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.
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/)
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 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.