A Tale of Two Guineas


Warning: gzinflate(): data error in /home/skyechoo/public_html/wordpress/wp-content/plugins/captionpix/classes/class-updater.php on line 131

This tale begins on a sunny Sunday afternoon back in August 2013. The lovely weather was being enjoyed by all the birds, many of whom were prostrate in various positions about the garden. Looking around I noticed something in the distance that I couldn’t immediately recognise. Walking up the hill on the gravel path by the Maran’s coop was a bird, but what was it? As it got closer it became clear the bird in question was a Guinea Fowl. How on earth did it get here? It was moving around as if it knew this was home.

21 Bob a Male Guinea Fowl creates a stir

That was our first contact with Bob, or to give him his full name, 21 Bob. He decided early on that he would spend his first night ( and all the subsequent nights) in the Maran coop. His companions were a little puzzled and not a little nervous of his presence. As the days came and went he cemented his presence and soon became a familiar member of the flock. He knew of course he had landed on his feet, in chicken heaven, and he intended to stay.

He struck up a friendship with Bruno the Maran boss of the flock. He and Bruno would often be seen exploring together. I’m not sure Bruno fully approved of the relationship, but mates they certainly looked.

21 Bob & Bruno

As time went by Bob soon discovered the delights of the garage door, outside of which treats were often served. Bob really looked forward to the feeder of wild seeds left outside the door and slowly he struck up friendships with some of the Maran and Black Rock females. His tendency to suddenly charge in all directions though took some getting used to.

He used gates, fence posts and even coop roofs to make his raucous calls from. It soon become clear Bob was calling for a mate. The chances of us finding a female guinea was remote. So for the time being Bob’s calls remained unanswered. That was until I saw an ad over a year later on Skye Classifieds. Donald the Hen in Struan was advertising for sale some Guinea Fowl. I couldn’t believe our luck. I contacted Donald and he kindly sorted out a female for us. I picked her up a few days later. I was a bit taken aback by her size, she was tiny by comparison to Bob, but then she was a youngster. The first thing we did was to clip her wings. We couldn’t bear the prospect of her flying off before she and Bob were even introduced.

Bobette (foreground) a Female Pearl Guinea Fowl with Bob

Having made sure she couldn’t escape in a hurry, we installed her in Bob’s coop that night and wished them luck. Morning came and Bob seemed a bit indifferent to her presence. Later that day we were relieved to see Bob and her together, albeit briefly. Later that week they seemed to have formed a relationship of sorts, he would often charge at her from time to time, probably mistaking her for a competitor. Slowly they became ‘joined at the hip’ and now are always together. It’s a nice feeling to have played a part in their successful union.

There remained one thing outstanding, what to call Bob’s girlfriend. As their relationship was more of a fusion, she acquired the name of Bobette. Nowadays Bob’s calls have stopped almost completely. Bobette on the other hand calls the familiar buckwheat, buckwheat, of a female guinea when she looses sight of Bob. It took a little time, but they now perch side by side at night as well. A success story I’d say!

Footnote

During the autumn of 2018 we lost Bobette. It was very tragic, overnight she drownd in the goose pond. At the time she was looking to lay some eggs and wanted to stay outside. Come morning I found her floating on the surface. The goose pond had a slow leak, which entailed it being topped up each morning. The sides of the pond were very slippy, so we guessed that she made many attempts to get out of the water but failed. Poor Bob, he searched high and low for her for several days. The good news is that he seems now to have found another suitable female from the youngsters he and Bobette raised a couple of years back. Will report progress shortly in a separate post.

Posted in Poultry Chat | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Easter Chicks

Japanese bantams - Easter chicks

Japanese bantams - Easter chicks

Our Japanese bantams have done it again! So anxious to be mothers, the Japanese bantams have hatched some chicks just in time for Easter. People talk about Silkies being the best broodies, we do keep Silkies and whilst they are determined would-be mothers, the Japanese bantam wins hands down for us.

