Just recently I texted my husband a picture of Rain, one of our Arucana Chooks who goes broody with monotonous regularity (like every time she lays an egg!) and pointed out that our green egg supply was in danger of diminishing again as her mothering hormones had kicked in again..
He texted back, "Why don't you put fertile eggs under her?" Why I hadn't thought of that idea before is beyond me but it took about 2.4 seconds to decide that that was a fabulous idea and I hit the internet to see who would sell me fertile eggs and get them to me as quick as possible.
We have never set eggs under a broody hen before - Here's what we did...
**Warning: This post has images of dead baby chicks that some people may find upsetting...
First I looked online and contacted a couple of companies that deal in fertile eggs. Victorian Vintage Farms down in Victoria said they could send me a dozen in the next days post if I could order and pay for them by 11am. We chose a dozen French Marans as we LOVED the dark eggs that they lay.
I made the payment of $90 plus $25 postage and they arrived at work the next day. It was very "egg-citing" to open up the incredibly well packaged eggs at my desk and admire their dark brown fertile beauty!
When you get fertile eggs you have to let them rest pointed end down for 24 hours so that the insides of the eggs can unravel themselves and the air pocket can settle down from the very bumpy ride that they will have had interstate from the farm to you. I put my eggs through a bit of a photo shoot while they were resting...
After letting the eggs rest for 24 hours I put Rain and her nesting box on the outside table and pulled the eggs out from under her at about 4am. Most of them weren't her eggs anyway but she is a pretty fierce brooder and wasn't happy about it at all.
We came home with two Barnevelder eggs (light brown), six Arucana eggs (blue) and four French Wheaten Marans (dark brown)... and I was late for work. I knew I was going to be there for an hour or so. My husband had this idea that we would show up, choose eggs and be gone in 10 or 15 minutes... (Seriously??)
I had moved Solstice and her lawn mower catcher nest into the kennel the day before I got the eggs but wasn't sure how settled she was. When she voluntarily got off the nest (they usually get off twice a day for 10 - 20 minutes to eat, drink and poop) I swapped it all over. I had to swap it the day after I got the eggs as I needed to leave the eggs to settle for the required 24 hours even though we had only travelled for a short time to get home.
I set the kennel up again as when (if?) her babies hatch I want to be able to keep them separate from the big chooks by using the isolation pen to keep them safe in. We have never had babies and I don't know what the bigger older chooks will make of it and I'm not keen to come home to any more dead chicks, in or out of the shell.
She did go back and forth for a while before she decided to settle down on them. We were a bit worried that we had broken her brood by moving her nest and then changing her nest but her instinct is strong and she spent the next three weeks sitting on the nest.
|The light brown egg on the left is from one of my other chooks who was using the nest to lay in when Solstice got off to eat!|
Occasionally I would notice that she was off the nest for about 45 minutes. I was worried that the eggs would be cold and wouldn't hatch until I realised that one of the other chooks was laying her eggs in the nest and Solstice was using the opportunity to eat and preen for longer!!
I'm glad the fertile eggs were marked with pencil so I knew which eggs to take out and eat!
She stopped getting off the nest entirely in the last few days and so I bought the food and water to her. I think she appreciated it! The night before the chicks were due to hatch I swore I heard the peeping of a baby but when I checked the nest all the eggs were there. The next morning however...
Within the first 12 hours those three chicks were zooming around Mum like bumbling little jet propelled rockets and I moved the water jar out and added chick crumble to Mums food bowl. I swore I saw four chicks at one point but couldn't get a photo.
When I came home from work that afternoon I found the nest like this. Mum was outside with four chicks! (yay) and a little brown one was fluttering around in the eggs - I think it may have just hatched and there was a dead one in the nest that looked like it had been trampled. The back light brown egg is from another chook - its not a fertile one
I rescued the little brown one from in the eggs and then found another yellow one lying in the dirt outside. It flapped and fluttered a little but 15 minutes later died.
I cleaned the box out and installed a new one where I folded the front down so the babies could just run in and out and not have to jump too far - I did also wonder if the little yellow one had hurt herself jumping out of the nesting box. I popped the little brown stripy one (a Barnevelder baby, I think) under Mum but it seemed to be much weaker and slower than the others. It didn't zoom around like the other four.
The second morning and Mum had taken the four yellow ones out (I think I have 2 Araucana of different types and 2 Marans - they have feathers on their legs) and she left the little brown one in the nest.
In the meantime, Mum had taken the four jet propelled chicks out into the isolation pen and was busy teaching them to eat crumble and what to watch out for.
I noticed that she spent a lot of time sitting on the ground and used a lot of different calls to teach them things. She picked up titbits and dropped them in front of them several times in the first day to get the babies to eat certain things. I saw her do this with a maggot on the first day when she was still sitting on the eggs in the nest and only had the two chicks running around. She pecks at the ground and clucks to them to tell them there is food and has another squawk to tell them to hide under her backside when there is danger. Yes, I have too much time on my hands. No, I don't have a TV and yes, I have a stool in the pen and have spent hours with a cuppa in hand watching them! Its amazing what you will learn from watching the mother that you won't read in a book!
Being a bit of a frugal greenie, I wasn't so keen on buying chick feeders and waterers. I'm figuring Mum is showing them how to eat and she seems to be doing a great job of that. I'm just popping the feed into the pen on the ground and she is finding it and feeding it to them. However the water is another issue entirely. Chicks think they are ducks and as soon as they see a patch of water - they jump straight in. And they don't know how to swim!