Thursday, May 11, 2006
Happy Easter! Our daughter decorated the chicks brooder with apple blossoms. This was a very hard won shot of my favorite auracana chick, Sable. The auracanas will lay green-blue eggs, and have a little wildness left in them as a breed. The chicks rarely sit still, as you can see from the fluttering wings!
The chicks arrive 1 day old, and for better or worse, have never met the mama hen who laid them. Although a great many traits have been bred out of modern poultry fowl (including mothering instinct, ability to forage, etc.) the basic need for warmth and something that reflects that back still exists in these chicks.
We have always found that the first few nights the chicks need something aside from the impersonal heat lamp, something to "snuggle" with. A wash cloth or old cloth diaper usually fits the bill. Here you see the chicks bedding down on their wash cloth--change it nightly, because it gets messy.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Brace yourself for cuteness of epic proportions--the chicks have arrived! Every year right around Easter/Passover we try to bring in a few new chicks. With the loss of a few flock members this last year, we brought in 6 sweet little peeping balls of fluff, 3 more auracanas, and 3 light brahmas (pictured). Sigh, did you ever see anything cuter?
I've talked some about broody hens, and I'll touch on the topic again since the Buff Orpinton pictured is so persistently broody. In short, broodiness is a hormonal response that drives a hen to sit on a clutch of eggs until they hatch.
That would be great and all, except we don't have a rooster. So no amount of sitting will cause the eggs to hatch.
The hen pictured is so persistently broody that we have simply taken to calling her "Broody". I was hoping to capture in the photo one of the tell tale signs of the broody hen--they fluff out their feathers on a near permanent basis in order to raise their body temperuture. Their increased body heat is what incubates the eggs. Other indicators your hen might be broody include oddly raised tail feathers, as well as a particular high-pitched cackling when you approach the hen on the nest. We've posted previously about how to "break" broodiness--and will wait until summer before we actively pursue that.
For the time being we do check on our broody hens regularly, to make sure they are getting food and water. (Usually once a day they will leave the nest to eat, drink, and deposit one extremely large poop.) Prolonged broodiness can lead to poor hygeine and diminished immunity--when we see this in a hen we might lock her out of the run for several days until she starts to look a little better (letting her in at night of course), or take more serious steps to "break" the hormonal cycle she is stuck in.
Let's pretend it's not May as I post this--in March of this year we had snow! I grew up in Alaska, so this won't seem very special, however in our area it is a rarity--especially in March! In our area it never really gets cold enough to be a serious problem for the chickens, nor does any snow stay long.
In colder climates, folks have to mind their flocks more carefully, since chickens can get frostbit combs, wattles, and even feet. Some breeds are more cold tolerant than others, such as the light brahmas and the buff orpingtons.
That said, our birds do feel the dip in temperature, and we tend to provide additional heat at night, as well as using old wool blankets to try to cover the windows and gaps in the coop--along with straw! Expect your hens to slow or stop laying eggs during cold weather as most of their energy goes into maintaining their body warmth. Extra protein during this time can be helpful.