Their peculiar habit of hatching and brooding as a co-operative team, whilst very endearing, is not the most efficient way of doing things. On this occasion, the team consisted of 4 females, who squabbled all the time when brooding the eggs. Originally, there were 10 eggs, that dwindled to 8, as 2 were not fertile. A later candling revealed 4 had died during development. This breed have what is called a lethal gene which affects the developing embryos, very often this can affect 50% of the hatch. The particular gene in question is responsible for their very short legs, the shortest of all chickens.

Hatching was spread over 3 days and produced 4 chicks. The maternity wing was provided with food and water at floor level and we kept the pop-hole shut most of the time. I had to let in females who wanted to lay and the hole was promptly shut after their exit. It would be so easy for a chick to wander near the open pop-hole and fall out into the run with disastrous consequences. Whilst the work of teaching the chicks to feed and water themselves was divided equally amongst the 4 mums, as the end of the day got nearer just one female on the floor brooded all the chicks. The remaining 3 mothers spent the night as a tight scrum in a nestbox.

Japanese Bantam Group

Japanese Bantam Group

Our love of Japanese bantams revolves around their good nature, reliable egg laying abilities, their longevity (often more than 10 years) and their fantastic good looks. To see Japanese bantams in a group on grass is a wonderful sight, their beautiful fan like tails (huge in proportion to the bird itself), they seem to move around on castors, so short are their legs.

The chicks (finally 4 in number) are now around 10 days old and made their first foray outside today with their mums. The short video below shows them enjoying the evening light. The brown hen is Solitaire, a Belgium bantam. Show Solitaire an unattended egg and she’s on it in a flash, one of the best mothers we have ever had.

Posted in Poultry Behaviour, Poultry Breeding & Hatching, Poultry Chat | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Emotional Side Of Keeping Poultry

For many keepers of free range poultry it is a passionate hobby that gives immense pleasure and satisfaction. Watching your birds grow from chicks into fully grown adults is an amazing experience, no matter how many times you incubate eggs, the miracle of new life continues to astonish.

Smokey In Happier Days

Smokey In Happier Days

You cannot help but get attached to birds you tend every day. Each one is unique and has a personality of its own. Hens are social animals with the ability to remember faces, so they have friends and also enemies they would rather avoid. You can see this in action when the birds go to roost. There is a lot of pecking as each individual jockey for position, some wanting to be next to their friends, whilst others want the highest roosting bar. It can be very entertaining to watch. To listen to the noise, you could easily think someone was getting murdered. Eventually, the noise subsides, giving way to purring sounds as the birds start to groom, others forgo the grooming and put their heads under their wing. Finally when it’s almost silent, individuals or groups emit a

      lovely high pitched squeal
as a prelude to sleep.

Silver Laced Wyandottes Roosting

Silver Laced Wyandottes

As we all know, poultry are subject to diseases of all kinds. We have had continuing problems with Mycoplasma and Marek’s disease. To watch a bird such as a Hamburgh cockerel or hen slowly succumb to Marek’s is very distressing for the bird and heartbreaking for the owner. In the final stages of this disease, the bird can barely stand, unable to feed or water itself, the only outcome is a slow and painful death. It is necessary to intervene long before this stage is reached, knowing that this disease is almost always fatal. Doing the right thing is very difficult, especially when it involves an animal you love, but our compassion for another living being suffering in this way is what it takes if you are a responsible owner. When you have raised them from an egg it is doubly painful to put them down.

Smokey and Friend

Smokey and Friend

Our little Smokey, has been knocked off his perch at the top of a group of Wyandotte bantams and he is very upset. Last year’s chicks are now all adult and there are some beefy males amongst them, one of whom has assumed Smokey’s position. Today has been rain all day and at locking up time, poor Smokey was spotted trying to shelter near a coop and not succeeding. Whenever he goes near his former group of girls he gets chased away, poor lad. I managed to scoop him up into my arms and carry him down to the garage, here at least he will be warm and dry. Having popped him into a large brooder he got some wild bird seed and water, he will spend the night here dry and safe from his persecutors. We are very fond of Smokey, he’s another character with his bustling walk and extraordinary crow, which funnily enough is very tuneful and as clear as a bell with no harsh notes at all.

