathered/unfeathered feet, pea/straight comb, and general size.  I can already tell what chicks are carrying the gene for blue eggs (meaning they may produce blue, blue-green, or any other shade of green, like olive) and which are not (and in this group of chicks, a single/straight comb means the bird will lay a brown egg, very very likely a DARK brown egg).

It was nice to get a look at each chick for other reasons.  You can tell a lot about the healthy and vitality of a chick by simply handling it and seeing how it physically responds, how its eyes look, how alert and active it is, and how its feathers are coming in.

I was also checking each chick's vent (the multi-purpose orifice on their bottoms) to make sure no one was "pasting up".  As unpleasant as it sounds, a little poop can stick there and attract more and more until a hard mass can actually obstruct the vent, which means the chick can't poop and can get very ill or die.  It's not extremely common, and if a mother hen was raising them she would take care of it before a problem arose.  Today we had one chick with the problem and I took the time to make sure it was nice and clean before leaving.  I'll keep a close eye on that one, and I may add some dry oatmeal to their feed as it helps avoid having the problem altogether.

I spoke with a couple parents today who said they were enjoying looking at the blog with their children at home--I'm delighted to hear that!  I hope this blog will provide many opportunities for children to bring home what they are learning and share their experiences with their families.  Every child has a favorite chick and I'm trying to make sure I get pics of all of them.  Some parents have also shared that they are considering getting chicks.  If you have questions about that, let me know!  Commenting here is the best way to make sure I see and respond to you.  You can also get my email address from your child's teacher.