Friday, September 4, 2009

Natural Chick Hatching

Somewhat akin to natural child birth, natural chick hatching is when the mother brings forth the baby in her own way, of her own accord.

We've been attempting this for 3 years with no success. Lots of laying going on but no sitting.

This year, one of our hens, Iggy, sat.

She has been sitting for almost a month, hardly moving from the back corner of the coop. She looks surprisingly good for not taking very good care of herself for so long.

Then, the first chick hatched and I, as the omniscient human, thought I should take over... and it all went awry from there:

I had several concerns about her location.  It was in a back corner of the coop where:

1) She and the chicks would have to go around a corner and down a ramp to get outside.  Fine for her but this meant that the chicks would not see daylight for some weeks as they'd be too small to traverse the steep ramp.

2) The rooster or other hens would attempt to harm the chick. 

3) Iggy would have to expend precious energy to defend her chick.  Historically I've often had to rescue chicks from a full grown chicken.  This is initially why we built the temporary chick cage in the first place.

4) The pen is enclosed to keep predators out.  This means that on the days when we go out or the hawks are flying, we don't let the chickens out to free range.  The means that they have, over time, scratched up any greenery in the pen.  I thought that it would be better if Iggy and the chick(s?) had immediate access to fresh grass, etc.

5) She's so far inside that she doesn't have access to the wide range of food that she would if I put her in the chick pen that is placed on open fresh grass.

And so I began my human planning.

I thought that an old plastic bin tipped on it's side, inside the temporary check pen would be great because it would provide a good wind barrier.

I cut a hole in a bin lid so that she wouldn't be hit by the wind from any direction.  I also thought that the sun would keep the bin so nice and warm that Iggy would have more breaks and be able to walk around outside while the eggs stayed inside, all nice and "cozy".

So I put some wood shavings in the bin and very carefully transferred all the eggs to the bin, trying not to change the position of them.  (To anyone who doesn't know, a chicken arranges and rearranges eggs all day long and does not stop until she feels that they are each in exactly the proper position.)

I even made sure to lift her up and make sure the eggs right under the middle of her, would end up in the middle when I put her in the bin.  As I took the middle eggs out from under her, she began to roll the edge eggs underneath her.  Of course, this resulted in some human confusion on my part.  Nevertheless, I continued putting the rest of the eggs in the bin and finally but Iggy on top of them.  I closed up the bin and brought the whole thing out to the temporary chick pen.

I must mention here that as I was transferring all these eggs, I was surprised at how very cool it was in the coop where she was sitting.  Being a dark, back corner, I was surprised she had even hatched one egg successfully.  Of course, the coop IS a wooden structure that is INSIDE a garage that is COVERED from exposure to the sun by a couple of very large maple trees.

But we all know that the books say that there must be constant warmth for eggs in order for them to hatch.  And to keep chicks alive, you stand a better chance if you put them in almost sauna-like conditions.  We've seen this happen with our purchased incubator chicks over the years.  The hotter the room we keep them in, the more likely it is that they survive.

I felt sure that Iggy would be much happier in this hot, grassy environment I was moving her to.

Well, within 24 hours she was pushing her chick out the door and had cracked open two of her eggs, showing that the chicks had died within.  She was also leaving her eggs all over the place and not arranging them as precisely  and closely together, as I was used to seeing her do.

Next thing I knew, she was outside the bin, with her feathers all fluffed, flapping like there was a predator in the pen.

I ran over and could see nothing amiss.  So I put her back in and then,  looking at her, realized that her wattles were no longer red and puffy.  They were now shriveled and white-ish.  She was PANTING!  It's hard to make a chicken pant.

She had been doing fine in the cool, draft free coop but was now overheated and dehydrated.  AND I had put her in the horrible position of having to push her chick out and get out herself.  I had created a homeless family!

So, I took the lid off and, realizing that it was still too hot with the sun beating down on the plastic container, I spread a double bed cover over the top of the cage.

I went out every half hour to make sure she was drinking and within a couple of hours her wattles were red an puffy again.  During this time, she had rearranged her eggs so that they were all close together and easily within her reach once again.

Once, when I went out, the chick was at the edge of the bin, peeping.  I was happy to witness Izzy push aside a couple of eggs that were blocking the chick's path to her and then stand up so that the chick could climb under her.  She then pull the two eggs back underneath her as well.

A few hours later, in the tremendous heat of the evening sun, it was still lovely and cool in the bin but getting a bit drafty.  Izzy let us know about her unhappiness by clucking loudly.  So, we put the lid back on and now, with the bed cover remaining over the cage, the bin is much closer to the coop environment and Izzy is resting beautifully again with her eggs and her chick.

It's our last hope that because she has not cracked open all the eggs, they are still viable.

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