Thursday, July 28, 2016

Baker's dozen...

A few weeks ago (July 8, to be exact), I noticed some eggs tucked under the feed bins in the barn.

But as I reached down to pick them up, I noticed something funny about the bucket lying next to them. See the feathers?

My first thought was, "Uh-oh, a dead chicken." But when I put my hand in the bucket, I got soundly pecked.

Make that a setting chicken. She was tucked away fairly securely, so we left her in the barn (as opposed to buttoning her up in the chicken coop every night) to see what we should see.

Setting hens leave their nests at least once a day to eat and drink, and they have a distinctive clucking noise they make while doing so. A week later when I heard those particular clucks and saw the ruffled hen gobbling some food, I took advantage of her absence to count the eggs: 16.

Yesterday was something of a rough day -- very hot, with three young cows that persisted in pushing in/over/under/around a particular fence to lunch on the neighbor's lawn. I was slathering myself in sunscreen preparatory to heading out in the hot sun to work on the fence line (again!) when I heard -- peeps.

You guessed it, the hen had hatched out a baker's dozen (13) chicks, and looked just as pleased as a hen can look.

She had no problem hiding all her babies under feathers, despite the heat.

We always keep chick starter on hand, so I filled a chick feeder and got them some water, and mama settled right in teaching her babies all about consumables.

Whenever another chicken (or rooster, in this case) got curious and came too close, the mama would poof herself up in the fashion of a strutting tom turkey: "Stay away from my babies!"

Here she ruffles up against Smoky, who raised her own clutch four years ago (see the story of Smoky and her Bandits here, here, and here). Smoky is now quite the senior dowager hen, sweet and friendly and still my favorite.

One little chick seemed weaker than the others. At first I thought it was because he was the last one hatched, but it soon became apparent he simply wasn't as strong.

Mama hen spent the day getting used to her brood. She shows every sign of being an excellent and attentive mother.

Incidentally, these are all Jersey Giants, and I have never, and I mean never, seen a breed so inclined toward broodiness. I had hens going broody all winter and all spring, and I always tucked wooden eggs underneath them because I didn't want chicks born in cold weather. As for this batch, the mother hen couldn't have timed it better weather-wise.

A neighbor came over, and when we showed him the chicks he was delighted. "Aha!" he exclaimed. "Sustainability!" Broodiness has been bred out of so many chicken breeds that finding a hen who will hatch her own eggs is increasingly rare.

I love how the babies tuck themselves into the mother's feathers.

The rest of the flock was curious about the newcomers, but no one dared mess with the protective mama.

The babies got the hang of drinking right away.

Evening came with some dramatic clouds.

Not wanting to risk the hen and chicks staying in the barn overnight, I put hardware cloth in all the chinks and openings around Polly's pen to keep the babies in (and predators out). Toward dusk, I asked Don to help me gather the chicks and hen and put them in the pen. However the hen had re-tucked herself back in the bucket for the night, so it was a simple matter to carefully lift the bucket, with the hen and all the chicks, and transport it into the pen.

The following morning, when mama and the babies were out of the bucket, I cleaned it out. Besides eggshells, there was the remains of one chick who had started to hatch but didn't make it.

I cleaned the bucket and put fresh hay inside.

Also, I examined the little weak chick. Not only was it weaker, but it had an internal organ outside its body. It was hopeless for the poor little thing, so I removed it from the rest of the chicks and tucked it under a box in the shade, where it could expire quietly. Mercifully it didn't take long to die.

But the other 12 chicks are healthy and hearty. During the day, I put this firescreen around the door to the pen -- not because the other chickens would bother the chicks, but because they would greedily gobble up their food. At night I remove the screen and close the door.

So there you have it: a dozen more birds for our flock.

Statistically half of these will be roosters, which will allow us the chance to butcher them. We embarked on this Jersey Giant experiment to see how they would behave as a combination egg and meat bird. So far I'm impressed: they're excellent layers, cold-hardy, extraordinarily prone to going broody, and good mothers. The final remaining test is to see how big they dress out after butchering.


