It’s Been All About The Birds & The Bees in The Birdhive

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a chicken update. Fear not, the chicken population is exploding all over the place. Figuratively speaking. Although some may have died. But mostly on purpose. We gained one hen back from a city home where the neighbours unfortunately weren’t impressed about the noise. This is Ninja. She is the sole daughter of the late Chippee Hackee and Tiggywinkle and full sister to Winston Cheepers. She has been an egg-laying machine and hasn’t been broody.

Ninja, bottom centre, has rejoined her old family.
The Hatching Department

What was going on where I left off last time? Broody hen Morpheus had been successfully moved into the Big Cage after broody Helen Cluck refused to stay seated in there.

Now, feisty Morpheus had already been poopy in the nestbox from not getting up for enough breaks. Then, there came one poop to rule them all. A number of the eggs were pooped on. That would not do. I took them all off Morpheus and gave her two sacrificial pullet eggs to sit on. After cleaning off what poop I could with dry paper towels, the eggs went into the incubator with the rest of them.

22 chicks hatched. But they weren’t without problems. The last one to hatch was slow and had severe stargazing and imbalance. It was one of Trinity’s. I made the tough decision to cull it because it couldn’t stand or lie down properly, let alone eat or drink. Trampling by other chicks is one of the major hazards in the first few days of a chicks’ life. It couldn’t be left with the others.

The chick with severe stargazing. When I let it go it’s head would flop so far backwards that it fell over and couldn’t get up again. It was heart-wrenching, but something you have to face sometimes when hatching chicks.

Then two other chicks started showing symptoms of imbalance. Both Trinity’s. One became severely agitated. It kept shaking its head and scratching its head, whilst also being unsteady. I was refreshing my knowledge about vitamin E deficiency and had put vitamin E and selenium (they work together) into the chicks’ water. I had also read that it can take weeks for chicks to show easing of these symptoms, which would mean a lot of extra time assisting them to eat and drink. And I had work coming up. If the chick had just been a bit imbalanced I would have left it, but it was constantly cheeping and scratching at its head in such a distressed way that it was obviously in a lot of discomfort and disturbing the other chicks. I made the tough decision to cull that one too.

The third affected chick needed help to eat and drink by me picking it up and moving it around, pushing its head forward. I didn’t want to have to kill another one. Culling chicks is horrible. I checked on it so many times. Although it wasn’t as disabled as the first one, I kept finding it on its side under the heat plate, kicking around. I was worried it was going to get trampled or squished overnight. I didn’t think it was going come around any time soon. Amazingly, after two days it was right as rain. The vitamins had evidently kicked in and helped it. Hooray! What a relief. Of course, I was nervous about hatching more Trinity eggs now and didn’t include any in Batch #2, just in case.

After the symptomatic chick was strong enough, Morpheus was slowly siphoned chicks to look after. Two to start with overnight. All good. Then, over the course of the day, two more. Two more. Three more… Surprise, Morpheus! You have 20 babies!

“Uh, babies?”
“Twenty babies?!”

Meanwhile, Tiggywinkle, Jemima and Jenny Cheeply were still in the Corner Pen, having their eggs collected until the late Todd’s fertility ran out. Batch #2 and the more recent Batch #3 eggs were incubating in the incubator or under broody Helen Cluck, who sat in a nestbox in Featherburn Lodge. The chicken election had been put on hold by my hand, since I kept moving chickens around.

The first thing that happened is Jenny Cheeply went broody, taking control of the one nestbox in the Henley Hut. Since Jemima’s eggs were no longer fertile by Todd and Tiggywinkle was packing a sad and not laying, they went back in the pen with the main flock. But because there were so many chickens in the main flock, I moved all but one of the teenage cockerels into the Corner Pen with broody Jenny Cheeply. They were too young to bother her. Jenny Cheeply’s timing was perfect.

As lockdown for the Batch #2 eggs approached, the 17 remaining Batch #3 eggs had to be moved out of the incubator. A bunch of the eggs, mostly Jemima’s, we’re infertile after candling. Todd’s fertility had to run out at some point. But at least 17 was a manageable number of eggs for one broody hen to sit on: Jenny Cheeply. Excellent.

The trouble was, Trinity also went broody. I decided I didn’t want her services, so into a cage she went. Then Frodo went broody, closely followed by Ribby. Um, well, I asked for it. That’s the trouble with leaving a broody hen in the coop. Since Helen Cluck was sitting on eggs in Featherburn Lodge that meant all three nestboxes were taken by broody hens. That would not do for laying purposes. Frodo went into a cage. I left Ribby since I didn’t have another metal cage to put her in, and for back-up purposes.

Then Helen Cluck made a crucial error. She was found off her eggs at hatching time. One had pipped and was cheeping. They were getting cold. Helen Cluck had evidently had enough with the disturbances already and opted out at the worst possible time. She had no excuse for abandoning hatching eggs in the middle of the day. She has earned one strike for poor mothering. I put the eggs in the incubator with the rest. Thankfully, both still hatched.

Meanwhile, the teenage chickens that hatched in winter were reaching the age of decision-making. Not that they get to make the big decisions. Since things were so busy and space is at a premium I started butchering the cockerels a bit earlier. That left the Henley Hut to Jenny Cheeply. Most of them I skinned to use for making stock, which is a little faster. After the stock is done the meat can be used on pizzas or other things.

The Batch #2 hatching went well. I put vitamin E and selenium in the chicks’ water for a few days as a precaution, but there were no issues with them. After Morpheus and her chicks were assimilated into the main flock, I tried to move broody Ribby into the Big Cage to raise chicks. She hadn’t been broody for long enough and it didn’t take. And so the Batch #2 chicks were brooder raised.

The Batch #2 chicks.

The only problem with that was they were using our only heat plate when the Batch #3 eggs were hatching in the incubator or under Jenny Cheeply. I had to trust this first-time mum by giving her the two oldest chicks at night time. I put them under her, she made some weird noises, then made some mummy noises. In the morning, they were all good. Except for the unhatched eggs that Jenny Cheeply was no longer sitting on. They went into the incubator quick smart. This batch did really well. All but one of the eggs left after Day 8 candling hatched. That one had stopped growing somewhere along the way.

Jenny Cheeply was doing a great job as a mum, albeit a bit over-protective towards me, so she was given all 16 chicks to raise. She really saved my bacon there, or I would’ve had to buy another heat plate. I will have to in the future. It’s been one big juggling act, I can tell ya!

Currently, Jenny Cheeply is still raising her 3 1/2 week-old chicks in the Henley Hut and everyone else is with the main flock. Morpheus is done with her chicks and back to laying. They are 7 weeks weeks old now. The Batch #2 chicks are 5 weeks old. There are chickens everywhere. Soon I will put JC and her chicks with the main flock and move some of the older pullets into the Henley Hut to make some space in Featherburn Lodge.

There’s one more thing. I’ve got one more batch of eggs in the incubator. While I’m feeling a bit chickened-out, this will be the last batch for the year and the last batch until at least autumn. The main eggs I wanted in this batch were Tiggywinkle’s and Jemima’s, this time out of Winston Cheepers. Getting them bred to two roosters in one season is a bonus. I also put in a bunch of Trinity’s, two from Morpheus and two from Helen Cluck, who had both just gone back to laying. I hardly got any eggs out of Tiggywinkle and Todd because Tiggywinkle stopped laying. In fact, I got one chick. When moved back to the main flock with Winston Cheepers, Madam Tiggywinkle promptly went back to laying and vying for boss hen. How’s that for a campaign strategy?! Back to the election shortly…

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