April just slipped right through my fingers….May almost coming to a close …..and soon it will be June! Our season started off with the much anticipated arrival of baby chicks and the training of our new Glamping Greeter puppy Hank. April and May were awesome months of Glamping, meeting new friends and catching up with old ones as well!
This blog is dedicated to our 19 heirloom chickens……so-Lets talk “roosters, hens and chicks”!!!
I must admit i am a city /farm girl and this story I feel sure will confirm that for you! I wanted so bad to have baby chicks that were actually hatched under mama that I did not even notice when one of my hens went broody. Maggie is a Salmon Faverolles which were originally bred by the French to be layers and for meat. They’re gorgeous and wonderfully odd-looking, with muffs, a beard, feathered legs and five toes. One day I noticed she was not leaving the coop and a particular nest even at night to go up on the roost.
Meanwhile being the city/farm girl I am I was marking eggs with an x and gathering a cluster of eggs of my own in hopes of encouraging a hen to sit on them just like the books told me! So by the time I took full notice that Maggie had gone broody it was DAY 4! When I went in to pull my x eggs out of the coop and felt under Maggie I found there where 12 eggs under her:) and thats when i noticed Ester sitting very zen like.
HENS…a broody hen is what they call a hen that is ready and willing to sit focused on a cluster of eggs for 20 days while they incubate. They call this state very zen like because they are almost in a trance, I call it ‘zen hen’.
So here we are Maggie sitting on a dozen eggs and Ester who is a polish standard that NEVER go broody is sitting on almost 18 eggs. How that happened I am not sure. When you have 17 hens laying if they all decide to lay in one nest that’s a lot of eggs and they do seem to all go where there is already an egg in the nest. I was not sure how long Ester had been there or how many times she left the nest and another hen got in and laid an egg so now my timing of her hatching was unknown.
Some of our most entertaining conversations here at The Martyn House have been about chicken sex!
SEX.…. Baby chicks have daddy’s too. In order for an egg to be fertilized and become a baby chick you need a rooster. We have two roosters King Arthur and Prince Henry so pretty much that says that every egg in our hen house is fertilized. Now to be clear a hen does lay an egg every day whether you have a rooster or not. Without a rooster there will never be a fertilized egg.
EGGS. Every egg has a germ spot. This is the small, rather tough white spot you find in a breakfast egg. Next comes the yolk, then four separate layers of white. All of these parts are kept in shape by membranes—very thin layers of transparent “skin.” At the large end of the egg is an air pocket, filled with oxygen. The shell, that looks as though it were solid, is actually porous. That is, there are thousands of tiny holes in it, so small that it is impossible to see them. The egg breathes through these holes. The germ spot in the fertile egg is the part that becomes the baby. Before the egg is hatched, the baby is called an “embryo.” The embryo must have food while it is growing. It gets its nourishment from the yolk of the egg. That is why the germ spot is always attached to the side of the yolk. The egg white is a cradle for the growing embryo. If the egg gets bumped accidentally, or if it is moved too suddenly, the soft white around the embryo comes between it and the shell and cushions the shock.
MOTHERHOOD A mother hen as she sits on her eggs reaches underneath her body and turns them frequently with her beak. She does this very gently making sure each one is turned over because the egg yolk tends to float toward the shell. When the egg lies too long in one position, the white separates and allows the yolk to float through, forcing the germ against the shell and killing it, so it is very important for the mother hen to change the position of her eggs. When a hen has babies, she sits on the eggs until they hatch, morning noon and night-exactly 20 days. She keeps them warm by spreading her soft feathers over them. She is very careful with them and won’t let anyone else touch her eggs except me of course:) As the given number of days approaches the chick is almost fully developed. The chick turns slowly inside the egg shell, and begins to peck it with his beak. It can take him up to as long as 20 hours after the first peep to break out of the shell. All this time he keeps turning and pecking, until he has pecked a circle clear around the large end of the egg.
An interesting note in all of this is that when a mama hen is ready to sit she usually is on a cluster of eggs and it is very important not to add any more to this cluster. If you are gathering the eggs yourself for a hen gone broody you can do this over several days but add the eggs to be hatched at the same time Do not add eggs from day to day as you collect them, and do not add any more after you set the hen. The germ cell of a fertile egg is always ready to develop into a chick, but it does not begin to do so until the hen sits on it—that is, maintains constant temperature and humidity at a level sufficient to trigger growth of the embryo. Thus it doesn’t matter if the eggs you set were collected on different days: All the embryos begin to grow at the same time, and they will all hatch on the same day. If you add more eggs after the hen starts incubating the clutch, however, the development of embryos in the new eggs lags behind that of the first eggs, and hatching cannot occur all on the same day—a disaster.
I say disaster because that is what we had. The early arrivals hatch with the last of the yolk material in their systems, and are thus able to wait awhile without feed or water for up to 3 days. It may take 36 hours for every chick to arrive. In practice this means that one typically waits until the following morning for the last chicks to hatch. Any egg showing no sign of pipping at this point is unlikely to hatch and should be removed. Maggie hatched out 3 the first day…and then Ester hatched one the same day. When I went in later that day Maggie was in the wrong nest Ester was on Maggie’s babies and eggs and another hen was on Esters eggs and baby. WHAT???!!!! So I tried to get Maggie back on hers and the other hen out of there and Ester on hers –mission accomplished . Day 2 I am worried now about how the baby chicks are going to get out of the nests to go eat ( they are almost 2 feet off the ground) and what about the other hens and roosters? Everything i had read said they would hurt them! I am now becoming the overprotective hen house keeper. And I am concerned about the last eggs Maggie was still sitting on because she is not leaving them and she is also not paying attention to the baby chicks who now need to get out and forage for food and water. I decide to remove Maggie from the coop and create a separate space for her and the chicks. i wanted to create a place where the other hens cannot get at her babies but it was too late when I went in to get her 2 of the babies had been severely pecked one died the next day. Maggie now had 2 chicks left and I decided it was too late for the other 8 eggs to hatch so I removed them to throw them out and on the way to the trash I heard peep peep and back the eggs went- Then Ester has another chick-Ester kept leaving her nest and other hens got in it and on and on it went…..so I made a hen house keeper executive decision and gave Maggie the 2 chicks in Esters nest in the separated area . Are you getting this disaster picture??? Now Maggie has her 3 chicks ( the first 2 and the newly hatched one I almost threw out) and now 3 of Esters. Ester continued to sit on her eggs and hatch babies and I continued to give them to Maggie. In the end Maggie had 8 babies to care for…..I finally decided after a few more days that the eggs Ester would not get off of were bad too or at least so far apart in hatching that it could take another week so I removed them and once again peep peep and Ester hatched another baby chick this one she would not let me give to Maggie she was keeping this chick!!!
After a day i noticed Maggie was anxious about being separated from her big girl flock but I worried they would all peck her babies to death if i opened he up to the flock. It was then that i had my farm girl epiphany that they kinda had this motherhood thing figured out and I needed to open the pen up and let them do what they do best protect their babies. I think one or two of the other hens went after a baby once and Maggie set them straight!
In the end there were two mamas and 9 baby chicks that now live in the hen house with the whole rest of the gang. They are so cute how they stay with their mama, listen to her cackles and learn from her. Nap time they all run under her into the cave she creates under her breast and wings. The other hens do not dare mess with any of those babies and the roosters protect them. They are all one big happy family. It was exhausting giving birth to 9 chicks. There is a reason i am called a city /farm girl and my lesson has been that nature works best when man does not interfere. For 1,000′s of years hens have laid eggs hatched babies and raised them I think they can manage on their own……