The next day Smokey was released back into the garden to enjoy the sunshine. Later in the afternoon, he was seen with a little admirer, a very petite Silver Laced Wyandotte girl. I guess he’s feeling a little more wanted now.

Miss Gossip - Cuckoo Maran

Miss Gossip - Cuckoo Maran

Miss Gossip died today. She was another character, she acquired this name because she was always talking to herself. Miss Gossip loved going into the garage, where wild bird seed was on offer for those who dared and she dared quite a lot. She also had a irritating habit of jumping over a modest fence into one of our garden flower borders, where she would happily scratch away until she got noticed and was chased off. She managed to really get me going with that habit! This morning I noticed Miss Gossip’s comb had shrivelled and she was gasping for breath sitting in the run. I picked her up and brought her into the garage and into a brooder out of the wet. She died 10 minutes or so later. At least she passed away in a warm dry place where she was not forgotten.

Just to show that poultry are more than just automatons, we got a number of White Leghorns last year and among them was a little gem who is now called Angela. When we first got her she was in a sorry state, she was unable to open her eyes for some reason, we suspected poor bedding where ammonia is allowed to build up unchecked. She was extremely nervous of almost everything. She was not happy at all with the other hens and was not feeding.

Angela

Angela - White Leghorn

We decided to bring her into the house for a while. She was placed into a large brooder in a spare bathroom and provided with all the essentials. The other important thing apart from food and water was her desire to be loved. She craved attention and rewarded us by slowly revealing her delightful personality. Each day Brian usually cuddled her and would talk to her in the hope of making her come out of her protective shell. It took a while, but in the end her personality shone through. Angela loves being handled and now she is probably one of the most pushy hens around. She spends each night in her en-suite bathroom brooder and during the day when she wants to lay an egg, she makes a very audible noise (which we can often hear in the house), telling us she wants to lay her egg in her own lodgings.

So each and every one of our birds, whilst not all having names, are equally cared for and cherished. Providing us with hours of entertainment and often food for thought. They are complex, social creatures that have a long association with us humans, long may it continue.

We came across a lady on the web who owns and runs a sanctuary in Virginia in the States. Her web site ‘United Poultry Concerns’ promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. Lots to read and learn, well worth a visit.

Posted in Poultry Behaviour, Poultry Chat | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cockerel Aggression

Albert a Gold Brahma

Albert a Gold Brahma

We have never counted, but we must have upwards of 40+ cockerels which most of the time live in relative harmony. Yes, we do have fights. It’s how we manage them when they occur and also how we manage the birds generally that matters. All of our birds are large fowl and bantams that have free access to both their coop, run and the one acre garden at any time. This arrangement we are sure is one of the reasons we have harmony. With permanently penned birds the stresses and strains within a flock are allowed to build up, and that coupled with boredom, usually ends up with more frequent aggression between individual birds.

White Silkie Large Fowl

White Silkie Large Fowl

All our flocks (10 in all) intermingle all day long and in general get on just fine. Altercations are frequent but usually don’t escalate into a full head on fight. Another factor that makes all the difference is that both of us are usually around to stop any full scale aggression. It’s amazing how SHOUTING sometimes works, ‘Stop That’ or ‘Oi! you with the blood on your face’.

Spring is the season when aggression is at its worst, all those hormones racing around is the cause of the problem. Bantams seem to be the worst offenders. I remember, a few years back now, coming across little Donald staggering about with another slightly larger Silver Laced Wyandotte cockerel. They were so worked up and had been fighting for quite a while, they looked like a couple of drunks just clinging on to each other for fear of falling over. It wasn’t a pretty sight, I separated them and took Donald first to be cleaned up. He felt so hot it was a wonder he hadn’t passed out.

Hamburgh Cockerel

Hamburgh Cockerel

It takes a while to do a proper job of removing the blood. Most of the birds know we are trying to help and are quite relaxed about it. The last stage of the cleaning up process involves a hair dryer. Now you’d think a hair dryer would scare them to death, quite the contrary. By the time this stage is reached they are quite relaxed, it’s a bit like being in your own private massage parlour I guess. The parting of feathers and having hot air blown at you seems to be something close to bird heaven!

