Mama Hen with chicks foraging.
Now a couple of months old, the quartet of chicks is exploring farther afield. After the cold and snowy introduction to the outside world in late March, they readily follow Mama Hen outside.
Mama protects them inside from the other hens by cornering the chicks and standing literally in front of them, screening them from the others who get too close. Outside, Mama clucks and calls the chicks over for food and again, warns off the adults with a serious sounding tone and lunge toward one that may get too close to the chicks or be aggressive toward them.
Mama hen with four chicks on roost.
The chicks learned how to fly up onto the roost with Mama and she mightily shelters them at night. We were worried the first few nights in April when temperatures fell to 11 degrees. But, they did OK.
We’ve had fun allowing the California White to brood and then raise four chicks we placed under her one night. She’s been an attentive Mama showing the chicks how to eat, accept new foods, and forage outside in the snow.
Each evening she tucks them into her feathers and keeps them warm.
Here are some pictures from March. Go to Winding Pathways You Tube for short videos of the Mama Hen and chicks.
Sometimes hens go broody at the wrong time of year. February Was much too early.
The California White patiently sitting. So we bought chicks in March for her to raise.
Mama California tucks the babies in for the night.
Chicks tentatively go outside for the first time.
Baby Chicks Find a Home at Winding Pathways
Enjoying the chicks
The call from our post office came at 6 a.m. “Could you please come soon and pick up a box of peeping baby chicks,” requested the pleasant postal worker. Soon we were in the car en-route to retrieve the babies. We were excited, but the story really began months earlier.
The Girls are Getting Old
Going on their third lay cycle, the girls are getting old.
Our 13 hens were laying well but we knew they were on the downside of production. Young hens, called pullets, start laying when they are around 20 to 24 weeks old. During the approximately 14 months of their lay cycle we expect about 275 to 300 eggs per hen. Then they declare a vacation, take a break, shed their worn feathers, fatten up a bit, grow new feathers, increase their calcium, and after six or eight weeks begin their second lay cycle. They’ll produce fewer eggs this time and as they continue to age we can expect ever fewer eggs. So, about every third year we order baby chicks that grow into pullets to replace the old girls. The process takes time and requires planning.
Getting Ready for Baby Chicks
Around Christmas we began planning our new chick order. This year we cooperated with two friends. Each wanted some chicks but not a full order of 25. So, we placed a joint order with Hoover’s Hatchery in the tiny town of Rudd, Iowa. Leafing through their paper catalog and double checking their website helped us decide to order 50 chicks of diverse breeds. They’d collectively be a rainbow of feather colors and would lay light and dark brown, white, and blue/green eggs. We placed our order in January. Then, preparation really began.
Preparing for the Arrival
Keep adult chickens separate from chicks.
Our old chickens are in a coop Rich built in the corner of our small barn. We wanted to keep them until the new ones start laying in mid-summer. You don’t put baby chicks in with old ones. It just doesn’t work. Birds, like most creatures, are territorial and the old birds will kill the newcomers. The hens and chicks need to be kept apart. So, Rich made a second coop next to the existing one but separated by a wire and plywood wall. Inside the new coop, he made a large plywood box, complete with a plywood lid and two heat lamps to keep the babies warm until their feathers grew in and the weather warmed.
Hoover’s Hatchery sent a confirmation that the babies would arrive on March 15th. Gulp, the Ides of March. And, as it turned out, one of the colder days of winter.
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