My experience in poultry keeping over the past year has been extremely rewarding. The chickens satisfy my desire for more critters, give my suburban garden that rural atmosphere I love AND they provide food for my family and potent organic fertilizer for my garden! So I decided to add a few more baby chicks to my flock.
It all started with Willow, my broody hen. She got me thinking it would be nice to have a few more hens to ramp up egg production, and wouldn’t it be fun to hatch them out myself? Well, not myself but you know what I mean. I watched Willow for a while, but don’t really think she’ll cut it as a broody hen; she was on and off the nest too often and didn’t exhibit any of the trance-like concentration that a truly broody hen shows.
When I was a kid, we (briefly) had an old broody hen appropriately named Mama Hen. She was passed on to us by the next door neighbours who were giving up on rural life and moving back to the suburbs. We set Mama Hen up with a clutch of eggs and she dutifully settled down to hatch them for us. At some point (I’m not really sure of the time frame, this was around 35 years ago) she died, probably from a deadly combination of old age and devotion to her clutch of eggs. I was devastated, and decided those little half-grown chicks deserved a chance to live, so I brought the eggs into our laundry room and put them in my (thankfully unoccupied) aquarium, with a regular light bulb to keep them warm. I marked each egg and turned them daily as someone (I forget who) advised.
I managed to hatch six chickens from that clutch, much to the surprise of my parents, who had long given up on dissuading me from any hair-brained animal-based schemes. I was thrilled, and will never forget watching those tiny birds pecking and peeping their way out of their eggshells.
Well, wouldn’t you know, I happen to have an empty aquarium, so I thought I might give it a go again. A little internet research about home incubators taught me that I was pretty lucky those many years ago to have hatched anything given my slapdash method. I figured that I’d do a little better this time, paying attention to temperature and humidity among other measures. I also found that I could easily buy fertile eggs and have them shipped to me, because of course, with no rooster in my flock, my eggs are infertile.
The drawback to this whole plan was that I would inevitably end up with a bunch of roosters, and I did kinda promise my neighbours that I wouldn’t have a rooster! Not to mention my family, who probably wouldn’t appreciate the early morning crowing either. So I would have to get extra eggs and be prepared to sell, give away or dispatch the roos myself. Hmmmm, could I do that? I have no problem gutting fish, and have dealt with several untimely and gruesome animal deaths without any qualms…I think I probably could!
That’s not going to happen though, because I located a supplier of sexed heritage chicks who happened to have just what I was looking for! My present flock are sex-linked hybrids bred to lay – and they are certainly efficient egg machines! While I’m not unhappy with them I wanted to try a couple of heritage breeds, rumour has it that while they may take a little longer to start producing and be slightly less productive, they continue their egg-laying life for longer than hybrid chickens…we’ll see!
I picked up my new baby chicks a few days ago and they’re settling in nicely. I bought 3 Buff Orpingtonand 3 Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks, the Orps are about 4 weeks old and the SLW’s less than a week, so they have different temperature requirements at this point. I’ve set up two brooders in my garage – one is a big Rubbermaid tote and the other is my old aquarium (I knew I’d find a use for it).
Everyone is eating and drinking, peeping and pecking, so I guess they’re warm enough and they seem very healthy. Like I did with my sex-links when they were little, I’m feeding them a bit of yogurt; apparently it’s as good for their digestive systems as it is for humans. The Orp girls love it, but the little fuzzballs aren’t really into it yet, I’m sure they’ll catch on soon.
My daughter asked me if I’m going to name them, because after cautioning her that chickens weren’t pets, I named the first bunch on a botanical theme. I guess I’d better name these too; I wouldn’t want them to feel left out! Sticking with the plant-based theme, so far I’ve named the Buff Orpingtons; Maple, Peach and Cherry, but I’m not sure about the others yet. Any suggestions for naming my baby chicks?