The Trouble with Hatching

This was an extraordinarily broody year on applewood farm.

At least nine of our hens went broody over the summer, resulting in a population explosion in the chicken coops.  We went from having around 24 chickens in early spring to somewhere around 60 by the end of September.

Summer is the time for broody behavior.  Chickens, like all non-human creatures, have intuition and instincts for this sort of thing and know to hatch their chicks when the weather is warm.

But, apparently, not ALL chickens know this.

"I don't know this."

“I don’t know this.”

About a month ago, one of our hens started sitting in that tell-tale I’ve-gone-broody manner.  She sat, as though laying, but then never got up… for three weeks.  If we approached her, she would puff up, making herself (at least in her mind) large and intimidating.

We’d never seen a hen go broody in the middle of October and, quite frankly, we were a bit worried about the outcome.  Chicks born into the cold of November would require non-stop care from their mama.

Would this hen be up to the task?

Because she decided to brood in the mud room of our house, we had to make other living arrangements for her once the chicks hatched.  Not wanting to integrate them into either coop for fear of bullying (a surprisingly common problem amount poultry), we settled them in to the favorite stand-by–the chicken bathhouse.  (https://applewoodfarm.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/the-bathhouse-works/)

Chicken training ground

Chicken training ground

This was the perfect compromise: protection from weather, predators, and other chickens, their own food and water, and room to scratch.  They spent the first four days in there, happily getting used to being chickens.

As luck would have it, the weather yesterday turned beautiful, so I decided to let the mama and her babes out into the wide world for a little look-see.

That’s when I noticed that one of the six little chicken nuggets was visibly not thriving.  And that’s when I remembered that we hadn’t given them medicated feed.

When we first started keeping chickens, a woman who knew we were farming organically told me (in no uncertain terms) that chicks require medicated feed for the first few weeks of their lives.  Of course, my response was incredulous and defiant (at least in my head).  No way would I use medicated feed; that’s just not the way we do things; that’s for other folks who don’t care about the condition of their soil, food, etc.

Well, that stance changes very quickly when you see how easy it is for those little, tiny puffs of poultry to become fatally ill.

The buffet in quarantine.

The buffet in quarantine.

The list of things that can kill a chick is longer than you might imagine, and only a handful of them are within our power to prevent.  So, when confronted with something preventable, we tend to act.

Because the chicks won’t be laying eggs for at least six months and because the mama won’t be laying eggs again for almost that long, we are okay with giving medicated food and electrolytes to them while they are separated in their bathhouse.

So, now they are getting what they need for a good, healthy start to life.  Hopefully, the medicine and electrolytes will do the trick to perk up the droopy chick and maintain the seeming good health of her siblings.

IMG_7620And, with the aid of some unseasonably warm weather and a little assist from the humans, this mama is gonna do just fine.

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About applewoodfarm

Restaurateur, farmer, bartender, beekeeper, friend, wife, mother, dog lover, cat tolerater, chicken hypnotizer, blogger, and sometime yogi
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8 Responses to The Trouble with Hatching

  1. canadiandoomer says:

    This is going to sound terribly contrary, but I have to say that NONE of our chickens have had medicated feed. And we were told the same as you – we’d end up losing all of our chicks. We don’t coddle any of our birds, and the newly hatched chicks are outside with their mamas within the first day or two. None of our chicks have died from anything related to their feed. (We lost a bunch by overloading a foster mom, and then we lost some when mom walked off the job and we had to stick tiny chicks with 3 week old chicks, and we’ve had losses from wildlife.) I’m not saying “You’re wrong”, but I am curious about what might cause the difference.

    I have read that a mama hen can keep her chicks safe and healthy in really awful weather. One night, when it was raining and unusually cold, one of our hens was accidentally locked outside of the hen house. In the morning we found her huddled in a corner, wet and cold and looking pretty unhappy with us. Then one by one the tiny, warm, happy chicks peeked out from under her. So as long as conditions are such that the hen won’t die, she’ll keep her chicks alive.

    • I totally agree that the mamas will keep them safe, warm, and dry, for sure. The little sick chick did end up dying today, though. This is the first chick we’ve lost to illness since the very beginning (before we started using the medicated feed to get them started). I really feel like there are some things against which the mama can’t protect. I believe that the chick would have made it if we had remembered to grab a bag of the stuff–to bolster whatever deficiency that one happened to have. Of course, there’s no way to be sure, but as an organic farmer, an anti-GMO activist, and all that goes along with that belief system, I do admit to making this exceptional choice. Call it peace of mind… I really don’t know. I guess we all just have to do the things that make us feel like we’re doing it right for us.

      Thanks so much for your input and, of course, for reading the blog!

  2. MaineFarmer says:

    …Thought it was just us overwhelmed with all the babies this year! I have been farming for almost a half-century and still wonder why some years are so much more productive than others. I swear they all got together, late last winter, and had a staff meeting on productivity. ALL the duck hens picked April 2nd to start setting and our last duck momma hatched her last batch Oct. 5th. The baby keets still need to finish getting their feathers before winter. Now we have 2 hens determined to be mommas right before Christmas! Phew. Maine got nailed with a 15″ blizzard Nov. 1st, but at least the babies stayed warm under all that “insulation”……

  3. Bill says:

    I’m envious. We only hatched two clutches this summer (14 chicks) and only 4 of them survived (and at least two of those are roosters). We lost the chicks to a fox. I’ve had some die immediately after hatching but we haven’t had any problems with illness once they’re safely dry and out of the egg. We’ve never given them medicated feed. In fact, we don’t do anything special for them except put a feeder and waterer on the ground (they’re normally elevated) so the chicks can reach them. Of course, I wouldn’t hesitate to give the the special feed in order to save their lives. Glad your broody summer went so well for you.

  4. Edith says:

    I really love reading your blog and I look forward to reading new posts from you. When I had a broody hen last summer she only hatched three chicks and never took care of them. Once they popped out of the eggs it was as if she said – “alright I’m done with this”. I have always given the young chicks medicated feed and switch to organic feed long before they are ready to start laying eggs. I don’t see anything wrong with this and I have never had a sick chicken! I’ve lost plenty to chicken hawks and foxes but that’s another story. Again, I love reading your blog, so please keep the posts coming!

  5. Cheri says:

    I love love your posts! But, I never get a notice on Twitter anymore.. Sad face..

  6. I didn’t know posts sent Twitter notices! That would be a question for WordPress… I don’t know the first thing about it. Sorry! Thanks for reading the blog 🙂

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