Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wee Baby Peeps!

New babies at Cairnwood Cottage!

My big fat Speckled Sussex hen, Speck, went broody last month. She had a serious case of it, so I decided to let her hatch some eggs. All five of my Speckled Sussex hens lay very small eggs for their size; honestly, they look like banty eggs, and these are coming from the largest hens in my small flock! I've been wanting to hatch out some Welsummer/Ameraucana crosses in an attempt to get some "olive eggers"; hens that lay a dark olive-colored egg. I've read that this particular cross will result in olive-colored eggs, especially if the daddy is a Welsummer and the mama is an Ameraucana. We shall see!

I placed 13 eggs under Speck: 1 Golden Sexlink egg, 6 Welsummer eggs, and 6 Ameraucana eggs. I've got 2 Ameraucana roosters and one Welsummer rooster running with my 25 hens, so obviously the daddies are going to be Ameraucana and Welsummer.

Hatch date for these eggs was April 21. A couple days before the 21st, I noticed a Welsummer egg had mysteriously ended up outside the nesting box (which was located away from the main coop and nesting boxes). It was cracked and I could see a chick inside, so I put the egg back under Speck, not knowing if it would hatch or not. Perhaps the chick was already dead as I had no idea how long the egg was out in the chilly air.

Next day I checked the eggs when Speck left the nest to do her chickenly business. I counted and found only TEN eggs! The cracked Welsummer egg from the day before was gone, as was an Ameraucana egg. I saw bits of eggshell, both brown and green/blue in the nest, so decided that Speck must have eaten the eggs. HORRORS! By this time I was feeling a bit sick at the thought that perhaps Speck was eating the chicks as they hatched, which sometimes happens, I've been told, when a new mama is startled by the activity going on beneath her. Or maybe Speck accidentally cracked the eggs and was cleaning up her mess. Who knows?

On April 20 I peeked into Speck's nesting box and saw her poking around under herself, and when she looked at me she had blood and goop on her beak. Wuh? I grabbed her off the nest and found a partially opened Golden Sexlink egg, chick inside which I assumed was dead. I removed the egg intending to bury it, but noticed the chick moved. It was still alive, but not for long. Poor little thing died in my hand, a perfect little yellow chick, just like its Golden Sexlink mommy was when she was a peep.

OK. By this time I was in a panic and decided to take the remaining 10 eggs away from Speck at the advice of several folks who know about such things. Problem: I don't have an incubator! I was advised to put the eggs in a box with a heat lamp, lightly mist the eggs with warm water several times a day to prevent them from drying out, and hope for the best. This I did, and waited....

April 21 came and went with no signs of life. I had heard peeping coming from several of the eggs earlier, but none on the 21st. I assumed they'd all died.

BUT! Miracle of miracles, on April 22nd one of the Welsummer eggs pipped! For those who don't know, when an egg "pips" it simply means that a tiny hole finally appears where the chick is beginning to work its way out. I was so excited when I went to bed that night I could barely sleep! I checked the eggs when I went to work at 3:00 a.m. and still there wasn't much progress. By the time I got home from work around 9:30 a.m., my husband announced that there were 2 chicks waiting for me upstairs in the "brooder". Sweet!

This little peeper was waiting for me when I got home from work.

I won't bore you with all the details, but let me just say that this business of hatching out peeps is very, very stressful!

So on the 23rd a total of 3 eggs hatched: two Welsummer and 1 Ameraucana. The third peep to hatch had a big "blister", for lack of a better term, on its right "shoulder", just at the point where the neck and wing meet. Odd. First chick to hatch is named Pip, and the second is Squeak. The third chick is Bubble, for obvious reasons.

Pip and Squeak watch as Bubble hatches..."Dude! Look at the claws on that thing! Maybe if we hide behind this egg it won't see us! What IS that thing, anyway?!"

Two more chicks hatched on the 24th, a Welsummer and an Ameraucana. A 6th egg (Ameraucana) pipped and was mostly hatched by nightfall, but it wasn't very lively and ended up dying overnight.

Another Ameraucana egg hatched on the 25th.

Ameraucana egg hatching

Two more eggs piped in the morning of the 26th, both Welsummers. One of those ended up dying before it could hatch, and the last one eventually hatched by evening. I must say this last one had, and still has, me worried. It worked so hard to get out of that shell, and took such a long time that I was afraid it would end up like the little one that died overnight. It was also beginning to dry out. So I must confess that I helped it out of the shell a little, something that you're actually NOT suppose to do. Chicks need that "struggle" to get them going, and generally if they can't get out it means there's something wrong with them. I couldn't just not do something and watch this little squeaker die in its shell...it was trying so hard.

One of the Welsummer eggs had begun to ooze a stinky fluid on the 23rd, so I discarded that one. Bad eggs do smell horrible!

I raised 36 peeps in a brooder in an upstairs bedroom last year, and really had no desire to do that again. I was, after all, hoping Speck would do all that work for me! The same folks that advised me to place the eggs in a box with a heat lamp also suggested that once the eggs hatched, Speck would probably accept the chicks if I placed them under her after dark while she was sleeping. She'd just wake up and voila! Her babies had arrived and all would be cool. I decided to try this, but didn't want to just stick them under her without being able to observe her reaction in case I needed to intervene. Solution: I threw a tarp over her nesting box and placed 2 chicks under her late in the day on the 24th. I watched her as best I could and was amazed to see that she didn't attack and eat the peeps...she did seem mildly concerned though, but accepting. I went to bed later thinking I'd find nothing left of the peeps in the morning, but amazingly they were alive and looking fine.

Pip (left) and Squeak peeking out from under Speck, who is turning out to be a good mommy after all.

BY the following night, on the 25th, I had a total of 6 chicks under Speck. That last chick, Zoe, hadn't even hatched yet. She came along on the 26th, and since she was so weak I held her in the brooder until the 27th. She went out to be with the rest of her siblings on the 27th and so far is doing well, though she is so tiny compared to the rest. It also appears that she has some kind of slight limp. I think Speck stepped on her 2 days ago because her limp was very severe then. Today it's not so bad and I actually saw her running, so I'm hoping that's a good sign. She tends to tire easily and isn't as active as the rest of the crew, but she's eating more recently so hopefully she'll get some energy and grow, grow, grow!

Now I've got a second hen gone broody, a Welsummer. I placed 8 eggs under her on the 23rd. I discovered that one of the eggs had broken (she was in the process of cleaning up the mess when I discovered this) on the 25th. All the remaining eggs were covered in egg goop, so I ended up replacing them all on the 26th with 9 fresh ones. I'd been advised that sometimes when this happens that bacteria can get into an egg through the shell and ruin any chances of them hatching, but then I'd also been told by someone else that they had this happen and the eggs hatched fine.

Wouldn't you know it, a couple days later one of the new eggs broke and gooped up the rest. Sigh. I cleaned up the mess but left the eggs in there, taking my chances that they'll hatch. I could just see me replacing eggs every few days when one would happen to get broken and none would ever hatch. We'll see what happens. Her eggs are due to hatch on the 16th of May.

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