Tuesday, 16 April 2013

This time last year ....

Matt got a new iphone this week to replace his old and frankly knackered iphone 4. Whilst transferring his 250+ photos onto my laptop I found some pictures of our Buff Orpington chickens the day they hatched and it reminded me that this time last year I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first feathered babies!

We had five bantam hens at the time and one of the lavender ones had gone broody. This was my first experience of a broody hen and I was determined to have a go at hatching some chicks. I trawled eBay and found a batch of six fertile Buff Orpington eggs from a seller about 10 miles away. I picked them up that night, the 1st April, carefully transported them home and prepared a 'brooder' for the mother to be - the sleeping box from the old coop which our hens had outgrown. I filled the box with a bed of shavings and made a cosy nest out of fresh straw. With the addition of a chick feeder and drinker, we were ready to roll!

I carefully placed the eggs into the nest and popped the broody hen into the box. She stepped forward to peek at the eggs and decided she approved. She settled herself on her new nest and gently rolled the eggs underneath her, flattening herself out to cover them all snugly. There began 21 days of waiting

Caring for a setting hen is no minor undertaking. Hens go into a kind of trance when they are setting eggs and need to be removed from the nest twice a day to eat, drink and attend to ... er ... toilet duties. Setting hens are well known for doing the most enormous, vile smelling poos - I have no idea why but they are absolutely disgusting. I'd read about this beforehand and thought I was prepared but I had no idea what I was in for. The first poo nearly sent me running for the hills - it was at least half the size of the hen and quite simply the most revolting smelling thing I have ever witnessed. It exited the hen with considerable force (and a loud fart) and was like nothing on earth. I was traumatised. The thought of 20 more of them to clean up made me wail

I counted down the days (and remaining poos) on my calendar and as the magical day 21 neared I started to get excited. Technically you are supposed to check the eggs towards the end of setting to ensure that there are growing chicks in them. I must confess I only did this once - I wanted the process to be as natural as possible, hence using a broody hen rather than an incubator. All six eggs appeared to be occupied though so I continued to sit tight and wait

On the last two days before hatching day I tried desperately to stay away from the eggs and resist the temptation to peek, just lifting the hen off for her necessary 'duties' as usual. On the day itself I popped out mid morning and listened carefully ... was that a peeping noise?? I sat still and watched until I saw definite movement under the hens  feathers and then I saw a little peek of yellow

I tried not to squeal with excitement and rushed back to the house to ring Matt at work! When I returned to the nest there had been a further development

Two little babies! 

An hour later there were three and I could wait no longer. I lifted the (frankly quite pissed off) hen off the nest and checked the remaining eggs. One had a tiny crack and the others showed no signs of life at all. When Matt got home we went straight out to look for further chicks and lo and behold - we had a fourth! They were all eating and drinking and looking quite pleased with themselves, despite their over zealous mother frequently trying to shove them back underneath herself

The next morning there was still no sign of life from the other eggs so we had to give up on them. One turned out to be unfertilised and the other held a fully grown chick which hadn't made it out of the shell :( Some people would have intervened but I had wanted to do this naturally - if the chick wasn't strong enough to get out of the shell it was unlikely to have survived long anyway

The sadness wasn't over - unfortunately this mother hen was so vigilant at trying to keep her babies warm that she inadvertently squashed one. So we ended up with three babies out of six eggs, with a four out of six hatch rate. Not bad for a first attempt!

Once the babies were waddling about without falling over, Matt made them a little ramp so they could safely leave the nesting box and have their first day out and learn how to groom themselves

Their 'Aunties' came over for a nosey and joined in

Their mother abandoned them when they were four weeks old but they were still too small to mix with the other hens, so I waited until they were about six weeks old before introducing them. There was inevitably some bullying but after a few more weeks things settled down and they made friends

They found their way around and decided that their favourite spot was my raised bed

Luckily they have all turned out to be hens (after a dicey moment a few months ago when one of them tried persistently mating with the bantam hens!) and they lay the most delicious eggs

Looking through these photos has made me broody for more eggs to hatch!


  1. Aww this is soo cute :)! I didn't realise you could buy fertilised eggs never mind off ebay - crazy!! X

  2. Aw they're so cute :) I have chickens too and we've hatched out quite a few! It's so lovely having baby chicks running round the garden haha :) My dog gets obsessed with them and sits and watches them for hours, so sweet! Lovely post and pictures! xx


  3. This is so cool!! That's a very impressive first attempt, I wouldn't have the first idea of where to start with hatching eggs, so well done you! There is nothing like proper fresh eggs- we get ours from a family friend and they are SO much yummier than shop bought! xx

  4. What fantastic photos! Loved this post (not the bit about the poo though! ;) ) x

  5. Ooh wow! I'm going to nag my mum to get some eggs for our chickens to brood, the chicks are sooo cute! (not quite as cute as ducklings, but close enough!) xx


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