Farm Stories. Chapter 8. Broody Hen Adopting Incubated Chicks.

Chicks raised by mom (broody hen) are stronger than incubated ones: they seem healthier, learn faster, behave better and adapt better to the outside world. The first 5-6 weeks after hatching chicks from the incubator spend time without supervision of an adult chicken. But the hen-raised chickens are taken care of from the first day of their life.

This is why sometimes Edward-the-farmer tries to “convince” a broody-hen to adopt incubated chicks. But you need to know how to do it. Mother-hen knows her chicks, and rejects others: she can attack them and even kill them. So how to “convince” her to adopt others, and not of her chicks?

First of all, the time ⏲️ of hatching of eggs on which the hen sits, and the eggs in the incubator must be the same. When Edward-the-farmer notices a hen ready to sit on the eggs, and this is the right time of year for incubation, he begins a new incubation.

The world is not perfect. Sometimes chicks in an incubator hatch first. In this case, Edward-the-farmer will place the chicks from the incubator in a cage with a heating element. He will wait until the eggs under the hen start to hatch. One day later Edward-the-farmer will move incubated chicks to the hen. But sometimes chicks under the hen hatch first. In this case, broody hen will accept other chicks during only two days.
In both cases, chicks are introduced to a hen at night ☪️ when the hen does not see them. And she takes them all! We are lucky that the chickens do not know the math: a broody hen can not compare the number of eggs on which she sat, with the number of small fluffy chicks surrounding her now!

On the photo you can see a black banty hen Julia. She was a perfect mom . She had a record for eggs’ hatching, and took an amazing care of her own chicks as well as the adopted ones. Her chicks were always very clean, well fed, healthy and good behaving. Julia was killed by a mink-predator with all her last hatched chicks at the autumn of 2017. R.I.P. Julia!

Julia-the-broody-hen

Julia-the-broody-hen

Farm Stories. Chapter 7. When the Chicks Hatch.

What happens when little baby-chicks hatch from eggs? New hatched chicks need heating available any moment.

  • After being hatched, they stay in our house for a couple of weeks, in the rabbit cage, with a heating plate installed there.
  • Little chicks in the rabbit cage with a heating plate

    Little chicks in the rabbit cage with a heating plate

    New-born chicks

    New-born chicks

  • When it gets warmer outside, we transfer them to our backyard to chicken coops with a heating lamp.
  • When they become 5-6 weeks old, they don’t need heating anymore, and we move them to the farm.
  • Usually, when on the farm, one of the adult roosters become their “teacher” ‍who keeps them warm on cold nights. He also teaches them basic chicken skills and safety behavior such as how to scratch the earth and find insects, not be afraid of humans feeding you, to run away from a predator when it approaches you, and so on.

    The teacher and his young students

    The teacher and his young students

    When little chicks grow up, approximately at the age of 4-5 months, the young roosters start to sing and sometimes to fight with each other and even with their “daddy-the-teacher”, young hens start laying eggs (very small at first), and that’s the sign that their childhood is over .

    They get split the same way as other adult chickens on our farm: the hens are kept together with one rooster to 5-6 hens, and the rest of the rooster are relocated to the “roosters only” coops.

Farm Stories. Chapter 6. Chickens. Harry, Ron and Hermione.

We name some of our chickens.

  • Harry, Ron and Hermione trio was one of our first attempts to hatch chicken eggs in incubator.
  • The trio hatched in spring 2016.
  • Harry (black), Ron (white) and Hermione (brown) as baby chicks

    Harry (black), Ron (white) and Hermione (brown) as baby chicks

  • They lived in our house in a rabbit cage together with a rabbit who loved these baby chicks.
  • Once, when we were feeding them, Ron ran out of the cage, and started running around the house. It took us a while to catch him and place back in the cage.
  • When the trio grew up and was introduced to the chicken flock, they stayed together and kept their friendship.
  • Harry, Ron and Hermione as teens

    Harry, Ron and Hermione as teens

  • Harry, pure ameraucana blood, died at young age (no dark magic involved!).
  • Ron, the mix of a white-laying hen and an ameraucana rooster, was the most active chick in this trio. He became an alpha-rooster of the entire flock by the end of 2016.
  • Hermione became a nice brown-ish ameraucana hen.
  • Harry, Ron and Hermione as young adults

    Harry, Ron and Hermione as young adults.

Farm Stories. Chapter 5. Chickens’ Incubation.

The chickens are very fragile, they die from various diseases, from predators attacks, from old age, and so on.
In average, they stop laying eggs when they become four years old.
But we need a certain amount of eggs for our customers, so we need a certain quantity of laying hens.
To compensate loses, we need some new chickens every year. We cannot rely on broody hens as they are not many, so we incubate eggs to grow new chicks.

One of our incubators

One of our incubators

It takes 21 days for a fertilized egg to hatch in the incubator – the same as if a hen sat on it.
We start incubation in February and finish in April so the chicks grow through the summer to maturity by winter.
Incubation is not a simple process. The eggs should be turned at least twice a day. The temperature, humidity and ventilation are crucial factors.
It’s so hard to resist not to open the incubator when the first chick hatches! But we need to be very patient, and wait for up to two days until the rest hatches as well. Otherwise, we can lose those chicks who didn’t hatch yet.

