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One New “Peep” April 17, 2006

Posted by Joe in Uncategorized.
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Germinating seeds, more daylight hours, vivid green grass, and the return of the butterflies all make my spirits soar as springtime sets in. But one of my favorite things about spring is broody chickens!

Apparently, the same things that delight me with the coming of April also stir something within our heritage breed hens. One day, they go about their business of scratching and pecking and hopping in and out of the nest boxes to leave their gift for the humans. The next day, one declares a hunger strike, settles into one of those boxes, and begins to warm the batch of eggs beneath her.

The hen fluffs herself out so that she can cover a dozen or more eggs at a time. She sacrificially goes without eating or drinking for amazingly long periods of time for the sake of the progeny beneath her that must not get chilled. The mother-to-be will gently turn each egg over with her beak and chirr softly to the babies so they will know her voice after hatching.

After 21 days of devoted sitting, the eggs beneath her begin to move and tiny beaks, complete with “egg tooth” begin to peck holes. After several more hours, tiny wet, defenseless newborns emerge. The mother patiently tries to hatch every one while her growing brood begins to wander about. Finally, the new mama takes her little flock out into a small piece of the world to look for food.

Most of the time, this is how it happens. This year, we had a hen go broody in March, so we moved her and her eggs to a “private room” (a brooding coop I built last year for this very purpose) in the separate “nursery” area of the chicken yard. There she could be unbothered by the other chickens, her babies wouldn’t be bullied, and they wouldn’t have to compete for food.

Sadly, after 22 days, the mama hen had only one little peep hatch. Being the devoted mother that she is, she continued sitting on the unhatched eggs. Meanwhile, her one chick was in need of food and water in order to survive. I tried coaxing her off her eggs with preferred food (bread and kitchen scraps), but to no avail. Finally, I had to get thick leather gloves (knowing she would bite me with all the might she had) and remove her from the nest. I quickly took her eggs away and closed the door to her coop for a while. After much pacing, she finally began to turn her attention to the hungry one at her feet.

Mama and baby have bonded now and she is fiercely protective of her little charge. They “talk” to each other constantly and the mama is teaching the baby what to eat. When she encounters things too big for the little one’s tiny mouth, but things she thinks it should eat (like corn), she cracks it into pieces with her own beak while making the “come and get it” sound that brings it running. (That is what is happening in the picture of the two beak to beak). Several more hens have volunteered for duty in the last 2 weeks and we are eagerly awaiting a bumper crop of darling “peeps.”

As you probably know, you can get almost anything on eBay- even eggs to hatch. I have found some of the breeds I have been wanting so badly that lay dark, chocolate-brown colored eggs. The second broody volunteer is setting a clutch of Partridge and Wheaton Penedesencas as I write. They will be due to hatch on May 7th. I can’t wait! I’ll keep you posted!

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1. The Farm Chronicles of Blessed Acres » Time’s Up! - July 11, 2006

[…] If you look closely in the picture, you can see a hen in nearly every nesting box (the ones who really like privacy are in the boxes with the curtains).  But those hens aren’t laying eggs.  No, they are each determined to raise a family.  I’ve made nice brooding coops for them, but they insist on trying to have children in the high-rise.  This is not working well. […]


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