Willa and I had one thing in common. We both wanted baby chicks.
Well, at least I thought she did. She’s been glued to the nest for a few weeks, ferociously broody. Ferocious being the operative word here, by the way. She drew blood on me the other day when I reached out to pull her off the nest for a walkabout. And once off the nest she would stalk around doing the weird broody clucking thing and being generally obstreperous.
Well, I thought, she will either be a very good mother or a very bad mother. My instincts told me that she isn’t emotionally suited to the task, but I really wanted a few baby chicks to age down this greying flock. (Note to self: it’s usually not a good idea to ignore your instincts…)
Off we went, with some trepidation, to the feed store.
Reminders all along the way that things can go wrong:
At the feed store we discovered that the chicks had come in a day earlier than scheduled but no one had called us. So our day-old chicks were now actually three days old. Hmmm. And they didn’t get the breed we’d requested. Hmmm. And I’ve got a certifiably crazy broody hen at home. Hmmm. Hmmm.
Did any of this stop me?
Of course not!
So home we came with a sweet little Ameraucana and a Buff Orpington.
Ameraucanas will give you the pretty green or blue tinted eggs and Buff Orpingtons are calm (never crazy!) birds that somewhat reliably will go broody. If you don’t have roosters (I’m choosing to ignore that sign at the feed store) having a reliable broody in the flock is the easiest way to add to it.
The plan was to snuggle the babies beneath Willa late last night so she would wake up this morning to motherhood. So we only needed to prepare temporary quarters. Prerequisites are a cardboard box and a heat lamp (and make sure to test the bulb ahead of time in case it needs to be replaced):
and, of course, food and water – make sure you have chick starter/grower on hand. I remembered reading long ago that when the chicks come home you should dip their beaks in the food and water so they will know what it is:
Works like a charm!
We stayed up late last night to be sure Willa would be suitably settled in and drowsy enough not to wonder what we were slipping beneath her under cover of darkness. Drowsy she was, but per usual, she pecked at us. Ferociously. But then she settled down quietly, seemingly unaware of the little peeps.
She probably slept better than I did. I checked on her at 4 a.m. and again every half hour or so. The chicks beneath her were quiet and Willa seemed content.
But when the chicks decided to come out for a sip of water, things went wrong in a hurry.
Broody hens will often peck gently at baby chicks out of curiosity. But Bella’s pecks were not inquisitive. They were ferocious. She pecked at the chicks with, I am sorry to say, murderous intent. I’ve heard about it happening. My instincts forewarned me. And now I was seeing it happen. I had to take the chicks away from her or risk tragedy.
So now we have to scramble up Plan B, which is hand raising the little ones. A much larger cardboard box, a lot more work for us, and the eventual tricky choreography of integrating the adolescent hens with the rest of the flock. We’ve done it before; we can do it again. And despite the rough treatment this morning, the little ones seem healthy and hardy.
I wished for baby chicks, and, um, well, I sure did get them. Since wishes appear to be summarily granted here, let me just make it clear that I am not, in any way, not even the teeniest of ways, wishing for roosters. Good. Glad that’s settled!