Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Phases of Development

First off, here's a picture of my morning harvest. Eggs for breakfast (along with zucchini bread I baked last night) and plums and blackberries to go with our lunch. So far our fruit-and-meat-off-the-farm goal is coming along nicely.

But this post isn't about fruit and meat, it's about babies. Baby chickens. Below is a picture of the place where Crazy White Hen has chosen to hatch out babies. This is the second time she has nested up in the barn attic, so we weren't taken by surprise. Last time my husband thought there was a monster rat nesting up there and went up with a club, only to find Crazy White Hen sitting indignantly on a nest of eggs under a piece of plywood. When she went missing a few weeks ago, I knew just where to look: the most dangerous stupid place ever to hatch out a brood of helpless baby chicks. Once they hatch out, there is no way to get those babies to food or water, and if they hop so much as three inches into the air, they will fall through the hole to their deaths.

I knew it had been about 3 weeks since she started sitting on her eggs, so I went up to the attic to deliver some water and food just in case. (Before the eggs hatch, Crazy White Hen leaves the nest once per day to get herself the food and water she needs and to take a dust bath. But once the babies hatch she won't leave them, and those little guys need to eat!) Poking my head through the hole is always tricky, since as soon as I do it I am exactly eye-level with where she is nesting and the perfect target for her over-protective beak. This time was no different - I stuck my head through the hole and she immediately puffed up all her feathers and screeched at me, taking a few practice lunges towards my face. But this time I saw that she had hatched out two teensy little "blonde" babies. Aren't they cute?

She was starving and lost all her motherly protectiveness once I put the food and water up there. I could have easily snatched those babies away while she wolfed down chicken scratch. But I didn't, of course. We waited until the sun went down to enact our rescue mission. (Supposedly chickens are more calm when it is dark out, but no chicken remains calm when you grab it bodily away from it's babies.) My husband and brother (both of whom are tall enough to get more than their head through the attic hole) helped me grab the little new family and move them to a much more practical ground-level apartment. The kids and I spent a nice long time this morning cooing at them and watching the babies scamper around on their spindly little legs.

I took a picture of how Crazy White Hen left her nest. There are always a few eggs that don't make it. For whatever reason, we have had about a 30% success rate on eggs hatching out. I'm always kind of sad when I think about the chicks that almost made it, but that's just the way of the chicken world. My husband cleaned up the mess and said he wants to seal it off so she can't get up there to do it again. I want him to leave it open; at least we know where she's nesting. Crazy RED Hen nests in a different mysterious spot every time. Last time (about a month ago) we found her sitting on 6 newly hatched chicks in the lavender bushes. The time before that, she had somehow gotten herself into the garage (that time didn't end well) and the time before that she hatched them in the middle of a tuft of weeds in the pasture.

Here is Crazy Red Hen with her babies - I call them tweens. They look so funny and awkward with their big-girl feathers starting to stick out amongst their baby fuzz. It always reminds me of my 7'th grade school picture - ugly and gangly but with a hint of promise. There are actually three of them, but the third scurried away as I clicked the photo.

So we currently have chickens in all phases of development. There are the newborns, there are the tweens, and there are the "young ladies": the chickens that I bought via mail-order in March who are now full-grown, though not yet laying any eggs. This is Annie, she's my favorite (don't tell the others).

And lastly there is the "Old Guard," the 5 remaining hens from my very first flock of 15. They are two now, and if I was a good economical farm girl, they would be on their way to the stew pot, since I spend much more money feeding them than they do returning the favor with eggs. But I can't do it, I love them too much.

Well, now we are much better acquainted with one another. You don't know a country girl until you know her chickens. Have a wonderful day!

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