Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beltane Thoughts... And cute chicks

Well folks, it's that time of year again. The sundresses are out but the cardigans appear at twilight. Days are spent at the park or lakeside and evenings are spent trying not to make dinner. Classic rock fills the soundtrack of the day and I long to drive through the hillside of someplace where I am not. I swing between maintaining the community we have spent the winter with, cultivating and growing those relationships into something meaningful for next winter while dreaming of summers past with amazing people I yearn to have back in my everyday.

And while I wish for more of the past in my future, I strive to live in the present, blending all three together. Planning road trips, camping trips and garden plots. Saving starts from frost and letting hens go broody. Congratulating the mister on a much deserved promotion that will help move us forward, and gritting my teeth as I prepare for another summer full of days over 100F. 

Ah, but right now, this moment, life is sweet. It is a time of fertility. Jobs are prospering, produce options are reflecting the return of the sun, children have returned outside. creativity is flourishing! New dresses, a dance recital, artsy photographs. To quote a favorite movie I watch every year at this time: It's all happening! And to bring all this new life and abundance permentantly into our every day, we gifted our every-faithful broody hen with a pair of commercially hatched chicks.
The day we brought them home.

It's been an interesting, and educational, adventure. Over the last year I've done reading on flock integration, incubation, broody hen adoption and eliminating bullies in the run. This winter when Fluffy started laying again, I promised her babies if we could get our schedules lined up. 

Emagene's class hatched a set of chicks with the help of an incubator and we fell in love with babies. We had chatted with the farmer about taking home a few, but my google searches told me I had a better chance of the hen accepting the babies if they were as young as possible. By the time the chicks left the classroom they were 2 weeks old and most likely would be seen by my hen as intruders and not her newly hatched babies.

Fortunately, the local feed store got in a new set of day old chicks the next week. They had all sorts of baby fowl, including geese which were adorable! We browsed the pens of separate breeds and then decided to just reach into the mixed breed pen and try our luck at whatever breeds came home with us.
We did a bit of breed comparasion while still at the feed store so we'd have an idea of what we got. I really think we have a silkie (the white and yellow one) and a bantum speckled Sussex. I say bantum because little Miss Hearts is half the size of Elsa (thank you, Frozen) while being super healthy.

Anyways- we brought them home and set them up for an overnight stay in our dining room while we watched them for signs of disease before introducing them to the flock. 
Everyone needed a chance to snuggle baby chicks!
The chicks were introduced to the furry animals who were told in no uncertain terms that if the chicks were tampered with, the furry ones would be in trouble. We've had no trouble with the cat or the dog who were both liking their lips when they first saw the chicks.

After a 24 hour observation period, our 5 day old chicks woke up under their new mother. After dark on Wednesday night, Pete and I snuck out with flashlights, moved the older hens to the shed, which had been set up as a secondary hen house. We then tucked the babies under Fluffy's wing, watching her reaction. She didn't flinch, peck at the babies or cluck grumpily. We took that as a good sign and removed 2 of her 3 eggs and went back to bed. If she changed her mind about the babies when she woke up, Emagene would be at school and I could make a secret run to the feed store and would just keep the replacement babies in the house for the next month. Fortunately, when I checked in the morning, Fluffy was showing the babies how to eat, drink and peck in the straw for treasures.
Piggyback rides came next
And while I watched, Fluffy dutifully let the babies peck at her face and experiment with the roosting bar while she waited to see what her final egg would do. We left her the egg as an incentive to stay broody and in the nest. On the off chance that removing the extra egg would cause her to be defensive instead of motherly, we erred on the side of caution and it's worked!

That first day, we kept the new family safely in the hen house and checked on them often. We also reassured the older girls who showed minimal signs of stress due to waking up and being moved to the shed in summer. We often kept them in the shed before the coup remodel and during winter and storms. 
The second day, we secretly removed the other egg and opened the run up to the older girls. I kept a screendoor on the hen house to minimize bullying opportunities but still provide the necessary "FaceTime" that makes flock integration more peaceful. Fluffy looked like any mother who had been waiting for a baby, finally had one and was ready to get back into the world. By day 3 of new motherhood she was gently coaxing the babies to the top of the ramp so she could go outside. 
Day 4, as the temperatures spiked a little. the chicks left the house and wondered around the coop. Fluffy kept them mostly between the fencing and the house or the hale bales where she could easily keep them safe from the bigger girls. When we fed treats to the big girls, we used their normal treating location but where careful to secretly give snacks to Fluffy, who needed to regain some weight. As a thank you, we got to watch her teach the chicks how to crack sunflower seeds, break up meal worms and she literally bit off small pieces of kale and fed them to the chicks. It was precious! Her clucking changes when she's about to teach something. She switches from a "Marco polo" call and response locating call to a quicker "come check out this cool thing you need to know" chitter. 
She also has a warning cluck when she's decided to get treats with the big girls. The babies will wait in the sidelines, out of pecking reach but within eyesight of momma bird.  Like i said, it's been an education adventure. Fluffy is a very capable mother. She tolerates Emagene being in the coup everyday, following the babies around, occasionally holding them or helping them back into the house when they miss the little jump at the top of the ramp and get disoriented. I'm hoping all the holding will help keep the hen raised chicks used to being handled, similar to human raised chickens.
It's been a week since we first brought the chicks home. Everyone is sleeping comfortably in the hen house. The chicks are taken on walks around the outside of the coup under the watchful and educational eye of their sweet momma. For the most part, the potential bullies haven't shown up. Fluffy was fairly upfront with them on the chicks' first day out of the hen house (under my careful supervision the first 3-4 times). Ferdy stared a little too long and Fluffs flared out her feathers and took a hard peck on Ferdy's back, driving her away. After that, Ferdy keeps her distance but continues to lunge at the cat whenever she feels necessary. 

Well, that's my experience with chicken fertility, spring, and the call to be outdoors. I did also make this new dress for Emagene
And she decorated this cake
And Aoife has learned to be gentle with animals.

And We're prepping for a dance recital, our first! We've also rearranged a room and are making plans to start the pool/waterpark rotation. It's been a great spring and we are counting down to summer (though not to the heat). 

What area of your life is proving fertile at the moment?

If you're thinking of letting a broody hen adopt chicks, here are some great online resources:

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