Introducing: Pippa and the Pips!

Three years ago, our beloved Buff Orpington, Hope, taught us the ways of a broody. We successfully “grafted” some hatchery chicks to her, one of which was our Belgian Mille Fleur d’Uccle, Pippa.

Hope and her chicks back in 2011. Pippa is the one on the left.

Hope and her chicks back in 2011. Pippa is the one on the left.

Sadly, Hope and many of her compatriots have gone on to that palatial chicken coop in the sky, and for the past six months we’ve been down to a flock of two; little Pippa and our Silkie, Luna.

Just us chickens: Luna and Pippa

Just us chickens: Luna and Pippa

When Pippa, now age three, had gone broody last summer, it was an annoyance. This year, I was praying for her to go broody so we could try to repeat the broody magic we experienced with Hope. Luckily for us, Pippa dutifully went broody a few weeks ago, growling and fussing and puffing up her feathers and refusing to leave the nest. We were thrilled!

Even though she was decisively broody, we were cautioned against giving her chicks too soon. The gestation period for hatching eggs is twenty-one days and one source we consulted was insistent that if you give baby chicks to a hen before the three week mark, she will kill the little ones. It is not uncommon for even a full-term broody hen to attack or abandon baby chicks; nature can be capricious. But we had to work around chick availability; our feed store was getting a shipment in yesterday, which put Pippa at just over two weeks in her broody cycle.

Pippa "hatching" golf balls.

Pippa “hatching” golf balls.

Leading up to the big day, we indulged Pippa in her broody ways. Since she refused to leave the nest, we “flipped the Pip” a few times a day, moving her from her clutch of golf balls over to her food and water. She would cluck in protestation, but she would eat and drink and take a little walk before returning to sit on her nest.

My research told me that a bantam hen like Pippa can only raise three standard-size chicks. Since both Pippa and Luna are very gentle and docile, I wanted to choose chicks from breeds known to have mild temperaments. Behavior varies greatly from bird to bird, but the three breeds we chose are known to be generally good-natured: Buff Orpington, Barred Rock and Ameraucauna.

We arrived at the feed store yesterday morning before the doors had even opened. I wanted to get first choice of chicks! I brought a shoe box to carry them home and I brought a list of the things we needed: a feeder, a waterer and most importantly, starter feed. Baby chicks cannot eat the grown hen’s diet of layer feed because it contains too much calcium. Pippa and Luna can eat starter feed along with the chicks until they are old enough to switch to a grower feed at about seven weeks of age.

First baby pic! L to R, the Ameraucana, Barred Rock and Buff Orpington. They are two days old.

First baby pic! L to R, the Ameraucana, Barred Rock and Buff Orpington. They are two days old.

Your best chance of enticing a broody hen to accept chicks is to slip the babies under her at night while she is less alert to the fact that her “eggs” have suddenly hatched into two-day-old chicks. So we set up a temporary cardboard box brooder as a way station for the day with food, water and a heat lamp. First order of business was to dip the babies’ beaks in the water and food and they all figured out the eating and drinking process right away. They ate like champs!

Always a good sign when they eat!

Always a good sign when they eat!

They ate, drank and dozed throughout the day. They also managed to get into trouble. Alarmed when I heard loud peeping, I rushed in and found that the little Ameraucauna had catapulted herself out of her brooder box and was separated from the other two. All three were frantic to be reunited. Lesson learned: make sure the sides of the brooder box are high enough!

I also did the necessary check for “pasty butt”, a common but problematic and potentially deadly occurrence with baby chicks. Stress and heat during the shipping process can cause their vents to become blocked and they must be manually cleared (q-tips and warm water) or the chicks may die. Staring at chicken vents is just part of a flock keeper’s job description; fortunately, these three had no problems.

Those are rocks in the water trough to assure that newborn chicks don't fall in and drown.

Those are rocks in the water trough to assure that newborn chicks don’t fall in and drown.

No names yet, but we are open to suggestions!

The Ameraucauna

The Ameraucauna

The Barred Rock - she will be black and white as an adult

The Barred Rock – she will be black and white as an adult

The Buff Orpington

The Buff Orpington

At 10 pm last night, watches synchronized, the CE and I crept into the coop with trepidation, a flashlight and the baby chicks. Pippa stirred and ruffled herself up in indignation as we stole away her beloved golf balls, clucking angrily at us and the small intruders we had set beside her. She pecked at them and our hearts sank; was she going to reject them? We held our breath and waited. Disturbed as she was, she did not appear truly homicidal, so we let the scenario play out for a few minutes. The chicks took the lead: even though they had been mail-ordered within hours of hatching, they knew a mama when they saw one and within a few minutes, despite Pippa’s seeming reluctance, they dove beneath her. Soon, all was quiet but for a few muffled peeps beneath her.

I woke with a start at 5 a.m. this morning and rushed to the coop, mentally preparing myself for either outcome: would I find a happy family or infanticide?

All was quiet. I heard not even a peep. Pippa seemed placid enough, but seeing is believing, right? As I reached beneath her I was struck by how hot her body was where she had broodily plucked feathers from her breast in preparation for keeping baby chicks warm. I lifted Pippa up and out scurried the three chicks, happy, healthy and ready to greet the day. They darted over to the feeder and waterer and then returned to the mothership, tumbling over her, pecking inquisitively at her face and finally seeking the warmth again beneath her. Pippa cluck-cluck-clucked at them, watching their every move and accepting their attentions without protest.

Just one little happy family!

Just one little happy family!

Peeking out from Mama's wing

Peeking out from Mama’s wing

There are still a few hurdles ahead – we need to re-locate mama and babies from the countertop so the little ones don’t fall off. And we need to introduce them to Luna, who is completely bewildered by the situation.

Will someone please tell me what's going on around here?

Will someone please tell me what’s going on around here?

But I am claiming a preliminary success. I just peeked in on them and Mama and babies all seem happy. Congratulations, Pippa!

Hanging out with mom...

Hanging out with mom…

We love our mom!

We love our mom!

Playing "Queen of the Hill"

Playing “Queen of the Hill”

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
This entry was posted in All Things Poultry, Big Fun, Chicken Facts, Spoiled Pets and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Introducing: Pippa and the Pips!

  1. Phyllis says:

    I stopped in Yesterday and they are the cutest ever. But, do we all say that every time you get new ones. More fun ahead to watch them grow and I hope Luna will enjoy her new siblings. Good luck to all.

  2. pollo amigo says:

    Such sweet little chicks. It will be fun to watch them grow. Good going, Mother Pippa!

  3. dizzyguy says:

    Such a treat to see the chicks attach themselves to Pippa. Now they are all thick as thieves and looking for increased action in the coop. Luna looks a bit confused by it all but shows no hostility. So the flock lives on!

  4. Mrs. G says:

    This is absolutely heartwarming! What a satisfying feeling it must be to see Luna accepting those adorable little munchkins. I vote for PEANUT, PUFF and PETUNIA.

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