Country Living Series

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Last hatch of the year

Three weeks ago we decided we were going to do one more hatch of chicks for the year.

Our first batch of chicks went to our neighbors...

...who transported them to their new home in a box.

With only twelve chicks from the second hatch (of which half, statistically, will be roosters), we decided to put in a third hatch.

Meanwhile, poor patient Smoky's eggs never hatched. Three weeks came and went, and not a peep from her clutch.

So, since she was still broody, I removed her old eggs...

...and gave her some fresh ones, wondering if she'd have the patience to stay on the job for another three weeks.

She did. Unfortunately the chicks were due to hatch yesterday, and I haven't seen any evidence that they're doing anything. Poor Smoky.

Last Friday it was time to take the incubator eggs out of the automatic turner, add water to the extra reservoir, and put the eggs on the screen in anticipation of the hatch.

Just in time, too. A few hours later, the first crack appeared.

Soon there were multiple eggs with cracks.

Time to clean out the brooder box from the last time. I tipped out the old sawdust...

...and got some fresh shavings from the shop...

...which I added to the box. Add a gooseneck lamp, and we're good to go.

First two chicks.

Here's a hatch from beginning to end. (Most of the photos were taken through the clear plastic top of the incubator, so the colors are a bit distorted.)

For this hatch, we gathered eggs from two other neighbor's flocks, so we could introduce some fresh bloodlines into our birds. Still, it came as a surprise when this chick hatched out -- yellow! All our birds have been dark or buff, so this was unexpected.

We ended up with three yellow chicks of various shades, so it will be fun to see what they grow up to look like.

A total of ten chicks hatched, and it looks like that's all we'll get from this batch. Once again the sound of soft peeping fills the house.

Meanwhile, poor Smokey was still setting, week after fruitless lonely week.

The solution was obvious, wasn't it? We gave her some chicks.

Unsure how well she'd take to chicks she didn't personally hatch, I scooped up two fuzzy guinea pigs (guinea chicks?) and carried them out to the barn.

Smoky is used to me, and the chicks were too startled to make any noise, so I scootched first one, then the other, under Smoky's ruffled feathers. Then I sat back to watch.

Well, at first the chicks did what ALL baby chicks do when they're in a dark and warm place. They fell asleep. (Chicks can do this more or less instantly.) So although Smoky seemed a bit startled at my invasive actions, she didn't really react since the chicks weren't making any noise.

Then they peeped. Oh my, that got her attention!

I left her alone for a few minutes, and when I checked back in, she had repositioned herself and looked a bit surprised, but quite smug. (Can you see the chick poking out her front?)

So, since she seemed accepting of new chicks, I brought out two more and shoveled them underneath her.

I also took the opportunity to remove the eggs. One broke as I did so (pee-yew!) but I tucked the others in the incubator just in case. I doubt they're fertile, though, as the undeveloped broken egg attested.

Smoky just couldn't seem to get over all the exciting changes happening underneath her.

Then she settled back down, looking about as pleased as a hen can look.

I had to go into Coeur d'Alene in the afternoon, so the moment I got home I checked her again. One of the chicks was out, watched attentively by mama.

Another chick poked its head out from under her wing to see what was happening.

Yes, we have a happy pen tonight, bedded down with her babies in the barn.


  1. Patrice,

    I've heard the term "broody" countless times, but I have no idea what it means. Sounds like she wants to stay in, put her hair up in a towel, sit on the couch, watch TV, eat chocolate ice cream, and you might as well go make up hunting and fishing stories with the guys because that's as exciting as tonight's gonna get.


    Jeff - Tucson

    1. LOL -- while that might work for women, it doesn't have the same meaning for hens!

      A broody hen, besides adopting a different body posture (ruffled feathers, fussy crackly voice) will stop producing eggs on a daily basis. Something about her posture also discourages a rooster from mating with her. She will sit (or "set," to be technically correct) on a batch of eggs 'til the cows come home. The incubation period for chicks is three weeks. Smoky set for six weeks. I've had other hens set on infertile eggs for months until we break the nest (forcibly remove the hen and toss the eggs). A broody hen is a treasure because broodiness has been bred out of too many chickens these days.

      - Patrice

  2. What a great gift you gave your hen. It will be fun to watch her mother them and have them following after her. Chickens are sure a lot of fun and very entertaining!

