It’s been an interesting week since the chicks hatched. Last Friday afternoon I looked out the window to see both the girls scratching around in their run. When I went out to check on the eggs I found this, along with an egg currently in the process of hatching.
Mothers of the year. As soon as the chick hatched and began moving around the girls both freaked and abandoned the nest. When I saw the pip in the second egg my stress levels went through the roof, because once an egg pips, without the humidity of a sitting broody the egg membrane can dry out and shrink wrap the chick inside, preventing it from being able to free itself on its own. Assisted hatches are dangerous and best avoided when possible. During hatching the chick’s blood supply is still linked with the egg membrane, and the yolk sack is still outside the body. During hatching both are drawn into the abdominal cavity, and if the egg is cracked open too quickly it can kill the chick.
I managed to coax both the girls back to the nest, but because they left the nest as soon as the first chick hatched they weren’t bonded to it, viewed it as an intruder, and began pecking at it. I quickly scooped the chick out of the nest and the girls settled in to hatch the second egg. Stress levels rising. At that point I wasn’t thinking clearly about the lack of bonding and assumed I had two homicidal broodies that would be set to kill the second chick once it hatched. As if to confirm my fears, the chick poked its beak out of the pip, cheeped, and received a pretty harsh peck to the face that chipped part of its egg tooth off. I quickly turned the egg to the side so the girls couldn’t see the beak and they happily settled back in.
Stress level status: Through the roof.
I decided to risk them abandoning the nest and moved them into the house where I could keep a closer eye on them. Luckily for me, my temporary nesting box was a Bergan Stack-N-Stor container so I was able to pull the whole thing out. I set up a brooder with a heat lamp for the first chick and spent the next half hour listening to it cry because it was alone. Did you know that listening to baby chicken scream at ear piercing decibels raises stress levels? At that point I decided to try putting a fake egg next to it, which thankfully tricked it into thinking it had a friend and it finally fell asleep.
The second chick finally hatched around 5:00 and Zeste went homicidal. I evicted her out to the coop and Sel settled in to sit on the chick. I was also able to slip the second chick under Sel without her putting up much fuss. Hens bond with their chicks, and the chicks to the hen, during the first day and/or night as the chicks are under the hen. Chickens are more docile at night, so when grafting chicks onto a hen it’s best to do it after dark. Still hoping Zeste would take to them, once it was dark out I tried bringing her back in and transferred one of the chicks to her. She settled in and everything seemed to be going well.
I was woken in the morning by the sound of a chick screaming and Zeste cursing. Nope, not going to work. Zeste was promptly evicted to the coop to await having her broodiness broken later. It turns out she neither wants nor likes chicks, and I have a feeling she was only brooding the eggs because Sel was. Add it to her list of strangely endearing quirks.
Luckily Sel has turned out be a… Well maybe not an excellent caretaker, but a decent one. She finds bugs and calls the chicks over to feed them, but she definitely doesn’t subscribe to helicopter parenting. So far she’s left the chicks crying while she strolled away to enjoy dandelion greens, and has sent chicks flying with a wayward kick as she foraged more times than I can count. In a way it’s nice because when the chicks are tired from running after her I can let them nap in my hand and she won’t panic about having them taken from her. The only ones she won’t allow near the chicks are the cockerels, who she will actually chase down and pick a fight with if she gets the chance. Our coop runs on girl power.
Zeste has calmed down a bit and can be allowed out with the chicks. She will ignore the chicks for the most part, but if they approach her she will peck them. Never hard enough to elicit more than a surprised cheep, but I still don’t feel confident leaving them alone together so I’ve sectioned off a nursery area for Sel. Interestingly, Sel’s reaction to this is to tell the chick to move instead of getting angry with Zeste.
I’ve named them Tarte and Riz, as in Tarte au Riz or Belgian Rice Tart. This makes them the youngest of my chickens so receive their names.