A new born baby chick

A new born baby chick

Farm Stories. Chapter 4. Chickens. A Broody Hen – what is that?

A broody hen is a chicken that has decided to sit on and hatch a clutch of eggs.
The eggs may be fertilized or unfertilized, the hen will sit on them anyway. On our farm the most of the eggs are fertile.
The broody hen will sit on the eggs for 21 days, day and night, leaving only once daily to eat, drink and poop.

A broody hen sitting on eggs

A broody hen sitting on eggs

Some breeds are more prone to going broody than others. On our farm, we have silkie hens as a good example of a breed prone to broodiness.

Our days a broody hen is very rare. Why so? A broody hen is not a productive hen: she stops laying new eggs when she is setting on the eggs for 21 days before they hatch and through the rearing stage of the chicks which may take about 2-3 additional months. Since commercial poultry farms are production oriented, they cannot accept a hen being non productive for 3 months. Hence commercial production farms choose breeds that are not prone to broodiness.
On our farm, when Edward-the-farmer notices that a hen wants to sit on eggs, he will dedicate an isolated chicken tractor to her, will migrate her there with eggs, and will patiently wait until the eggs hatch.

Bovan hen

Taking care of baby-chicks

Farm Stories. Chapter 3. Chickens Various Breeds and Eggs

We have many chicken breeds on our farm: banty, silkie, phoenix, leghorn, ameraucana, bovan and chantecler and all possible mixes of these breeds.

Silkie hen with baby chicks

Silkie hen with baby chicks

Phoenix chickens

Phoenix chickens

Bovan hen

Bovan hen

Banty hen

Banty hen

 
We keep chickens for eggs. Different chicken breeds lay eggs of different color, size and even shape! Hence we have white, brown and green eggs and all possible shades of these colors like for example beige, pink-ish, blue-ish, and so on.

Eggs of different shapes

Eggs of different colors and shapes

Various eggs

Eggs of different colors

  • Silkie, chantecler and phoenix lay coffee eggs relatively small in size
  • Ameraucana hens lay medium size green eggs
  • Bovan chickens are responsible for large brown eggs
  • Leghorn hens lay large white eggs
  • Banty are in charge for small beige eggs
  • But when we have a large green egg or a small brown egg, it’s a logical riddle to identify the mix of breeds that produced it

Why are the eggs different colors? In nature colored eggs are easier to hide in grass. So some chickens preserved their ability to lay colored eggs. They all taste very similar – there is almost no difference based on egg color.

Farm Stories. Chapter 2. Chickens Winter Routine and Migrations.

  • Chickens are cold tolerant, but they need protection from wind and drafts. That is why in the winter they cannot live in their summer mobile chicken coops. To conserve heat, chickens live together in large flocks in the barn, sharing it with goats and sheep.
  • Sheep_and_hen_together_In_the_barn

    Chickens and sheep are sharing the barn.

  • Being in a barn, chickens form new families ‍‍‍. At night chickens from the same family stay close on perches.
  • Chicken_barn

    Chickens in the chicken barn, seating on their perches.

  • In the winter, the farm routine is slightly different from summer routine: in the morning Edward-the-farmer feeds his chickens with grains and kitchen scraps, fills their waterers with fresh water, cleans the nests and changes the bedding. In the evening, Edward-the-farmer feeds them again and collects eggs.
  • Chicken_barn

    Chickens scratch the bedding.

  • Twice a year, Edward-the-farmer migrates chickens. Migration usually occurs at night when chickens are sleeping. This is done in order to reduce the stress on the chickens, which may be caused by migration and a new place. Migration is a long process that takes several hours.
  • In the fall, chickens are moved from chicken coops to the barn. It takes several days to two weeks for the chickens to settle in the barn. Roosters may even fight to establish a new hierarchy.
  • In the spring chickens are transferred from the barn to mobile chicken coops. During the migration, Edward-the-farmer ensures to keep together chicken families. This spring, for the first time, several volunteers helped us move our chickens from the barn to the chicken coops. It took two days until all the chickens were migrated.
  • Chickens_migration

    Chickens migration in spring 2019

Farm Stories. Chapter 1. Chickens – Overview and Summer Routine.

We start with a series of short stories about our farm and farm animals.
The first story will obviously be about our chickens, who are veterans of our farm.   