  3. I love seeing mamas with their newborns! Thanks for sharing this!


  4. Lovely story. In our case, I swear 90% of our chicks always turned out to be roosters! Drove me nuts.

  5. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)September 13, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    Smoky is one lucky hen! I'm glad you gave her the chance to be a momma. I had a broody hen once. All she wanted to do was nest. I think I only got a couple of eggs from her. She would sit on a brick, an ice pack and even a food container. She would roll eggs from the other hens into her nest box and sit. I even had to lift her out of the coop so she could eat and drink. I finally gave her to a local farmer as the other hens would peck at her while she was sitting. She was a cutie though, but she hatched all roosters!

  6. I have read and heard that letting a hen stay broody for more than one cycle can be very hard on them. They do not eat or drink enough because they are determined to stay on the nest for long periods of time. If one of our hens goes broody and the eggs do not hatch in the 28 days that it normally takes (we wait a few extra days to make sure) we move the hen and destroy the nest. This forces the hen to go on with life.

  7. I want to thank Patrice and all the people who add information as comments. I am learning so much about chickens, farming, canning, etc. and I simply thank you all for helping me to learn.

    DebK (unfortunately trapped in California)

  8. This is a wonderful story and great pictures. You have a big, kind, heart Patrice.

  9. You do have a good hen. I have Barred Rocks that want nothing to do with setting on eggs. I guess I'm gonna have to get an incubator if I want to produce chicks around here.

  10. Love the pictures of Smokey and her babies. What incubator do you use? I want to get one but I don't have any idea which.

  11. Absolutely adorable!
    So loving to give her babies! Thanks you for the pictures, my eyes were
    Tearing up as you gave her babies and everything worked out well!

  12. I LOVE this! I too am so glad you were able to give Smokey some babies to care for. Being ready to give birth to my second smallfry any day now, the mama instinct in me was very happy to see she took to them well. And they're obviously satisfied with her. :o)

    Love the pics of her just peering underneath herself to check out those chicks! Ha! Awesome. I've been a fan of all your chicken posts and this one was at the top of the heap.

    Also, just wanted to thank you for your recent post on canning salsa/sauces. I was the big old pregnant lady who was horrified to realize I was canning unsafely. I nearly teared up as I had DH pour out my improperly canned homemade ketchup and bloody mary mix left over from last year (I got pregnant a couple months after canning them and was so sick I never even had a chance to try any of them - appears that providence was looking out for me).

    Wanted to let you know my big belly and I canned 25 pints of the Ball Blue Book salsa recipe last week and followed it to the dot. I was hoping all that canning might induce labor. Alas no, but at least I got a good years worth of delicious (and hopefully safe to eat) salsa out of it. Thank you for your faithful instruction and advice on canning/storing food safely.

    1. Whoo-hoo, good for you! What an accomplishment to look at while you're cradling your newborn.

      - Patrice

  13. Oh, that's just so lovely Patrice. You have the biggest heart - first the wee little mouse, then the poor mother hen... you're just a big softy :-)


  14. I giggled and smiled with anticipation as I read through this post wondering what would happen next.

    Would Smokey take to the babies? Would the babies take to Smokey? Would Smokey smoosh the babies?

    Put this one on the "When-I-write-another-book-about-my-life,-this-story-is-going-in" pile.

    Just Me

  15. We have had lovely broody banty hens who would raise anything.

    I once ordered a batch of hatchery chicks when I had a broody hen. The chicks arrived after a rough trip. One of the little fellows was obviously injured. I put all of them under the hen and they settled right in, including the little injured guy; he snuggled up in her feathers and calmed. He did not live very long, just a few hours, but I felt that he died happy with a mamma.

  16. A great win-win-win scenario. The hen is happy, the chicks are happy and you get to see the (and share!) the fun. Thanks for the positive moment we can all use just now!

  17. I loved reading how Smokey took to the chicks. We had four hens go broody and took their eggs. I had a heck of a time with the eggs at different stages of development.
    I couldn't stand to see the newborns pop out onto wire so I put each pipping egg on a coffee filter. It gave them comfy spot to land and soaked up the yuck. It is cool to watch the newborns crawl over to another pipping egg to be close to the new sibling while they hatch.