Miniature chickens

Chicks up closeIt’s been quite a week on the Smallholdings, with five chicks currently warming themselves, eating crumb, drinking water and dashing around in their brooder and another smaller two in our Blue Peter-style plastic box version, also under a lamp, but still dining on mashed up hard-boiled yolk and white. They are, hopefully, just a little behind their older siblings – I noticed that the pair had also started feathering up, which is a good sign.

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Hopefully, in a matter of months, our brood of seven chicks will grow into magnificent Ixworths like this fine specimen

To think that when James hatched them out they looked bedraggled and helpless, lying on the floor of the incubator is incredible – they now seem to be fully functioning miniature Ixworths now. When I had a little time to reflect on the whole process, I thought how lovely it was that the eggs from our flock of hybrids are sustaining the new deliveries in the first few days of their lives – and us, our friends and family, of course! I’m now looking forward to a weekend of chick-watching (among other doing things, of course!).

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Operation hatch: A life too short

The famous five get acquainted with the new feeder
The famous five get acquainted with the new feeder

Sadly, the smallest chick was looking very weak last night and despite our optimism, his abnormal abdomen and tiny body were clearly causing problems. We hand-fed him some hard-boiled egg, which was eaten reluctantly, and we noticed he was either lying down, standing shakily or staggering about. My mother came to see the brood and have some supper with us, so while I prepared our food she continued to try to give him, and the other, stronger late-comers, a little nourishment. Later, we de-pasted the bigger chicks in the main brooder however (two or three had slightly messy vents), with James cupping each in his hand so their fluffy yellow bottoms facing me, I washed the minuscule droppings away with damp, warm cotton wool. We looked in on the little guy and it was obvious that he was suffering and that he’d only become worse. The sturdier pair also seemed to be picking on him and the thought of him being bullied while being so defenceless was too much to bear. James, Mum and I were all in agreement that ending his life was the kindest thing to do. Thankfully, James is able to perform such tasks – I would like to think that if he wasn’t here I could do it, too, but I’m not so sure. At times like that, I always get the feeling that I’m a fraud, not a real henkeeper, let alone smallholder, being unable to put an animal out of its misery. James buried him down at the end if the garden where he would eventually have been kept should he have survived, which I thought was lovely. We had known it was likely that he was wouldn’t live, but you always like to think you can make animals better, so I couldn’t help shedding a few tears over this tiny creature.

IMG_20140327_061250What is remarkable is the two chicks James took out if their shells (above) seem to be eating well and growing nicely, so although we aren’t assuming they are out of the woods yet, they are lucky to still be with us several days on. I am looking forward to being around more at the weekend and able to check on them regularly. Below is a mini film of the gang of five acquainting themselves with the new chick crumb feeder – they genuinely seem to grow overnight!

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Operation hatch: Breakfast is served

A small platter (in reality, a Tupperware lid) covered with a mix of boiled egg and chick crumb, created a great deal of excitement among the five strongest hatchlings this morning. I can’t believe how much they’ve grown in just a handful of days – their feathers are beginning to come through and they’re preening themselves, too. The remarkable little birds scoot about at a staggering speed, but interestingly this clutch seem less timid than our class of 2010 – they would dart away from our hands every time we went in to give them their health checks or top up their food. But the miniature Ixworths are far easier to handle, which is a great help when you’re trying to check their vents for any signs of mess. If a chick is ‘pasted-up’, the hatching term for a bit of a blockage, we remove it with a little warm water and some cotton wool – but again this crowd are clean as a whistle in this area, which apparently means that the brooder temperature is right and they’re not getting too cold, plus the fact we needn’t perform this task is a great time saver when we’re flying around getting ready for work!

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Last night we set up another brooder (below), Blue Peter-style, in a large plastic box and with a spare lamp, for the three weaker chicks, who until then had been in the incubator. So far, despite looking a little poorly and small, they are doing well and appear to be eating, including taking some boiled egg from our hands. I hope that they’ll soon be well enough to join their feistier siblings but only when they’re strong enough to contend with their antics. I’d really appreciate some views from other henkeepers about similar experiences with weaker hatchlings and any tips available are very welcome.

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Operation hatch: A helping hand

The three chicks in our brooder were getting on famously when we returned home last night. Warming themselves under the lamp, eating tiny pieces of boiled egg, drinking independently and dashing around trying out their legs – it’s amazing how capable they are at just a day old. This was a delight to see and over in the incubator there was even more action. Two of the latest deliveries were becoming stronger and had fluffed up beautifully, so we placed them in the brooder with their older siblings. The most recent hatchling remained in the incubator as he wasn’t yet strong enough to socialise with the others.

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Staggeringly, three days after they were due to hatch, two more eggs were showing all the signs of an attempted escape. Whether you assist or not is a contentious topic – last time we incubated, back in 2010, we helped a tiny chick out if its shell and he lived for only a week, sadly. Yesterday, we talked through the pros and cons as we looked on at their efforts and eventually decided that, if left, they would probably die in the shell, being such late comers, so it was best we take the risk. I held the incubator lid hovering over the box so as to protect the eggs and the tiny chick (who had hatched but wasn’t yet strong enough to go into the brooder) from draughts and maintain maximum humidity and heat while James did a brilliant job in very carefully taking away the shell and dampening the membrane beneath, eventually releasing each small, bedraggled and very tired hatchling. They were both a little bloody and showed some abnormality around their vents, but we wanted to give them a chance. When we headed to bed, the two latest deliveries were looking unlikely to make it. This morning, however, they are fluffier (see below) and hopefully going to be healthy, but we will take a view this evening – we don’t want them to suffer if their organs aren’t fully formed. But their slightly older brother may well be ready to join the other gang tonight. To be continued…

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Operation hatch: The famous five

It’s been a slow and steady race to the finishing line for our class of 2014 – more tortoise than hare, I’d say. But what a great couple of days. The surprise was not having any chicks emerge on Saturday, which was their due date, but waking up to one yesterday morning (we ate our breakfast watching it tumbling about) and then returning from our walk with the dogs a few hours later to see another bedraggled specimen, exhausted from its efforts, beside the fragments of its shell. Another surprise delivery broke out of its packaging, which hadn’t betrayed the activity inside. With no visible holes on top, the shell must have been broken underneath. We tore ourselves away to do some much-needed DIY and by 6pm the three miniature Ixworths were fluffing up nicely.

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Just as we were about to head to bed another damp, tired little creature managed to force its way out of the egg and was inevitably knocked about by its hours-older siblings. We decided to set up the brooder (a metal cage with a warming lamp above and a corrugated cardboard lining) so we could transfer the stronger chaps and let the newest one find his feet. This allowed us to clear the empty, broken shells, freeing up more room. Being careful to not lift the incubator lid for too long (which would lower both temperature and humidity), we scooped up the cheeping inhabitants and placed them inside their new home. We dipped their beaks in water (showing them how and where to drink) and checked the thermometer before retiring for the evening.

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Having boiled an egg last night for their first post-shell meal (this seemed odd when we first read about it, but someone pointed out that it is, of course, similar to their nourishment in the shell), we headed in this morning to give the trio breakfast when we discovered that yet one more little beauty had hatched out, looking rather worse for wear.

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We had to leave for work shortly after so I’m hoping by the time we get back tonight it will be fighting fit! Needless to say, I’ll be clocking off promptly tonight!

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