Surprise Momma

August 23, 2017

We have a new momma at the farm, this time around it’s a chicken momma, and we have four new chicks as well. I had thought we were done hatching chicks for the summer, but this lady had other plans. Every year I have a chicken or two that decides she wants to hatch some chicks and starts hiding a secret stash of eggs in the bushes, I first wrote about it in Outsmarted by a Chicken. We only have a few patches of bushes in the chicken yard, so you would think it would be pretty easy for me to notice this was happening and put a stop to it. Well, that’s easier said than done. I guess between all of the chicken, turkey, garden, and bee chores, I just kinda forget to look in the bushes for hidden eggs as often as I should. So it happened again this year, and I stumbled upon a nest with 18 eggs in it. I had been hoping to add a few more chickens to the flock this spring, but it just didn’t work out as planned despite giving eight chicken eggs to the turkey mommas to hatch and buying several chicks for another of our turkey momma wannabes, and we only ended up with three new chickens and of course one of them is a rooster. So I took the opportunity to let this broody chicken continue to set on her eggs. I removed four eggs and left her with 14 eggs. I cracked open the four eggs I took from her nest to try to get an idea of how long she had been setting on them so I could estimate when they would hatch. They hardly had any embryo development – and before you get grossed out, the embryo consists of a tiny network of veins for the first several days and I was pretty sure that was how long she had been setting on them. Based on what I saw, I calculated the approximate hatch date which would be 21 days from when she started setting.

We have a separate brooder area in the chicken coop where we can put broody hens while they are setting on their eggs to keep them from being disturbed and to keep other hens from adding eggs to their nest or otherwise interfering with the nest when the broody hen leaves the nest for a few minutes a day to eat, drink, and poop. The only downside to putting the broody hen in the smaller brooder enclosure inside the coop is that with the heat wave we had recently I was worried that she would overheat in the coop. The area where she had made her nest was in the shade under a bunch of ferns and shrubs, and I felt it was healthier for her to continue to set her eggs outside where it would be several degrees cooler than inside the coop. Plus she could get up to take care of her business when she needed too, and it would involve less micro-managing on my part since I wouldn’t have to remove her from the enclosed brooder once a day and wait around for her to do her business and go back to the coop. My plan was to move her into the brooder enclosure when it was a couple of days before her hatch date. She surprised me by having her chicks start hatching the day before I was planning to move them. I didn’t want to move her mid-hatch in case it disrupted the hatch. I decided I would move the momma and chicks the next morning. I came out in the morning, and momma had four chicks under her. She still had six eggs under her (four had gotten broken during the first week she was setting on them), so I decided to let her continue setting on them for a little while longer to see if any more would hatch. When I returned a few hours later, the momma hen had moved a couple of feet away from the nest. She had her chicks under her, but the unhatched eggs were abandoned. I picked them up to inspect them, five had no sign of hatching and I brought them into the house to candle them to see if they were developing and it turns out they were not. But the sixth egg had a tiny hole in the shell and was pipping which means that the chick inside is starting the process of hatching out of the egg.

Let me just stop here and say that although the story does have a happy ending, the next part of the story is about a sad lesson learned, but one that is a part of farm life. I held the pipping egg in my hand and I put it to my ear, I could hear the faint tap, tap, tap of the chick pecking the shell with its beak. It was the first time I had experienced this, and it was amazing. Oh how I wish that I had brought that egg inside the house and put it under a heat lamp while it continued to hatch, but I thought that it would be better off hatching under momma so I put the egg back under her. I had read things about the membrane getting stuck to the chick when the humidity was not correct, possibly resulting in the chick getting shrink wrapped and suffocating, and I didn’t want to risk anything going wrong by bringing the egg inside. I went back inside the house for a bit, I’m not sure how long exactly, but I think it was only a couple of hours. I was at the kitchen sink when I saw a commotion in the chicken yard, there was lots of chasing and my heart instantly sank. I ran outside to see one of the chickens with an eggshell in her beak being chased by the other chickens. Then I saw another chicken with something dark hanging from her beak, I knew instantly that it was a baby chick. At first I thought it was one of the four chicks that had already hatched, and I screamed NOOOOO at the top of my lungs. As I drew near I could see that it was a newly hatched chick. The pipping egg had hatched remarkably quickly, much sooner than I had expected. The chick must have been lying in the bushes, wet and tired from hatching out of its egg, when some of the other hens found it and in their ancestral dinosaur ways, they did something awful to it. At that point, I knew it was time to move the others to safety, and I quickly relocated the momma and her four chicks into the brooder inside the coop. The chicks are now nine days old, and everyone is doing well. This morning momma took her little ones out to the chicken yard for the first time, and although there were a few curious onlookers, and a few small scuffles between momma and the others as she reasserted her place in the pecking order, it all went well. I will let momma and her littles out for short periods of supervised time in the chicken yard for the next week or so, and then they will probably be ready to join the flock full time. The four chicks are a beautiful range of different colors, and I look forward to seeing how they feather out, and how many girls and boys we have in the mix.