Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fifi rocks! Or, how to hatch eggs in the worst winter weather.

Late last spring we bought a bantam silkie pair and dubbed them Fifi and Mr. Fluff. Fifi almost immediately began to lay and went broody. In early June she hatched one bantam silkie pullet, Peep, two DominiqueX pullets, Brayer and Ares, and one AmeraucanaX cockerel, Squirrel. (We added fertile eggs to her clutch from the chickens in the portable electric netting as Mr. Fluff doesn't seem up to the task of covering the full-size backyard girls.)

After weaning* the first batch, Fifi went on to set another clutch resulting in two more DominiqueX pullets, Checkers and Chess, and one AmeraucanaX pullet, Bronwyn, hatching out in mid-September. Those are just now beginning to lay. Every day or two we find another mid-size egg (between Peep's bantam-size egg and the regular backyard girls eggs) in the nest box.

In mid-January, Fifi became broody again. She began gathering eggs, mainly hers and Peep's, around her and seemed prepared to set another batch. My mom was rather disappointed that we were unwilling to allow Fifi to keep her own eggs for hatching but as we can only house so many chickens around here, we wanted to increase the chance that any hatching chicks would be able to stay "at home" and not have to be sold as would be likely should we hatch more bantams. Thus DH gathered eggs from the electric net chickens and subbed them for Fifi's stash.

He was concerned that the eggs he placed this time, tho fertile, wouldn't have much chance of hatching, tho, as only one was still warm when he gathered it. The temps that week were hitting 0F. at night and seldom rising above 20F during the day. We had at least one egg freeze in the nest box before it could be collected. Didn't seem like the best time to be hatching but try telling that to a broody hen!

Fifi did her job as usual, however, and on Wednesday of this week DH spotted a little yellow head popping out from under her wing to see what was going on when he gathered eggs. It wasn't until Friday that we knew for sure she had two chicks. (DS is holding Fifi and DH has the two chicks in the photo.)

She'd started out with four eggs but late last week I found one egg pushed out of her nest, a foot or more away from her. It was cold and she made no demur when I picked it up. I wasn't positive it even had been under her until I checked it's contents and found what to me appeared to be a perfectly formed chick. Since she didn't object to my taking the egg I have to think she'd discarded it for some reason but don't know that for sure or why she would. And Wednesday, when DH spotted the first chick, he also found a still damp but out-of-the egg chick that was no longer living. Again, we don't know what happened to it tho we'd found one in the same condition from her second hatching, too. Nature can be hard sometimes but I wish I knew if it was something I could prevent in the future.

For now, Fifi and her two chicks are doing fine and we moved them into their own pen this morning so they can go in and out without worry of stray cats or other wildlife which can get into the backyard even tho it is fenced. Plus the other hens won't bother them nor eat all their feed as they're wont to do.

Our recent snow is melting as temps are expected to hit 55F. or even 60F. by tomorrow. If nighttime temps drop back to the teens, we can put a heat lamp in Fifi's house but when I looked out a few minutes ago she had already led the little chicks outside for a browse in the sunlit grass. Since this is her third time in the chick pen, I think she's comfortable with it and will go on to raise another fine brood of chicks. I'm just hoping they're both pullets...

*What is the correct term for when the mama hen begins to ignore her rapidly growing chicks?

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