Well, so much for worrying about the Lone Ranger. And as for assuming it’s a pullet, I take it all back! Last Saturday, James and I debated how best to introduce our smaller chick to its gang of siblings. The singleton had been one of the last to hatch – with a little extra help out of its shell, too – so naturally had some catching up to do. After its fellow late hatchlings had sadly not survived, it remained in the small brooder by itself while its boisterous older fledglings tore about at an incredible pace in their larger enclosure. Once that tiny flock had grown large enough to be kept in the henhouse, we felt it was increasingly unhealthy to keep the smaller chick apart. Who knew what kind of anti-social, dysfunctional creature we would rear if it continued to range by itself. So, at the weekend, we spent some time considering various approaches for the introduction of our smaller charge. In the end, we decided to place her in a larger brooder – which James made out of a spare run extension we had stored in the barn – with one of the gang of five for a few days and then put them both back into the flock, to decrease the chance of bullying. With the new brooder set up in the dining room (which increasingly resembles a farmyard), we transferred the chick and placed its feeder and drinker at one end. The next task was to identify the sweetest looking one of the five outside in the henhouse as its mate. We spent a few minutes observing the birds’ behaviour and chose what we thought was almost certainly a female, given that she didn’t fight as much as some of her counterparts and her tail feathers pointed downwards rather than upwards (we’re really winging it here, as I’m not sure this is a sure sign of pullet versus cockerel!). Carrying her back into the house in a plastic box and wood shavings, we next placed her in the large brooder and crossed our fingers that she wouldn’t bully her new companion.
James and I sat either side and looked on as the two acquainted themselves with each other. We weren’t remotely prepared for what came next – our supposedly defenceless chick turned out to be a prize fighter: jealously guarding the chick crumb, running up to its opponent and pecking her feet and eyes. We couldn’t subject the so-far-unharmed pullet to any more violence but at least we now knew that the Lone Ranger could hold its own. So we transferred both into the henhouse without further ado and watched eagerly as the little guy, instead of attempting blend in, fronted up to all the others and cheeped away imperiously. Surprisingly, they all seemed to take it pretty well and let him strut his stuff. Having had a growth spurt, he’s now indistinguishable from his five fellow birds – just one of the six chicks that huddle together for warmth in a pile every evening when we go to shut them up for the night. And his adopted parents couldn’t be prouder.
Our five teenage chicks have now graduated to a grown-up henhouse outside in the garden. The Lone Ranger remains in our dining room but has been promoted to the fledglings’ evacuated brooder. I’m a little concerned that she’ll have some unsociable traits, having lived by herself for around a fortnight now. She’s surprisingly tame, however, even though we don’t handle her (or the others for that matter) as much as we should in order to make them friendly. The other evening, I tentatively placed my hand into the small cage and kept it still for a couple of minutes to get her used to me before gently stroking her super-soft feathers. She stayed perfectly still, which I found quite touching – she’s a sweet little bird. These next few days are just what James and I need to catch up with simple pleasure like this. Enough time to hang out with our four small flocks – the hybrids, the two Araucanas, this little chick and the five fledglings – do the chores and see family (looking forward to a lovely long lunch at Mum’s on Sunday) – what’s not to love about Bank Holiday weekends? Any other henkeepers planning activities on a poultry theme? Whatever you do, have an eggstra HAPPY EASTER!
They’re not even three weeks old yet, but our brood can’t really be called chicks anymore. Look at them! More like gangly, scruffy teenagers than fluffy baby chickens. And, boy, are they boisterous and rapid! As soon as I put my hand in to change their feed or water, they’re pecking at my fingers and perching on my wrist. It’s wonderful to see them so strong and healthy. Our smaller charge is doing well, too. Though still around half the size of the gang of five, she (I’m convinced this one’s a pullet due to her being very gentle!) has feathered up over the past week. I should really have weaned her off boiled egg by now – she has a mix of this and crumb – as chicks need it only in the first 72 hours or so, but she was weak and couldn’t get enough of it in the early days. Despite being on what is, essentially, baby food, she has roughly doubled in size over the past ten days or so.