For those of us who keep roosters with their hens, aggression between males is a fact of life. It can be kept in check with vigilance and prompt intervention. We have a zero tolerance to rooster fights and most of the birds get to know this very quickly. It’s very important we think to stop fights from developing. The birds themselves can end up with some horrible injuries. One of our older bantam boys Fraser, lost an eye in the briefest of encounters with a much larger Maran called Troy. Troy was a dedicated rooster who took his job quite seriously. Fraser transgressed by entering Troy’s run and chasing his girls, it was all over in less than 5 seconds. Fraser was squawking his head off and left the run in some haste, minus the sight in one eye.

Brahmas

Brahmas

Keeping cockerels with your hens does complete the social fabric of the flock, and the hens by and large appreciate the protection a male offers. It should be said that there is often a down side too. Some of the girls are more desirable than others and often bear the brunt of the male’s mounting, with the result that they can end up looking a bit dishevelled. The backs and shoulders of the females can get painfully bare, to help counter this you can buy durable chicken saddles at fantastic prices from a United States seller on Ebay. The designs are very eye-catching and worth the wait for the delivery (2 to 3 weeks). Just make sure you order the correct size.

I for one would miss seeing cockerels about the place, they are so handsome with all their eye catching colours, patterns and sheer presence. I would also miss them for their leadership qualities, not only warning the flock about dangers, but also finding that tasty morsel or the best bit of grass to graze on. Bantam roosters in particular have an endearing habit of escorting their favourite girls into the coop when they want to lay an egg, and perching on the edge of the nestbox standing guard. Yes, they can be a nuisance, especially when they start to jump on anything that moves! But chicken dramas would be so drab without males to add that bit of testosterone.

Posted in Poultry Behaviour, Poultry Chat | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud – If you are old enough to remember Flanders & Swann, you will recognise the title of this blog. For those who don’t know who the hell we are talking about (and for those who do), here it is “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud”.

Muddy Conditions

Muddy Conditions

The title says it all really, I’m used to rain, but a line has to be got to be drawn somewhere! That’s saying nothing about the wind. Relentless rain, accompanied by severe or storm force winds has been our daily lot for weeks now. I can just imagine the scene at opening up time. In their warm, comfortable coop, they will be just about seeing the break of dawn through their slit, and the (by now) familiar sound of a machine gun in the form of rain drops hitting the metal roof. ‘He can’t be serious, come out in that?’

Mid-Winter Mud

Mid-Winter Mud

The poor birds must have forgotten what the sun looks like, I know I have. Many of our coops are lit at bedtime, makes the roosting procedure a little less of a fumble, especially in the winter. To this end we have small LED’s powered by a large battery connected to a solar panel. In an average winter we would expect to charge the battery once in a while, but right now it’s become a weekly chore, so dim have been the days of November and December.

Another consequence of this bad weather is the state of the housing in general. If like me you take advantage of buying Donald’s (‘Donald the Hen’) coops, not only will you be purchasing a decent product, but in addition you will be saving money. Many of the coops on sale online are at least twice the price for a comparable size and that’s without the delivery cost. We have around 9 of Donald’s coops, one or two of which are 10 years old now and still up to the job! All housing needs weatherproofing and in our climate that’s at least every other year. However, if this recent weather becomes a regular feature that will change things. We’ve had trouble keeping our coops dry during the last few weeks, the force of the wind has been a major factor, driving the rain so hard against the wood that the water has just penetrated right through some panels. This also wastes bedding, as previously dry wood shavings at the bottom of each panel affected is damp and has to be replaced with dry shavings each time.

Damp Coop Panels

Damp Coop Panels

Not all our coops have ended up like this, but so exceptional has been the rain and wind combined that this has been the result in some cases. Not good for the birds and not good for the housing either. This particular coop (shown left) is one of our Brahma coops, only recently painted with creosote (not the stuff it once was admittedly). Recently we have started to cover some of our coops with plastic damp course, this works well and protects the wood from extreme weather. The damp course is UV stable, so shouldn’t be affected by the sun and become brittle. Some of our ‘covered’ coops are at least 5 years old and none of the plastic covering is showing signs of deterioration. So definitely worth considering if you’ve the time and money. Your birds would certainly thank you for it.

