It has been a long, sleepless night and this midwife is tired!
Yesterday noon we picked up two darling peeping chicks at the feed store, a Blue Cochin and an Ameraucana.
Cochins are the Asiatic breed fancied by Queen Victoria. Her passion for them set off a spate of “hen fever” that spread from 19th century England to the United States and had enthusiasts bidding hundreds of dollars – up to thousands in today’s currency – for breeding pairs. Eventually the passion cooled; this little one cost me just $5 and that probably included a hefty mark-up from the feed store:
Ameraucanas are popular because they are known to lay a light blue or green egg. Whether this little one is a pure Ameraucana or an “Easter Egger” mutt, I did not bother to ascertain. If she comes through with pretty eggs, I will not inquire too indelicately of her heritage; after all, I, too, am a mutt.
The CE, one-armed since a recent shoulder surgery, somehow managed to rig up a temporary “hotel” for them in an upstairs bathroom: a cardboard box with a heat lamp suspended overhead. First order of business was to make sure the little ones ate and drank. I dipped their beaks in the water and showed them their food. They caught on very quickly! The rocks in the waterer are precautionary. Baby chicks can sometimes topple into a water trough and drown.
We even did an early introduction. Soho heard the peeping and became very concerned, so I let her in on the secret. She promised not to tell the cats.
The afternoon and evening hours wore on. I noticed that the chicks were positioning themselves as far from the heat lamp as the small cardboard box would allow, so I tried raising it, and raising it again. Then I turned it off for a short period of time and returned to find them lodged together in a corner, presumably huddled to keep warm. Heat lamp on; heat lamp off, window open, window closed. It all reminded me of why it is so much better to have a broody hen do the work, because the temperature under her wings is always just right.
Under cover of darkness, around 1 a.m., we crept into the coop with a flashlight and the two chicks, and tucked the little ones beneath Bella. She croaked and shifted, but quickly settled and all seemed well. But I am a worrier, and thus, I had to stay up and check again and again to make sure nothing barbaric had transpired. I have heard tell of broodies changing their minds at the last minute and chicks not surviving to tell the tale.
I finally dozed off for an hour or two, and awoke to the faint light of dawn. Dogs out, coffee started, check on the chicks! The other hens seem to know that something is going on; they had assembled like a Praetorian guard, and Nugget even invaded Bella’s nesting cubicle to lay her morning egg. Bella will have to protect her chicks from this crew:
No sign of the little ones, and I, of course, could not leave well enough alone. I reached under the hotly protesting Bella and scooped them out for a photo op:
She clucked at me angrily, and did peck at them, but it seemed more like “get back where you belong” pecking than infanticidal pecking, so I quickly tucked them back under her wing and left them to it.
Well. Not exactly. I am still checking on them every fifteen minutes…are they eating? Are they drinking? Are they bonding?
I’ve read that when a hen hatches chicks from a clutch of eggs she keeps them under her for a day before introducing them to food and water. This is why, if you are “grafting” chicks to a broody, you need to make sure they are well fed and hydrated before you slip them beneath their adoptive mom. Also important: “adult” layer crumble has too much calcium for baby chicks so any food in the coop that they may access must be switched out to the higher protein, lower calcium balance of chick starter food.
Keeping my fingers crossed that Bella will be a beautiful mama. It’s been fifteen minutes…off to check on them again!