Saturday, July 18, 2009

• The Hideaway Hen

I have about 40 hens and I hadn’t realised that one of them was missing until one morning last week. I went to the hen enclosure to open the pop holes to let the hens out of the secure henhouse for the day and to give them their daily greens, when out of the corner of my eye I saw balls of yellow movement. Sure enough, there were 6 baby chicks being led by a protective hen with tail high and wings outstretched coming from under the hen house looking for some food.

Normally, when I want to breed more chicks, I wait for a hen to go broody put her into a special part of the hen house where she can feel secure and won’t be disturbed and give her the eggs I have chosen for her to incubate.

I do this all by the book. A complicated process of choosing the eggs, turning them daily until the brooder is ready. After 6 days I candle them, which means putting them over a light box to see inside to make sure they are viable and developing well. I candle them again after 14 days to make sure they are continuing to develop, all the while discarding eggs that don’t seem right. I fuss over the hen to make sure she has everything she needs, plenty of food and water and a place to take a dust bath and that she is as happy and contented as possible and still sitting on her clutch of eggs and then wait for the happy arrivals

But here we are with 6 healthy chicks. The hen did it all by herself without any intervention from us, or our instruction book.

I have now moved the hen and her chicks into the special pen where she can raise her brood without having to worry about the other hens in the flock. To make sure they get a balance diet I feed the babies chopped egg and chick food along with chopped lettuce, crushed boiled eggshell, ground nuts and seeds, oats and cooked rice and I always have a bowl of fine grit available to aid their digestion, It is also very important to make sure that all hens have access to fresh clean water.

In a weeks time they will need crushed garlic and grated carrot to avoid intestinal parasites and by keeping the hen house clean I can ensure that all my hens don’t get fleas or mites

It is such fun watching the mother hen teach her chicks what eat and how to do it. She shows them by picking up bits of food and putting it down again in front of them all the while clucking in a supportive way. She also scratches at the ground with her feet moving the straw to show where she has put the food. This teaches them how to grub for insects in the future and the little ones soon learn to follow her example.

Isn’t nature wonderful?

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