A guide to chicken breeding... from a novice.

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

In March this year we were looking to build up our flock as our egg production was too low. I took the kids to the farm nearby to pick up a couple of point of lay hens and they convinced me to also get a couple of young chicks for them.

Kai and Sen with their chicks, Browny and Icku

It started to become clear after a few weeks that our new black hen (bottom right) was not a hen at all. The chooks get let out into the garden for limited times - great for when it's time to dig over a bed.

One of the point of lay hens turned out to not be a hen at all - but has become a very noisy and overprotective (read aggressive) rooster. Rather than get rid of him I told my closest neighbours of the situation and asked them to let me know if he was becoming a problem for them - and that I'd deal with it. I contacted council to check in regarding the legalities of having a rooster in town, and it appear that this is not an issue. I imagine that if people complained then that would be a different story. I make an effort to get along with my neighbours, which certainly helps in situations like this. My hope was that the rooster would help provide us with the next generation.

The next generation

Mistake #1. When one of the hens became broody in early Spring I left her to sit on her small clutch of eggs. This, in retrospect was a mistake. I later read a section in Jackie French's Chook book, confirming that if the hen is broody (for a few days running) she should be put in her own special pen, away from the other chooks. Instead I left her with the others in a high nest, about 40cm off the ground.

Mistake #2. The other hens kept laying and I added some more eggs to her clutch, about 10 in all - not a good idea either. It meant that the chicks would hatch at different times. I should have let her sit on just one egg, while I collected more - then taken the one away and added a fresh batch of 6-15 eggs at one time. For an inexperienced hen like mine, Jackie recommends just six eggs. Apparently you can use eggs that have been collected for up to a month after lay.

Mistake #3. When the first chick hatched I realised my earlier mistake and quickly made up a new pen and tried to move the hen. Very bad idea. When I let her into the new pen she escaped in a flash and freaked out, running round the backyard. I opened the main chook yard for her and opened the hut for her and she went straight back on her clutch of eggs again - a lucky escape for me.

The first chick made an appearance in the high nest, it wasn't long before it's exploring lead to a 40cm drop to soft grass below.

Of the 10 eggs that were under the mother hen, 4 chicks hatched out over 2-3 days. The nest was up high and the chicks couldn’t get back up when they came off the nest, so the mother came off leaving 6 eggs. When I checked the eggs I could hear cheeping and so decided to crack open the eggs to see if any chicks could be rescued...

Another mistake?

Here's the story in pictures of my rescue attempt.

15th November 11:44am - 2 of the chicks from the clutch of 6 appeared close to fully developed, showing movement, though not much. The other 4 chicks did not survive.
15th November 1:30pm - I got a cardboard box and hooked up a 75W incandescent light bulb to keep the chicks warm. They were quite cold. I was aiming for a temperature of 37ÂșC and used a thermometer and adjusted the box lid to reach the right temperature. I used an eye dropper to give them some water.
15th November 4:45pm - One of the chicks was quite active, the other wasn’t. I decided to leave them in the box overnight and see how they fared in the morning.
16th November 6:00am - after staying the the warm box overnight both chicks were lively. I thought they could join their family and hoped that their mother would take them under her wing.
16th November 8:00am - I introduced the chicks to their mother and siblings. She was a bit unsure initially, but accepted them thankfully.
17th November - I kept the mother and chick separate from the other chooks and rooster. 6 happy chicks with their mum. I made a drink station for them, auto refilling and shallow so they can’t drown. Being low it does fill with scratched grass so needs to be checked often.
I got the idea for the drink station from the youtube video below:


Christine said…
Thanks for the story, Richard. Our chicks should be hatching tomorrow, and I also added a few fresh ones to the clutch 2 days later than the rest…I may need to do a rescue stint similar to yours (though I wouldn't have thought of it myself). I will definitely set up one of those water bottles as well. And keep you posted.

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