Some of you already know this, but my buff cochin bantam hen had gone broody a few weeks ago. Well, it must have been a good 3 weeks (21 days) ago now because when Brent went to put up the chickens last night and collect eggs, he heard a distinct peeping! First we found Sunshine tucked in the far right back corner of the coop where she was determinedly nestled down in the fine nest she had made for herself. Upon further investigation, we found one little darling peep bouncing around her mama! What a good mama she seems to be, too! She is still diligently sitting on two more eggs so we will wait a couple more days to see if anyone else emerges!
Actually, I think it was our other bantam silver Sebright hen, Pipsqueak, who originally carved out that corner for a nest and tried to sit broody over some eggs. Brent kept fetching them from her every day and so she eventually gave up. When Sunshine next went broody, Brent took pity on her and let her keep three of her own eggs as an experiment to see what would happen. I mean, of course it seems obvious what would happen but it is really seems like such a miraculous thing to just sort of happen on its own without us big important (meddling) humans helping things along!
The popularity of this nest for laying makes it difficult for us to determine whose eggs she is sitting on because many of our chickens like to come along and shove Sunshine out of the way to lay their own eggs each day. Because of their size and color, we know for sure they are either hers or our other bantam cochin, Cinnamon’s. Each day we would collect all the other eggs and leave only the three cochin eggs that were marked. This made it easy not confuse the newly laid cochin eggs with the ones she had already begun incubating.
We were not sure whether to leave her and her peep in the coop among the other hens overnight or not because we were afraid they may injury or kill the new little one. We figured we had three options. 1. We could leave them put and hope for the best. Since chickens are well known for pecking order disputes in which the weakest get creamed, the risks of this choice are obvious. 2. We could remove Sunshine, the peep, the nest and the rest of the eggs and put them in the large dog kennel set up to be a coop of their own. The problems with this choice were, where to put the kennel and how hard would it be to reintegrate Sunshine and her peeps with the rest of the flock in a couple weeks? 3. Finally, we could try to fashion a coop within the main coop so that they could have protection but still be in close proximity to the rest of the flock to ease estrangement issues. We were losing light and the mosquitoes were biting so we settled on option 1. Afterall, after dark our chickens seem to do little more than sleep anyways so we figured they would be safe until morning …and they were!
This morning we left the other hens out to free-range as per usual and we let Sunshine stay on her nest with her new peep beside her. This worked out fine until we let the roosters out. Seems they have gotten in the habit of paying Sunshine repeated visits as she is helpless to fight them off in her current state. We managed to chase all but one of them off. Mr. Frizzle, one of our white silkie roos seems to have taken it upon himself to hang around and keep Sunshine company. Perhaps he’s the dad?
The next problem arose when it was time for the hens to lay for the day. Those that usually like to share Sunshine’s nest were persistent at doing so again today. We did not want them back there in case they would accidentally or purposely hurt the peep.
Brent had to erect a make-shift chicken wire fence to portion off the back end of the coop to try to provide the new little family with some privacy. Eyebrows, our Ameraucana was not at all pleased and tried repeatedly to force her way past the fencing in order to make it to her usual nesting spot. You’ll notice in the picture that we set her up with her own feed and water station. We were poorly prepared for this hatch and therefore did not have any chick starter mash on hand. Egg layer is only good for laying birds so we mashed up some game bird feed (high protein) and filled the feeder with that. Brent was lucky enough to observe Sunshine showing her peep how to use the feeders! She seemed to catch on pretty quickly, too! The nice thing about this set-up is that it allows Sunshine and the peep to be exposed to the rest of the flock day and night in a way that everyone can become accustomed to the sight and sound of the new addition so that when Sunshine is ready to venture out to free-range with her clutch, there will be less likelihood of integration issues.
Seeing as I live in a suburban setting and already have my hands (and coop) full of 9 assorted hens and 5 assorted roosters, some people have asked why on the good green Earth would we even entertain the idea of raising up more peeps?! I guess it really comes down to sustainability again. Chickens don’t lay eggs forever. In fact, the best laying years for chickens occur until they are about 3 depending on breed and after that their egg production begins to drop off noticeably. So if you want to guarantee a constant supply of eggs, you have to plan to replace your flock every couple few years. And of course in order to replace your flock you can either buy peeps from suppliers or you can let your chickens raise their own. This time around we did not need to raise up more to replace our current flock yet but we wanted to experiment to see just how easy it would be. As you can see, there are some logistics to be worked out, but otherwise the process seems to largely take care of itself!