  1. Congratulations, and thanks for sharing the event with us!

  2. Ah... so cute. Thanks for sharing.
    Montana Guy

  3. The babies look like they have diapers on!

  4. Hen raised chicks are the best!
    Please keep us posted on the results after you butcher. I like to raise dual purpose and am interested in this breed.

  5. I love chicks! We've had three successful hatches so far this year (and two destroyed when a coon got into the coop). Got two more broody hens - one in the dog crate and one in a nesting box (I don't like that, but the one in the dog crate won't share the space, even though it is more than large enough). I'd like to have at least 2 dozen to butcher in October, and 15 to keep. That would be meat and eggs for the next year...

  6. Congratulations! I admire your ability to have a large flock since I am living in suburbia and can only have a few and no rooster...

    The multipurpose birds interest me, my mutts are good layers but not a lot of meat. Of course that doesn't stop the dog or my son from wanting to eat them.

  7. Congrats on the new brood! Love the little chickie butts! These will turn into lovely Lady Pants for the properly feathered out bird. 8-) As discussed previously, I have never met a broodier breed of chicken in my life but they are so earnest in their endeavor to raise chicks that they will sit contentedly on golf balls and try to hatch them. We have no rooster here (local by-laws) so I leave the occasional egg under Moneypenny, my only Black Jersey Giant left, so that she feels like her broodiness is a good effort. Happy Girls, happy eggs.

    God Bless,
    Janet in MA

  8. I love this breed.
    Our year old black JG have been broody from the time they matured. At five months old, we found one sitting on a clutch of 16 eggs in the grass on the dam side of our pond. We thought she had been taken by a local eagle. Unfortunately, her pullet eggs were small but the developing chicks were full sized and couldn't get out. Thankfully our labrador found the clutch and hen the evening before a terrible storm that shut down the area for days. Not sure how the hen would have fared.
    We have nine fair sized pullets and cockrels from this summers broads, all from two clutches that I spread out between four insistent hens. I spread out a clutch that had a long hatch time (two on a Saturday, and the next one zipping on the following Wednesday) to broody hens that I had ignored the broodiness and took their eggs daily. Everyone was happy, all got to have chicks in the end and we had plenty of eggs.
    Great breed. Love our rooster, Abraham, too. Big gentle guy except with our New Hampshire Red hens which are being rehomed.
    Do you plan to turn the young roosters into capons?

  9. My grandfather was an accountant by trade but had an acre and a quarter with a a vegetable garden and a chicken coop. Every morning he'd put on his overalls to work the garden and tend to his hens. Then he'd go inside, shower and put on his suit and tie to go to work. Two years ago my wife bought a farmhouse with two acres. The vegetable garden started last year as a 4 x 4 raised bed which expanded this year with a 6 X 6. The tomatoes overran everything else so next year I'll plant them by in some old tractor tire gardens (learned that idea from this blog). Chickens were something for the distant future but this post makes me want to go get some chickens now.

  10. everyone read 'diary of a right wing pussycat'.
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  11. I have complimented you one or two times before on the quality of your photographs. You not only tell a story effectively with words but also with your excellent photos. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I have Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and Araucanas for eggs. To provide the next generation, I have Bantams and Bantam crosses because NONE of the standard-sized chickens have ever displayed any broodiness.

    1. Give the jersey Giants a try. Out of the nine I have, three hatched eggs this summer, another is broody and a hen that hatched a clutch is broody again.

  13. Excellent post! Someone said to me recently 'having calves an kids an lambs born and chicks hatched is just like Christmas presents for adults... You never know what your getting and it's so exciting!' he is right...

  14. My favorites are Buffs. I had one that would sit two nests a year. She liked to lay in the hay manger for our goats. It was interesting to see the chicks jump out of there, when they left the nest for the first time. One year, the other hens kept laying on top of her. She hatched out 20! They could just barely fit under her.

    I have five old hens now, but we are in town so no roosters. My Marans go broody every year but not the Americanas. My husband loves Jersey Giants, so we will likely give them a try when we move to our more rural place.

  15. im a 9 yearold girl who is a bird farmer 100 chickens 30 ducks 5 dogs 2 rabbits and going to get more this is an wonderful story i really liked it.