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....

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