Plastic sheeting on Coop

Plastic sheeting on Coop

Coops purchased online vary enormously. Cocoon is a brand that consistently receives good reviews by poultry keepers. We can also vouch for Little Acre Products, their housing is good quality and well built, they make an excellent coop called the Weeford, we have 3 of these and they make excellent broody coops. This particular coop has the additional option of adding a nestbox to it, should you wish to house several bantams together. You will of course have to weather proof any you purchase, as none come ready treated.

Posted in Poultry Chat, Poultry Health | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Managing New Birds

New arrivals need to be managed carefully and with some thought. The best time to introduce new birds to an existing flock is bedtime, when it’s dark preferably. When all the birds in the coop wake up in the morning, the new arrivals will be seen by the older birds but they will still be a little sleepy and hungry to go on the attack. That’s the idea and it does seem to work.

Introducing new birds to an existing flock is always stressful, both for you and the birds. Each one of the older hens before the introduction knew their place in the pecking order, but with the arrival of newcomers, that’s all been broken. Each bird will now have to find their place afresh. It’s not as bad as it sounds, if you usually let the flock free range, the older birds will be far too interested in foraging to have a go at the newcomers.

New Lohmann Brown Hens

New Lohmann Brown Hens

The new birds will want to stay in the coop at first, so it’s a good idea to place a feeder in the coop for them together with some water. I don’t like putting a water container inside the coop, it invariable gets knocked over, but in this situation you’ve no option. The container itself is best placed in a corner, less chance of it getting knocked over.

On the second or third day, curiosity will get the better of the new birds and some will wander outside into the run. That’s when the trouble usually starts, but if your older birds are busy beyond the run, it will be less traumatic for the youngsters, as only the odd older bird will be around to peck and chase them. For those birds that remain inside the hen house, they will meet the older birds when they come to lay in the coop, so they don’t get off the hook!

Screeching from the coop at this time is to be expected, so no need to be too concerned, check up on them during the day just to make sure no one is getting hurt. In a week or so the worst of the bullying will be over. Be sure to keep an eye on the new birds when dusk approaches. They should have been in the coop for at least a couple of days to know where home is, but they will still be reluctant to go inside the coop at first with all the older birds. Sometimes an older bird will wait just inside the coop by the pophole to peck the new birds as they try to roost, put a stop to this and pick the culprit up and place then on the roosting bars out of the way.

Getting used to the facilities

Getting used to the facilities

By the end of the first week things will be improving, the newcomers will still be pecked and chased, but their place within the flock is now slowly being accepted. Into the second week, all the new birds should be outside in the run each day, if they all seem to be eating and drinking outside, remove the water container from the coop. When outside in the run the new birds usually keep together in a tight group for protection. One or two will go beyond the run (if you allow your birds to roam), just make sure you’ve got them all by dusk by doing a headcount. You don’t want a runaway on your hands. Best keep a torch with you just in case you have to go searching!

Posted in Poultry Behaviour, Poultry Chat | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arboreal Hamburghs

Silver Pencilled Hamburgh Cockerel

Silver Pencilled Hamburgh Cockerel

This year (2013) we have bred more Silver Pencilled Hamburghs to add to our existing small flock. We now have just over 20 birds. These birds are often described in books as, standoffish, flighty, avoids human contact, etc. We’ve found if you take the trouble to talk to them and slowly let them get to know you, they respond well and will often let you handle them. The breed was developed in Germany and Holland prior to 1700. They produce a good quantity of glossy pure white eggs, which are slightly larger than most bantam eggs.

Our flock are housed in a roomy coop, attached to which is a sizeable run. The run however is a bit redundant now, as they are let out into the garden proper each day and come and go as they please. These birds do love to forage and will cover some ground, ours are often to be seen beyond our main gate on the track. They like each other’s company and parade about in little groups, often trying to slip into the garage when the door opens in the hope of getting some wild bird seed.

