Broody Roulette: More Bad Turns & Silver Linings

Broody Roulette has been a long game. When we left off last time, lockdown time for the first batch of incubator eggs was approaching. I was waiting to see if resident superbroody, Frodo, would go properly broody so I could give her the second small batch of eggs (Batch #2) that were two days behind the others. Here’s what happened.

Frodo did go properly broody but I didn’t want to risk moving her out of Featherburn Lodge after the last two failed broody hen relocation attempts. I gave her the seven Batch #2 eggs to sit on in her chosen nestbox inside the coop. She only had to sit on them for two days before lockdown.

On the first day I discovered that three of the eggs had disappeared without too many traces. On the second day I found that another two were broken with dead chicks. This is exactly why I don’t like to let hens sit on eggs in the main coop. The busy environment and the size of the nestboxes make it unsuitable for hatching. I quickly moved the last three sticky eggs into the incubator since they were now in the lockdown period themselves. Then I moved Frodo into the big cage with fake eggs.

Meanwhile, most of the first batch of eggs in the incubator had hatched. I was stoked to get mostly blue chicks. The silver lining came when from one of the Frodo eggs emerged an elusive splash chick, which dried to all silvery-white. Yay! I hope it turns out to be a girl.

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The splash chick. Yes, we got one!

Next, I was surprised when all three of the second batch eggs pipped and hatched, despite their treacherous, sticky journey the last couple of days. Here’s what we ended up with:

Batch #1: 9 chicks

  • Frodo chicks: 3 -> 2 blue, 1 splash.
  • Tiggywinkle chicks: 3 -> 2 blue, 1 black.
  • Duchess chicks: 3 -> 1 blue, 2 black.

The sole Jemima egg stopped growing before lockdown. One other egg stopped growing too, and one just didn’t hatch.

Batch #2: 3 chicks

  • Frodo chicks: 2 -> 1 blue, 1 black.
  • Tiggywinkle chick: 1 black.

But the twists and turns didn’t stop there, oh no. I decided to see if I could give Frodo two chicks to raise now that she was in the big cage. I chose two black Duchess chicks. This did not go well. It seemed ok to start with. Frodo was sitting on them and I watched them for a while. But I went off to do some cleaning then came back to find one of the chicks dead. Frodo had rejected them and would not sit on them. I felt terrible. I had pushed her too fast. She was still in the nesting and settling in phase and she knew these babies didn’t come from her.

I put the lone chick back in the brooder with the others. A couple of days later I tried again. I put one of the younger Batch #2 chicks under Frodo in the dark of night and hoped for the best. I chose the last chick to hatch: a black Frodo chick that was weaker than the others – the runt. In the morning it was happily under Frodo and she was making nice motherly noises to it. I quickly went and got two other black chicks (trying to avoid losses of blue or splash chicks) and put them under her. And I watched. When they poked their heads out, Frodo made happy noises to them. They were ok.

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The picture of cuteness.

I slowly funneled two more chicks to Frodo – the last black one and a blue one. Then I brought out more and Frodo would not have a bar of it. She made displeased squawky noises and would look at a blue or splash chick’s head and then peck it. You might think she didn’t like the lighter coloured chicks, but it’s not about body colour. It’s about their faces. Facial recognition is one of the main ways chickens recognise each other. Whereas many other livestock animal mothers recognise their babies by smell, it seems chicken mummas recognise their babies by their faces. I observed that Frodo was singling out the chicks with lighter faces and beaks (most of the blue ones) and was particularly put out by the appearance of the splash chick with its white head. The one blue chick I had earlier put under Frodo (that she accepted) has a darker head and beak.

When I tried to give these later ones to her, she was up and about showing ‘her’ babies how to eat and drink. She knew the new ones hadn’t come from under her and I think because they were older as well, with wing feathers already coming through, she wouldn’t accept them. Sometimes I forget that Frodo isn’t a superhero. That is why I always need to do these things carefully. I think if I had put all the chicks under her that night they would have been ok, but I didn’t want to risk losing a whole bunch of them.

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One of the light-faced blue chicks.

So, after all the twists and turns, we now have 11 chicks divided into two locations. Frodo has been moved into the Henley Hut with her five:

  • 2x Duchess chicks: 1 blue, 1 black.
  • 2x Tiggywinkle chicks: black.
  • 1x Frodo chick: black.

The remaining six are in the brooder and will move out to the big cage in the garage soon:

  • 4x Frodo chicks: 1 splash, 3 blue.
  • 2x Tiggywinkle chicks: blue.

The chicks have leg tags for identification but writing it down helps me to remember!

I suppose all this could have been worse. I’m grateful that I got three chicks from Batch #2. But I’d like to stuff that game of Broody Roulette into the back of the cupboard. Let’s find a more fun game to play next time.

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Frodo and her five chicks have started exploring the great outdoors.

Meanwhile, in the main flock, the last batch of chicks were introduced to the oldies. Head rooster Chippee Hackee was very good with them, showing them where the food was and talking nicely to them. They’re doing just fine. Except for Mr Pecky who is still protective of the others and pecks my gumboots when I come near him. I know to keep my hands away from him. Sometimes you just get one who’s born aggressive. I can’t say I’m not counting down the weeks until I can get rid of him… It looks like there are three boys and four girls. Mr Pecky will be going and that leaves a black Tiggywinkle boy and a blue Frodo boy to grow on for further inspection without being impeded by a psychopath. They are eight weeks old now.

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“I want to peck your face.” Mr Pecky and the blue Frodo girl.
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Chickens in the pumpkins.

I had to make a decision about which rooster/s to keep. Chippee Hackee was chasing his would-be successor, Mr Anderson, around and around the pen, which was a little bit funny but it was stressing out the other chickens. They weren’t fighting with each other but Chippee Hackee was not happy with Mr Anderson being there. He was always trying to do the sneaky with unsuspecting hens. Personality-wise, Chippee Hackee was better. Confirmation-wise, Mr Anderson was better. Chippee has been such a good boy, so that makes it hard. But ultimately, I chose to keep Mr Anderson. He’s not aggressive, he’s just scared. And who wouldn’t be when there’s a bigger dude waiting to chase you around? Chippee is currently in a cage awaiting a new home. Things are already calmer in the flock and hopefully Mr Anderson will settle down once Chippee is gone. Neo, the black dude, is still here too. He’s a sweet, quiet boy and he’s been hiding out a lot to avoid all the action. He’s my insurance policy in case Mr Anderson doesn’t work out.

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Chippee Hackee. I’m sorry, Chippee, I really am.
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Mr Anderson. It’s your turn now.

 


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