I’ve had a hen in the chicken tractor on eggs for a little over three weeks now. I gave her a dozen to begin with, but she ended up with only 10 when I checked a few days ago while she was off the nest eating. That’s common; I don’t know what happens to the others, but I suppose they break and the hen eats them. Good for extra protein, since they don’t eat much while brooding.
The chicks were due May 10th, and on that morning I knew they had started, because I saw one. I forgot to go out and check progress during the day, and that night when I went to do chores, she had left the nest and was on the ground. I figured new chicks couldn’t get back up on the platform. (Because the tractor is movable, the nest, water, and so on have to be on a platform. Even though it’s only a few inches off the ground, new chicks often can’t get back up into the nest once they’ve gotten out, so I put down the “step” boards you can see in the picture for the first few days, because otherwise, they get “lost” under the platform. In just a couple of days, they’ll be hopping up and down and I’ll take those steps away. Mothers stay on the ground with new babies for a day or two, which is fine.)
I leaned in to check the nest, and to my dismay, there were still 7 in there. Getting only 3 chicks was very disappointing, and I couldn’t even see and count the chicks to confirm.
Sighing, I took away the eggs, which were already cold, so she’d been off a while. As I headed past the barn to dispose of them, I could hear peeping, and thought they must be pretty strong for me to hear them that far. I rounded the corner of the barn…and realized the peeping was nearer to me. Shocked, I stopped to check the eggs I carried. One had a vacated half-shell over one end of it, and when I removed that, there was a pipped shell and a fairly lively little beak! Not only was it air temperature, which, thank God, was about 70, so it could have been worse, but it had been covered who knows how long, reducing its air.
I didn’t think it would survive, but it seemed pretty strong still, so I opened a tiny bit bigger hole, took it back, and put it under Mama on the ground. When I got back around the barn, I carefully shook and listened to each egg. No others showed any signs of life or any cracks, so I disposed of them.
I hoped I could count on her instincts to stay on it as long as it needed, and figured at least it had the night. I still didn’t think it would live, but I tried to console myself that if it died it would at least be warm under its mother and nestled in the shell it was used to. The comforting phrase “sleep itself to death” crossed my mind. I knew it was going to rain, so I put a tarp over the end of the pen where they were and went away hoping and praying.
The next morning, she still wouldn’t move, and when I fed, only two crept out to peck curiously at the odd stuff Mama was eating. Last night, there she was still in the same spot, but this time when I fed and the two came out, she kept clucking encouragingly and raised up a little. Three…four! It had lived, hatched, and was all dry and fluffy! There’s one a tad smaller than the rest, and I suspect that’s the one, though I don’t know. So I have four—which is a disappointing number from a dozen, but a lot happier than it was! Two streaky, showing their Araucana dad, one darker yellow, possibly from my one remaining Rhode Island red, and the small one is very light yellow, probably Golden Comet, which is the breed I have most of. Sure hope they’re all girls!
Hey! I have an idea–I want more Rhodies, and if I can get a half dozen 1-3-day-old chicks, I bet I can sneak them under her tonight. I’ve done that before, and this one clearly has good maternal instincts. I’ll keep you posted!
—–Two hours later:
I went down the road a mile to Montgomery’s Farm and Garden (those of you who have read my Montgomery page know why I’m delighted there’s a Montgomery’s near me!) and got six New Hampshire Red babies–almost as good as Rhodies for egg production, which is what I’m after. The chicken man there told me I didn’t have to wait until dark, so I came home and tucked them under her one at a time, which she took willingly, I’m glad to say. I watched them a few minutes and they are a happy family! I wasn’t sure what the chicks would think, since who knows how their instincts have been monkeyed with, but they seem a little bewildered but also delighted to crawl under a warm feathery body instead of huddling under a lamp. By the way, they were up on the platform already. They’ll take over the nest again now.
More pix, or even a video, when they’re out and about.