On the Lookout! Our Hamburgh males getting a better view

On the Lookout

Both the male and female of this particular variety are truly beautiful. The delicate pencilled markings are shown to perfection on the white background, whilst the steel blue legs are just right. The lovely large eyes are quite a surprise on such a small bird.

For some unaccountable reason they prefer to roost in our trees and bushes at the moment. So at bedtime, we have to remove them one by one to the safety of the coop. For such highly strung birds they are very amiable about it and rarely protest, so we can collect 3 or more at a time. Stroking their heads whilst transferring them usually helps and they will often close their eyes and appear to doze.

Hamburghs Tree Roosting

Hamburghs Tree Roosting

We got to know the breed quite by chance. Brian went to collect some Brahmas from a guy in Tain who just happened to mention he also had some Silver Pencilled Hamburghs for sale. On seeing them Brian couldn’t resist and he brought back a trio. That was over 4 years ago now, so slowly we have increased the flock to it’s present size using our own stock and also hatching eggs from elsewhere.

There is one down side to Hamburghs, they are susceptible to Marek’s disease, a Herpes virus infection. The first signs of trouble is usually unbalanced walking, tottering gait accompanied by one wing drooping, falling over and unable to get upright. The common form of this disease causes tumours which attack the nervous system. We have lost a number of birds to this very distressing complaint. There is no cure, nor is there any hope of any bird making a recovery either unfortunately. The kindest thing is to put them to sleep well before they lose all control. It should be pointed out that most backyard flocks around the world have this disease, it’s common. The number of exposed birds that actually go down with it are small. All bantams are vulnerable to Marek’s, particularly Silkies, Hamburghs, and Seabrights.

Collection of Hamburghs

Collection of Hamburghs

On the whole, these lovely beautiful birds are well worth the trouble in seeking out. Apart from their desire to wander far and wide, they make wonderful pets and are ideal if you are looking for a breed with that extra something.

Posted in Poultry Behaviour, Poultry Breeding & Hatching | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Red Mite

Each year, when summer finally arrives, I start to dread hot sunny weather. A bright morning with clear blue skies is usually a signal that our hen coops will require more attention than usual. Each morning I remove all the droppings from each coop (currently 13, counting the goose shed). This keeps the coops relatively clean and sweet smelling. To aid this process I recently started to use Stalosan F. This advertises itself as a disinfectant, eliminating viruses, bacteria, fungi and helps remove dampness in poultry houses. It also seems to control red mite!

Stalosan F

Stalosan F

Normally we have bad infestations of red mite each summer, which we have hitherto controlled successfully with Poultry Shield. Whilst Poultry Shield does the job just fine, it’s a hell of a lot of work, hours in fact. The other stuff we’ve used in nest boxes particularly with no real success has been Diatom Powder. Dreadful stuff to apply, clouds of dust everywhere. This is what worried us about it. Diatom powder is basically silicon in microscopic particles, the aim of the product is to cut to pieces the red mites themselves. This being the case it will do just the same to your lungs. Simple face masks won’t be enough to protect you when applying the powder. Diatom has had good results for many by all accounts, but not for us.

Other products are available to deal with red mites, such as special puff pack powders, fumigators, etc. We have largely stuck to Poultry Shield together with Stalosan F. Up to very recently our use of Stalosan has been limited to combating moisture, fungus and as an anti-bacterial agent in the coops. A few months ago I thought I’d see if it made any difference to our red mite problem. So I began by applying a lot more of the stuff. Previously I had only dusted it into the bedding on the floor and now and again into the nest boxes.

Stalosan applied into coop corners Now we apply the Stalosan fairly heavily into coop corners, nestboxes, paying special attention to the roosting bars, including the brackets they are attached to. So far it has worked a treat, but with red mite it’s a case of constant vigilance. Normally at this time of year (mid July), we would have to be spraying each coop on a 10 day cycle to stand any chance of controling them. A lot of work, using up a lot of time. This time around, just using the Stalosan, we’ve been saved this drugery. Only now can we see small numbers of red mite in the corners near the roof, inside of door and roof beams. We spray these areas with Poultry Shield every 14 days or so and together with the Stalosan we have controlled their numbers sufficently not to be a worry for the birds.