This weekend, we’ll be preparing new digs for the larger five in a henhouse outside with a warming lamp to keep them cosy – and shut the pop-hole to stop them ranging too freely. In a fortnight or so we can let them into the fully cat-proofed run that’s attached. Then it won’t be long before we can sex them – I’m hoping there won’t be too many large combs, fancy tail feathers and loud crows developing as I’d like some ladies to add to our laying flock. We’ll be able to introduce the little one when she’s caught them up. In the meantime, she’ll be our Lone Ranger.
The bacon has arrived! One month after we picked up the pork chops, sausages and belly from our two Gloucestershire Old Spots, during which time it has been cured and smoked, the rashers were ready for collection. James declared that we are ‘bacon-rich’ after he picked up the giant box of magnificent-looking packs of streaky and back. There’s enough to sell and we’ll probably be self-sufficient in pork meat for the rest of the year. But the most exciting aspect of collecting the goods was receiving the compliments of the butcher-cum-farm shop owner who processed it for us – she even compared the quality to that of her own pigs. And this made James’s month. I’ve taken two large bagfuls into Country Living HQ for those colleagues who placed orders and today I am heading in with both eggs and bacon! I haven’t organised the breakfast deliveries I dreamed up months ago when we first took on our pair of Old Spots, but all we need is someone to be growing mushrooms and for CL’s Jackie to bake some of her wonderful artisan loaves and we’d be able to offer up a full English.
Our other project – Operation Hatch – is going well. I’m weaning our little chick (in the short video above) and onto more of the chick crumb that his older siblings are devouring at a rapid rate in the hope that he’ll increase in size. In the other brooder, I increasingly wonder if all five of the bigger chicks are cockerels. They’re ferocious eaters and showing signs of extreme competitiveness in the brooder – knocking each other out of the way to get some hard-boiled egg (don’t get me wrong – they may be boisterous, but they’re also incredibly cute). Call me sexist, but I’d say this is more likely to be male behaviour. Any thoughts?
At the weekend we really appreciated the extra time we had to clean the chicks and simply watch them for a while. Leaving the house early as we do Monday to Friday gives us a slim window in which to fit in the essential tasks of de-pasting, feeding and watering. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, there is also a little time for reading, so I picked up an American title, called Chick Days by Jenna Woginrich, to glean tips. I always seem to learn something whenever I choose a book from our small poultry-themed selection and sure enough there were a couple of gems. First: continue to feed chicks a little hard-boiled egg alongside their crumb as it helps digestion and prevents them pasting up as readily. Second: Give them a small perch to play on.
So I reserved some of the mashed-up boiled egg that I was already preparing for the two little ones and dropped a piece on each pile of the cereal-based miniature pellets, buffet-style feeder. Before they breakfasted, though, we needed to transfer all the chicks to a high-sided plastic box (lest we get an escapee) so we could inspect their bottoms and clean them with warm water and cotton wool, which also gave us a chance to change the corrugated-carboard lining in their brooder. We returned them as quickly as possible and they soon devoured their egg-topped breakfast.
Later that morning, we chose some small, smooth twigs which we felt would make an ideal climbing frame and James fixes them to the wire of their cage with cable ties. We are yet to see the gang using it, but who knows what they’ll get up to today while we’re out. All was well when we bade them goodnight on Sunday evening – in fact, the two smallest chicks in the DIY brooder were eating voraciously. But yesterday morning was a different story. We had heard some loud cheeping as we woke and knew something wasn’t quite right. I walked in to find one of the two tiny chicks dead and lying on its side, while the other stood by it loudly vocalising. We don’t know why he had suddenly died, but it reminded us that we had taken the risk of hatching it out ourselves and that it was not likely to live. James scooped up the tiny body and the remaining chick was left by itself. I raised the temperature slightly as he no longer had his sibling to huddle with. As I was working from home yesterday to write a feature, I could sit by his brooder while I ate my lunch, but I’m not sure he really counted me as company. I’m now willing him to grow a bit more – and have introduced him to chick crumb as well as egg in a bid to increase his size – so he can join the bigger brood soon. Feathers crossed!