A Few Crazy Chicken Months

The last batch of chicks for the year (last year) hatched in November. I had already saved up eggs for hatching, and was particularly keen for some elusive Tiggywinkle babies. The day I found out for sure that I was pregnant was the day I had to decide whether to start these eggs in the incubator or not. The main deciding factors were 1) I was not feeling sick at the time and 2) I was aware that I probably wouldn’t be hatching any more chicks for a year considering the impending circumstances.

We had 15 chicks hatch, including four Tiggywinkle-Winston Cheepers chicks and one blue Jemima-Winston Cheepers chick. Unfortunately, some issues arose with one of Trinity’s chicks again. It had severe stargazing and kept falling over onto its back and couldn’t get up again. Despite my help to eat and to drink the water with vitamin E and selenium in it, this chick did not show any signs of improvement and was getting trampled on by the others as it lay on its back. I had to cull it. I don’t know if I want to hatch chicks from Trinity anymore. Most of them have been fine, but I’m not ok with the few that haven’t been. I’m also unsure if I should keep a rooster out of Trinity; I don’t know if there’s a genetic basis to this hatching issue.

It’s strange, because Trinity has always been a healthy, active chicken and a very good layer. She was the egg-laying winner of 2020. The younger four hens laid more eggs on average per month but weren’t laying for the whole year. Jacinda kicked butt with her monthly averages, followed by Ninja. Trinity’s eggs are one of the most consistent in appearance with nice thick shells. Yet here we were again with some of her chicks having difficulty upon hatching. I wonder if there’s something lacking in the development of some of the eggs, that is causing the chicks to not have enough nutrients or to not be able to utilise them fully. I have not had these issues with any other hens. They are common enough issues, but not issues that I want to be common with our chickens.

The last of the little cheepers.

Ribby was broody and I left her broody for a good while in hopes of her being able to raise the chicks. But not in the coop. There were far too many comings and goings in Featherburn Lodge to be safe for hatching. I moved Ribby into the Big Cage in the garage at night, with a nestbox of fake eggs. Last time this did not work but she’d been broody for longer this time. It did not work. She wanted out and wound herself up out of broodiness. Ribby is an excellent, sweet mum but she stinks at being moved.

Fortunately, Morpheus was becoming increasingly spiky and screechy in the pen. She settled into broodiness quickly, as she does, and after two days I moved her into the Big Cage, because if I left it any longer it would be too late for the already-hatched chicks. And yes, I did get pecked in the process, despite the gloves and the carefulness. Morpheus is as feisty as anything when broody but she’s also as reliable as anything. She moves well, even at the beginning of broodiness. She means business. She knows her job. And I know it too. And that makes her extremely useful as a mother hen.

With one hand firmly on her neck to avoid getting savaged, I put two chicks under Morpheus at night, at the back of her, because that is always safest for them. She sat on them and they were all a happy family in the morning. Morpheus got given the rest of the chicks in twos or threes during the day. She gladly and protectively accepted all of them, rushing at the cage door as I quickly funnelled them through a crack in the door. I was lucky to keep my hand, but I survived.

Morpheus: “I’ll take all the babies! And your hand…”

For the first couple of times I have to show Morpheus the feed scoop or the water jug as I open the door so she can see that I’m not going to hurt her babies. I have to move very slowly and carefully so my hand doesn’t get attacked. But then she sees that I’m helping and backs off. She is feisty. But she’s smart and very reliable. She took a load off my hands raising the chicks.

After a couple of weeks the 14 chicks went in with the main flock, with feisty mum Morpheus keeping everyone a safe distance away. Some of the young cockerels made the mistake of looking at Morpheus after she entered the pen and each one got lunged at with a swift, hard peck. I tried not to laugh. Now the chicks are on their own and Morpheus is back to laying.

I have called for the chicken election already, but half the hens went broody when the warm, sticky humidity arrived and Ribby’s started up the next round of broodiness now. C’mon, chickens, how are we supposed to have a decent election with all this hoo ha going on? I have also not been able to give the chickens much attention lately. Further, we have had a sad incident. While I was in the process of butchering one day there was one rooster I had to cull that I did not want to: Winston Cheepers. He was sick for a number of days and I wasn’t sure exactly what was wrong. I put him in a cage and tried to help him with vitamin and mineral water. Then I put activated charcoal in his water to try and flush his system if he’d eaten something weird, because his poop was greenish, which wasn’t normal considering there was barely anything green left in that pen. But I think I was too late or it was something else. He just became more sad, pale and droopy-looking. His comb was floppy and he wouldn’t eat. When he started gasping I knew I had to put him out of his misery. Poor, poor Winston. I wasn’t planning on getting rid of him anytime soon. He was a sweet, good-looking boy.

Thus ends the reign of Winston Cheepers. Farewell, special dude.

Another sad thing that happened a couple of months ago was with some of the youngsters. The roost situation in Featherburn Lodge was getting tricky with the influx of growing chickens. I had started building new roosts in the garage but hadn’t gotten to finish them, due to the sickly pregnancy thing, when tragedy struck. When I went to put the chickens away one night, I discovered that the main, long roost had fallen down to the ground. Some of the older chicks or young teenagers were sleeping on the ground in one corner and three of them were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The weight of the chickens who had been on the roost must have pinned these three chickens to the ground by the necks and killed them. I couldn’t believe it. I felt terrible. I know I was too unwell and tired to do much of anything but the chickens were still my responsibility to look after. Of course, one of the poor things was the only one I got out of Tiggywinkle and the late Todd. I was so upset about it.

In his goodness, The Husband helped me out. We discussed a better roost system than what I was actually working on and then he built it for me the next day. Just like that. The roost ladder involved moving the nestboxes to the door end of the coop, which is also more convenient, and gives more roost space than we had before. The roosts are nice and thick for big chicken feet. They are easily removable by lifting them up for cleaning or chicken-catching purposes, yet they’re not going to fall out. This is one of the best things The Husband has ever done for me and I’m so grateful he helped me out with it. The coop set-up is working much better now.

I still have a continuous stream of butchering to do as I try to lessen the number of chickens I have to look after and cut the feed and water usage down. As I look to some promising young pullets coming along, with a range to be selective about, I am also considering which hens are worth keeping. I have just culled Jenny Cheeply. She was one of Frodo’s two daughters, along with Helen Cluck. She was a good layer but she didn’t have the best type or colouring. I only kept her because Frodo has not had many daughters and is getting old.

Because Frodo’s line had some sort of whoopsie somewhere in the history of her breeding, evidenced by red feathers coming through subsequent generations, I keep a close eye on her line. So far, all of Jenny Cheeply’s sons have had some red feathers coming through. She was of no further breeding use. I will keep several of the best of her daughters out of Winston Cheepers and Todd for now, while I assess the other Frodo options. The other options are Helen Cluck and her offspring. So far, none of them have had red feathers come through. Helen Cluck is also much better looking. There are also two new daughters of Frodo out of Winston Cheepers: a 5-month-old black girl who looks very promising and a younger blue girl.

I am sad about losing Winston Cheepers but he has given us some good offspring. There are a number of young cockerels to choose from, sired by both Winston Cheepers and Todd. At the moment, the frontrunners are a blue Jemima-Todd cockerel and two black Morpheus-Winston Cheepers cockerels. They are the best of the oldest cockerels. A Trinity-Winston Cheepers cockerel is a lower-ranked option. The others are a little young to fully assess yet. Any with high-set or long tails or other obvious undesirable traits have gone into the butchering pen, along with all Jenny Cheeply’s and Helen Cluck’s sons. There are a lot of decisions yet to come.

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