Stalosan applied to perches

Stalosan applied to perches

Bear in mind that red mite can be killers. If you have a broody hen with chicks and there is red mite in the brooder, they can and probably will kill not only the chicks, but mum as well. I know from bitter experience what a real threat these beasties can be. During the summer we often have a brooder or two inside our garage with chicks. We thought that we knew when red mite were present. On one occasion we had a few Japanese bantam chicks in a brooder in the garage one summer, we awoke one morning to find one dead, 2 dying and another looking very unwell. All due to missing the presence of red mite. The life cycle of red mite is only 7 days, yes they breed that quick! You have been warned!!

Posted in Poultry Health | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Chicks & Broody Hens

Hamburgh  Chicks hatched in March 2013

Hamburgh Chicks hatched in March 2013

We have had a very busy spring and summer this year, being almost knee deep in chicks! Our first lot were Silver Pencilled Hamburghs hatched in March. They were hatched in an incubator, so no problem with uncovered eggs. If you are looking at incubators and finding the choice a bit overwhelming, we would strongly suggest spending a bit of money and getting one of the RCom incubators. We have a couple of these and they are first rate, automatic turning of the eggs, and more importantly, full humidity control and temperature control via a digital panel.

Useful as an incubator is, we much prefer hatching with a broody. This year we were lucky as we had a choice of broodies, almost every coop had one by the time May arrived. So we chose the ever reliable Japanese bantams to hatch some white large fowl Silkies and some Vorwerks. We got 3 out of 6 Silkie eggs to hatch which wasn’t bad. The Vorwerk hatch was better 8 out 12. The Vorwerks are classed as a rare breed and as we already had 2 boys, we thought we’d try and hatch some more and get a flock going.

White Silkie Chicks

White Silkie Chicks

The surrogate Japanese bantams are wonderful mothers, organising themselves into mini co-operative groups. We had a group of 5 taking on the task. This time around though there was a fair amount of squabbling between them unfortunately, the eggs got rolled around a bit, no sooner had a female gone outside to feed than her companions pinched her eggs. It finally quietened down a little when the eggs hatched. By this time even the cockerels got in on the act, they often took on the job of brooding the chicks, so enabling a female or two to take time out to water and feed themselves.

Japanese bantams - Surrogate Mums

Japanese bantams - Surrogate Mums

Normally any broody with eggs are provided with private quarters away from the flock for obvious reasons, but Japanese bantams seem to buck the trend. We have raised a number of chicks within this flock, usually more Japanese bantams, but they are more than happy to act as surrogate mothers when the need arises.

Back to our trusty incubator again, we successfully raised some more Silver Laced Wyandotte bantams. Over the years the SLW bantams had dwindled down to 3 individuals, one of which (Fifi) passed away only a few days ago. This time, out of 12 eggs we got 8 to hatch and now around 10 weeks old they are a very lively bunch. This little group also have 3 black large fowl Silkies, who were raised together with the SLW bantams.

Also getting in on the act was a little Japanese/Wyandotte bantam cross. Down near the shed is a coop with some bantams, one of which decided she’d go on walkabout. Come the evening we had one missing, ah well we thought, not the end of the world. She was still missing by the end of week 2, probably out in the open brooding somewhere we imagined. She did appear on a couple of mornings to feed and then disappeared again.

One morning I was walking towards this coop and saw something I wasn’t prepared for, the missing girl had appeared with no less than 13 chicks in tow, all of whom were cheeping loudly. A rather large unplanned pregnancy!

We moved her to a secure little coop designed especially for broodies. This coop has served us well, it has already helped to raise some hamburghs. The little girl looked very happy with all her chicks underneath her in the coop, a bit more secure than out in the open.