  • We have about a total of hundred hens, roosters and chicks
  • Chickens live on average 5-8 years, but so far on our farm the longest survivor has lived 4 years as that’s how long we grow chickens.
  • Chickens are omnivorous, like humans. They eat almost everything: grains and grass, fruits and veggies, insects and kitchen scrap.
  • Young hens usually lay 2 eggs in 3 days or 1 egg every 26 hours. They lay far fewer eggs in the winter. Older hens lay eggs less frequently. Hens start laying eggs when they are about 6 months old.
  • In summer, chickens live in mobile chicken coops or tractors in families of several hens and one rooster.
  • Mobile chicken coop

    Mobile chicken coop

  • Every morning, as part of the morning farm routine, Edward-the-farmer moves the chicken coops so that the chickens have access to fresh grass, insects and worms, which are their main source of calcium. At the same time, Edward-the-farmer feeds his chickens with grains and fills their waterers with fresh water.
  • Every evening, as part of the evening farm routine, Edward-the-farmer collects eggs, cleans the nests and, if necessary, changes the bedding.
  • Edward moving the coop

    Edward moving the coop

Report for the year 2017

By the end of 2016 it became clear that chickens have the best potential of all activities so far. So 2017 became a year of the chicken!

 

Ava February 2017

Training the chicken- guard dog, Ava.

"Recycling" after - cage chickens. Many of them died soon, but many survived and laid eggs from June to december

“Recycling” after – cage chickens. Some of them died soon, but many survived and laid eggs from June to December

Ava guards chickens, march 2017

Ava guards chickens, march 2017

After loses of 2015- 2106. I decided to build chicken tractors, as a protection. They showed their efficiency later.

After loses of 2015- 2016. I decided to build chicken tractors, as a protection. They showed their efficiency and versatility later.

First incubation of 2017

There were many incubation attempts. Though the hatching rate was 20 – 30%, I learned a lot: dry incubation, better incubator insulation, better temperature control.

Many chicks hatched in 2017, but the best survivors were the first ones. Rabbits escaped later from a chicken tractor and disappeared.

Many chicks hatched in 2017, but the best survivors were the first ones. Rabbits escaped later from a chicken tractor and disappeared.

Many chicks were lost during the flood of May 2017.

Many chicks were lost during the flood of May 2017.

An attempt to interplant garlic with potatoes didn't yield much potatoes. Mostly because of luck of care.

An attempt to interplant garlic with potatoes didn’t yield much potatoes. Mostly because of luck of care.

Chicken tractors appeared to be very convenient to keep chicks with a broody hen.

Chicken tractors appeared to be very convenient to keep chicks with a broody hen.

chicken tractor in field

Chicken tractors performed really well in open field.

moles infestation

While chickens were doing well, worms got a problem – moles. I caught 8 of them with bare hands during the season.

Rooster with chicks

Another use of a chicken tractor and extra roosters. Roosters are good baby-sitters for chicks of 6 week and older. They teach to forage, heat chicks and sometimes are capable to protect from small predators like rats and mink.

Baby -sitter hen

My most important discovery of the year was the “golden hen”.

Hens live up to 8 – 9 years, but lay eggs only 3 – 4 years, why? My assumption is that like human grandmothers old hens can adopt ANY orphaned chicks! The only problem is how to convince the old lady… Here is a solution: chicks should be left in the chicken tractor under their heater plate. There should be no perches or other high places unaccessible for chicks inside the tractor. The hen lives in the same tractor and she sleeps in a place accessible for chicks. At night chicks “migrate” on their own under the hen’s wings. When all chicks sleep under wings and the hen starts to call them for food, heater plate can be removed! That’s it. Now this hen will accept any chicks straight from the incubator for the rest of her precious life.   She saves electricity, space, and so needed farmer’s time. She worth gold by her weight (if the dead metal can be compared to a living creature). Chicks survival rate is almost 100%. The chicken tractor can be moved to an orchard or a lawn – no electricity needed!  Picky, the hen on the picture, raised 45 chicks in one summer and died from a sickness in November…

Here is Picky with her 3rd brood of the summer.

Here is Picky with her 3rd brood of the summer.

One more use of a chicken tractor - a chick attraction for urban kids. It's easy to pack the chicks, load the tractor into a car and drive to a local market or fare.

One more use of a chicken tractor – a chick attraction for urban kids. It’s easy to pack the chicks, load the tractor into a car and drive to a local market or fare.

In October Philip came with an idea of getting goats and sheep.

In October Philip came with an idea of getting goats and sheep.

Philip built a temporary bioshelter that, in spite of some technical problems, performed very well during the very cold winter of 2017-2018.

First goats arrived. They were not in a best shape plus luck of our experience - we lost two of them by the end of November.

First goats arrived. They were not in a best shape plus luck of our experience – we lost two of them by the end of November.

Sheep arrived at the beginning of November

Sheep arrived at the beginning of November

Pond

Thanks to Philip’s help we improved the little pond at last!

By the end of November all chickens were moved to chicken coops joined together under a car shelter.

By the end of November all chickens were moved to chicken coops joined together under a car shelter.

The chicken coops didn’t perform well in the harsh winter. They need better insulation and a better chicken run shelter. We lost many chickens. Also we moved ducks into the same shelters, that might carried some deceases. Ducks themselves survived winter very well.

We got two alpine goats to compensate loses

In December we got two alpine goats to compensate loses

 

With some experience we started to walk with goats and sheep, training Ava as a shepherd dog.

With some experience we started to walk with goats and sheep, training Ava as a shepherd dog.