Becoming Mother Hen

I remember the first hen I had that went broody was a beautiful white Silkie I named Princess, she was a bit of a diva. Silkies are know for going broody and being wonderful mothers. Princess definitely lived up to her breeds reputation and successfully hatched a beautiful healthy chick I called Muddle. She is half silkie, half Black Rock Muddle and is still a intergral part of my current flock. 

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In the past I've always relied on one of my girls going broody to expand my little flock. I have also nearly always bought in fertile eggs since before Lennard I only had a Silkie cockerel for a short while. Buying in eggs also allows me to add some really interesting rarer breeds to my little flock such as Olive ( a beautiful cream legbar who lays blue/green eggs).

This year I bought in another unusual breed in the form of two young Serama's. They both grew up to be female and Pip, in the photo to the left is a really beautiful little bird im hoping to breed from. So I got very excited when Pip appeared to start behaving like a broody. I got very over excited at the idea of more little fluffy chicks so sourced some fertile Serama eggs for her. Sod's law by the time they arrived the little madam had changed her mind.  

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Me and my mum couldn't bare the thought of the eggs just going to waste so after much debate I decided to take the plunge and invest in an Incubator. All of a sudden I had to learn how to be a chicken mum. I couldn't just pop eggs under one of my broody girls and let them get on with it this time. I would have to turn the eggs everyday, make sure the temperature and humidity is correct and discard any that don't start to develop. As usual reading on the internet had a much longer list of things that could go wrong than right so I took a deep breath and tried my best.

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19th February: The shiny new incubator arrived today and I set it up and let it run over night to make sure it was functioning correctly. Apparently exactly 37.5 degrees centigrade is the optimum chick creating environment. I then gave each egg a little pencil 0 on one side and a x on the other to help keep track of turning them. I also decided to number them so I could log thier development in my new note book.

20th February: Once I put the Serama eggs in I had a bit of spare room so decided to fit in a few extra eggs, two of which are from my girls and Lennard. I can't wait to see how they are going to turn out.

 

27th February: To keep check on the development of the eggs I did something known as candling (shown above). Essentially its like a ultrasound, but for chickens using a powerful narrow beam of light. In the image above you can see the veins have begun to develop and the dark shadow is the chick beginning to form. I was fascinated with candling as I regularly saw the developing chick moving around and twitching inside the egg. Witnessing things like this only deeps my respect for these often over looked and undervalued animals. It's truly amazing what mother nature can create, from egg to fully functional chick in just 21 days.

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7th March: Above are the eggs that have all developed really well with only five days left until hatching day. The little egg in the middle is the Serama egg, so you get an idea of the size difference compared to a normal hens egg. Sadly only two of the six Serama eggs I put in had developed well. They are known to be difficult to hatch and the added bouncing around of being posted doesn't help. I've found they are a difficult breed to get hold of in the UK, so keep your fingers crossed one of them is a boy so I can begin building a breeding flock with Pip. 

9th March: The incubator went into lockdown, no more turning eggs and time to increase the humidity. This is now the hardest part, to be patient and not open the incubator until all the eggs have hatched. I'm a complete bag of nerves, I really want to make sure I do this right

11th March: The first signs of activity have started , lots of little wobbles and even a little crack in the shell of one of the Serama's. I'm finding the best thing is to try and ignore that the incubator exists so I'm not tempted to keep checking on the eggs.

12th March: I'm bouncing with joy! My first little chick has hatched and it's one of the Serama's! After everything I've read about how tough they can be to hatch I'm just so pleased that I seem to have got somethign right. Now I really need to give it a chance to dry off and fluff up. It's even harder now to not be tempted to open the incubator to check the other eggs.

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13th March: another exciting morning with two more of the eggs hatching over night! The third egg is also starting to show signs of hatching. So hard to not interfear! After a full day at work I came home to three very active fluffy chicks but my last little one was still struggling. So after much reading I decided to step in and help out. The poor thing was completely exhausted and as you can see to the right she was still stuck in some of her shell. After helping her out I popped her back in the incubator to rest and dry out. Fingers crossed she will be strong enough to start getting to her feet by the morning. The other three were being a bit of a menace so I popped them into a  brooder box I had put together earlier. Who knew such little things could make so much noise!

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14th March: I'm very pleased to say that the final chick is now all fluffed up and doing really well. All four chicks are now pottering around the brooder box quite happily.

It's been a really fascinating, exciting and stressful journey and I can't wait to do it again. If you fancy having a go and want to learn more there are lots of good websites. I've found the  Backyard chickens forum to be really helpful if your ever looking for any advice.