Posted in Poultry Breeding & Hatching | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sights and Sounds

Bantams

Bantams

We have a small group of bantams close to the house and as we go around putting every one to bed, we often whistle close to their coop and receive in response a

      lovely reply
.

It’s only when we get one of those rare warm sunny days you get to see the hens properly. I can’t believe that we have close on 150 birds now, spread over 14 coops! This is not counting the many chicks and growers coming along. As usual when closing up for the night, we count the birds in to make sure nobody is left outside.

Trevor - Hamburgh Cockerel

Trevor - Hamburgh Cockerel

The Hamburgh’s coop is definitely high on the counting list. The females come and go almost daily. At the moment we should have 5 females, we actually have 3. The missing 2 were a mystery until very recently, when we counted 5 one morning, out and about with Trevor their cockerel. After a while one female broke away from Trevor and the other girls and made her way to the nearby Brahma coop. She started preening herself close to the coop. Right I thought, I bet she’s got eggs somewhere that she’s sitting on. Preening finished, she slowly made her way to the other side of the Brahma coop and disappeared underneath the coop itself. It wasn’t long before I discovered where she had hid herself.

Hamburghs Secret Nest

Hamburghs Secret Nest

Right underneath the coop where the 2 missing females. Between them, they were sitting on 20 eggs! It’s now been whittled down to 17, as they plainly couldn’t sit properly on that number of eggs. The 3 you can see in front of one of the Hamburghs were rejected. They were stone cold, so I chucked them. The 17 remaining eggs seem to be covered well.

For nearly a solid month now, poor Titch, a Silver Laced Wyandotte bantam hybrid, has been broody. Every day there she is on the floor of the coop (or in a nest box, just for a change) with an egg she has managed to pinch from someone else, and every morning I come along and remove it along with all the other eggs laid that morning.

Titch - Silver Laced Wyandotte hybrid bantam

Titch

I don’t have to tell you what a spoilsport I feel when I remove that egg each morning. It does not lie comfortable with my conscience at all and the longer it goes on the worst I feel about it! I’m almost at the point of giving in, but finding a way for her to find relief from her hormone charged state is not going to be easy. Poor girl, she is normally no trouble at all, having unquestionably ‘fitted in’ with a collection of Black Rock and Maran girls, all much bigger than her, I do feel I owe her one. Unfinished business I guess, watch this space.

Well, little Titch has now finally got what she wanted, a secret place of her own to bring up some youngsters. We finally found a way to satisfy her raging hormones to be a mum. She has been moved from the noisy and often bitchy coop to the garage, in a wooden brooder on her own in peace and quite, with only radio 3 or radio 4 for company. She is now sitting on 5 Hamburgh eggs (courtesy of Ebay). We desperately wanted some new Hamburgh blood and despite trawling Ebay for some weeks without success, we suddenly found a lone advert for Silver Pencilled Hamburghs and couldn’t resist the opportunity. This solved two problems in one really. I think you will agree Titch looks very contented now. Will report on the hatch at a later date.

Happy Titch

Titch hatched the eggs just fine but unfortunately had to be removed a couple of days later. She largely ignored the chicks after hatching and not long after she then started to peck them. The last straw came when we found a dead chick, lying in the drinker. The chick looked as if it had drowned, but drowning in this type of drinker is just about impossible. Our guess was that Titch in her confused state had been digging furiously and had managed to kick the poor chick hard against the drinker. Obviously her broody condition which had lasted for weeks before being given these eggs to hatch had gone on too long. We were glad in a way, she had been in this condition for so long that her health was beginning to suffer. She looked tired and pale and clearly wanted to go outside instead, we reluctantly removed her and put her back with her flock.

Solitaire a Belgium bantam

Solitaire a Belgium bantam

Fortunately, waiting in the wings was Solitaire, a Belgium bantam, who has acted as a surrogate mother on previous occasions. We introduced her to the 5 Hamburgh chicks and immediately she started to cluck and make all the right sounds. In a matter of minutes all 5 were securely underneath Solitaire and a more contented hen you couldn’t imagine.

Posted in Poultry Behaviour, Poultry Breeding & Hatching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment