Is it possible to have too many chickens?

Obviously the answer is yes…. If you have a quadrillion chickens, that is definitely too many.  I am sure everyone would agree that there is an upper end to how many chickens you can have.  That upper limit is dependent on your situation and the way you should answer the question of “how many chickens” is reliant on several factors.

One of the girls before I sold her.
  • How much land do you have to be available to the chickens?  Smaller amounts of land equal smaller number of chickens which can be housed without a seemingly exponential increase in cost and labour.

 

  • What will you feed the chickens?  Will they free range in an area, or will you provide store bought food?  The cost of this will need to be considered and will impact the amount of livestock you can keep.

 

  • Why do you have the chickens?  For egg production?  You need to ask yourself how many eggs will you need and work out the number of chickens that will be required.  Some people want meat production, which requires a Rooster (the purchase of fertilised eggs or new hatched chicks can negate the need for the Rooster) and will need extra care due to the chicks you will need to protect.

 

  • Finally, how much time do you have to devote to caring for the chickens?  When you have more time, you can compensate (a small amount) to cutting costs, moving the chickens on to fresh ground, etc.  When you have less time, you must make some decisions which (should you have a larger flock) may be considered as short cuts.

 

Kitty would tell me that walking in the garden made her feel like she was in the classic film, The Birds.

 

What do I mean by short cuts?  I don’t have a huge amount of time when I return home from work each week day.  In order to cut the time demands of my chickens, I allow them to free roam throughout my garden (except for crucial growing areas, such as my vegetable garden).  I don’t put them into a coop at night, instead allowing them to roost in my orchid.  As the chickens are free to roam, I feed them in an area so that they can spread out to eat and not be forced close to each other (which can cause friction, such as fighting).

 

 

A family living on a tiny suburban lot may have three chickens, any more may be too many for their needs.  A Pastured Poultry farmer may have two thousand chickens, and they are satisfied that is all they need for now.  When I look at my situation, which is that I have a small amount of land, little money for feed, a small amount of time to care for them and too many chickens, you get into a position where mistakes can be made.  I started out with a small number of Australorp chickens at my home, I believe I had two females and one male.  From these I incubated several dozen eggs before selecting a number to keep for my own flock.  I ended up with the one male and (around) six females, which provided me with two-three dozen eggs per week.  As the Rooster I owned was the father of the majority of the flock, and he was an incredibly bad-tempered chicken.  He was so awful that he would attempt to attack my family on a regular basis.  After I removed him from circulation, I bought a new Rooster from a different bloodline (whom we named Reggie).  Reggie was a great Rooster, caring for his girls with a high level of attentiveness, yet never being aggressive to my family.  Reggie fathered many chicks, the majority of which were sold.  When I removed Reggie from the flock, I decided to hatch a last batch of fertilised eggs.  It seems that several of my hens decided they would do the same thing, as I ended up with 24 chickens.  While I worried I had too many, I didn’t mind it too much.

How I deal with my unwanted Roosters.

Over the course of a few weeks I noticed the condition of my lawn starting to degrade.  With the approach of winter, my chickens were causing significant damage to the sodden ground.  They were also causing problems with just moving through my back yard, as they crowded around when they were hungry.  This meant that a short 10 second walk to my shed would take a minute as I navigated through the flock.  It was when I noticed that I was going through significant amounts of fodder each day, and the chickens were still hungry, I had to make a quick decision to reduce the size of my flock.  The decision?  I decided to sell 5 of my younger chickens.  This netted me a nice bit of cash (to put back into chicken feed), yet I had to deal with the people on Gumtree.  I won’t go into Gumtree right now, just know that the majority of interest is from time wasters.

After selling 5 chickens I am down to 19 chickens… two of which are males (so they will be dispatched eventually), and a couple of the older females are now around three years old… which means their egg production is going to dry up.  After some culling which I plan in the early Spring, I should be down to around 12 chickens.  I hope to gather around five dozen eggs a week, which will allow me to provide all the eggs my family needs, and some additional to be sold to help cover their feed costs.  The number for me, at the moment, will be 12… yet this number may change with our needs.

 

The Trouble with Chickens

Owning chickens can be fun and educational.  They also provide a return on your investment in the form of meat, eggs, insect control, manure, companionship, education and can be good for a laugh.  They are also a roller coaster ride of accidents and trouble.

Chickens can wreck havoc on your garden, by getting in to your carefully tended produce.   I have had Chickens destroy well established Rosemary bushes, wreck freshly harvested Tomatoes (which were left unattended for 30 seconds) and don’t get me started on how they can annihilate a Strawberry patch.  In this video you can see my Hen attacking the low hanging apples in my orchid.  She is doing this to feed her young, adopted, chicks… so I can’t be upset.  It is still going to mean less apples for me.

They also do unexpected things which can cause issues.  I have previously written about accidentally killing a chick… well it looks like I have done it again.

 

Thankfully, the chicken wasn’t seriously hurt and it worked out that it had no serious damage.

 

Having chickens around is great, yet if you do decide to own some of your own, be ready for a very busy time.

Just when I think I have them figured out, chickens keep amazing me.

When we decided to graduate our Rooster (Reggie) to the cooking pot, I mentioned that I was hoping that the last batch of eggs from his breeding would be fruitful.  To that end I placed a dozen eggs in the incubator and hoped for the best.  I also had left a couple of dozen eggs outside in nests, where chickens were attempting to hatch them.  While Reggie was gone, I started out feeling very confident that there would be some future generations.

Of course, things didn’t go the way I had expected.  The eggs which I had left in two different nests mysteriously vanished one afternoon… it turned out Orlaith and Errol (my two naughty dogs) decided they wanted raw omelette for lunch.  One of the chickens took this in her stride and despite losing all her eggs, she kept trying to lay more for hatching.  The other chicken didn’t take it very well.  She is an older chicken and she went totally broody…. Sitting in an empty nest for weeks, barely eating, getting aggressive when someone came near her.  It was very sad to see her act this way when there were no eggs under her.  She was doing her best, yet nothing would come of her actions.

To be honest, I was not very optimistic… three of the eggs I placed in the incubator turned out to be pretty old (one of them exploded in the incubator while I was attempting to candle the egg), so those three had to be thrown away.  The others were partly covered in off egg and still had a couple of weeks to go till hatching.

Then, on Saturday morning I heard the familiar “cheep” of chicks from the incubator.  When I checked, there were two chicks who had hatched overnight, with two more attempting to break from their shells.  A few hours later, all four were free, with the last five not hatching (I kept them in for two extra days, yet they didn’t try to break out).  I kept them in over Saturday night, yet on Sunday I was met with a problem… I didn’t have a working Brooder light.  These lights are expensive ($18 per bulb) and don’t last more than a few days.  My last one blew as I was setting up the light system, so I had nowhere to keep them warm during the cold nights.  I considered driving to the city to purchase a replacement bulb, then a figurative lightbulb illuminated above my head.

I had a chicken who wanted chicks, and chicks without a mother.  I had heard of people placing partially hatched, or eggs about to hatch, under a broody chicken.  She would have them hatch and believe they were her eggs.  I haven’t heard of people placing live chicks under a broody hen and having them survive, yet my options were pretty narrow.  I placed the four chicks in a basket and brought them to the broody hen.  She was very angry at my proximity, making her displeasure known via loud calls.  I grabbed the first chick and placed it next to her.  She looked at it, yet didn’t make any move at it.  I took this as a positive sign, as she hadn’t attacked it, unlike my hand which she pecked as it came into range.  I then grabbed another chick and slid this one under her feathers to place it near her legs.  The hen was angry again, yet didn’t hurt the chick next to her… infact the chick walked over and climbed under her feathers to join the one I just placed.  I quickly popped the last two under her and then sat back.  The hen calmed down and, while still looking a little fluffed up, was pretty quiet.  I took this as a good sign and walked away to let them get acquainted.

A few hours later I came back.  I had noticed the hen still sitting in her nest and I was starting to get worried about the chicks.  They needed to eat and drink, and if she sat there all day they may not have the energy required to survive if she didn’t do something.  I decided that whilst she appeared happy to sit on the chicks, I didn’t think she would mother them (which was what they required).  I made a decision to take the chicks back off her and to place them in a rabbit hutch, which I could try to warm with hot water bottles.  I also took the hen from her nest and blocked it so she couldn’t get back in (this is something I have read you should do to broody hens when you don’t want them to be broody).  After giving the chicks some food and water I went on my way.

When I came out to feed the animals in the early evening I noticed something unusual.  The chicks were crowded on one side of the hutch, and other outside (right next to the chicks) was the previously broody hen.  She was sitting there, watching the chicks!  It seems that she and the chicks had bonded over the course of a few hours, and now they viewed each other as family.  She wanted to be with them, so much so that she sat there with them when she couldn’t reach them.  I don’t know if I am explaining how touching this scene was… she was alone and without chicks, yet now she had these little ones.  I immediately removed them from the hutch, where they ran over and hid under her feathers.  When I fed them, she made the familiar noises a mother hen makes when the babies need to eat, which drew them from her feathers to have their meal.

After this, I noticed another interesting chicken behaviour.  One of my previous batches of chicks… one which was raised by a hen after they hatched (the one where I accidently killed one when moving their hutch) were being aggressive to the mother hen.  When I fed them, some of the young chicks would peck her head feathers, and appeared to be very cruel to the mother hen.  I decided to remove her from the hutch for her own protection.  Despite being moved from the hutch, the mother hen spends hours of each day watching the grown chicks… she sits next to their hutch and watches them, where the other chickens don’t even bother to look at them.  It appears that she is still showing some motherly behaviour towards the chicks, despite many people’s belief that chickens are stupid.  I know I am anthropomorphising, yet it is hard to see such behaviour and not notice how similar they are to people.

Saying goodbye to my Rooster Reggie

My Rooster, Reggie, is no longer with us.  Nothing accidental happened, nor was he ill.  It was simply a case of him being surplus to my needs.  In short, I decided it was time he graduated from the paddock to the plate.

I know that I had originally planned that I would not do this, yet I had to get rid of him and this seemed like a good idea.  Why did I have to get rid of him?  Mostly due to his usefulness running its course.  I bought him to breed with my hens, and he did a great job if that.  He was a great Rooster for protecting his girls from hawks and any other threat.  Yet, as I said he had produced many offspring… so many that I don’t need any more little ones.  I was also getting tired of hearing him crow during all hours of the night.  It never woke me up and no one in my house complained, yet I could hear him if I had to get up in the night.  My neighbours were also not very receptive to his nightly crowing.  One of my neighbours runs a Bed and Breakfast, and she told me that he keeps her and her guests awake all night.  I don’t believe that as her place has excellent reviews.  My other neighbour is more polite, yet I can tell he doesn’t like the crowing.

Reggie in happier, living, days

I have been trying to find a home for Reggie, yet no one is interested in a Rooster.  It was down to a choice between giving him to the RSPA, keeping him (and all the issues which go with that), or eating him.  I decided to eat him.

I know I said I wouldn’t eat him.  My plan to treat all my breeding animals as pets was something I have long tried to do.  I used to keep animals around well after their use has passed, as a way to thank them for their work.  I have now decided that this was a little too sentimental and a waste of money.  I am sure that our fore-parents didn’t keep a chicken around past it’s productive life to thank it… they would have eaten it.  I decided to try this.

Now, Reggie was around 2 years old, so I was sure he would be tough to eat.  I started to prepare him for a roast, yet I decided mid-pluck that I would have to slow cook him.  After he was slaughtered and butchered, I placed him in the slow cooker for around 6 hours.  I hoped that it would be sufficient time for him to tenderise.  I was very wrong.  When I checked around 7pm, the meat was as chewy as rubber, I had to make a different dinner for us that night and leave Reggie to cook overnight.

You can see the darkness of the meat, as I was starting to pull the meat apart.

It turned out that he needed around 24 hours in the slow cooker before he was tender enough that I could turn him into pulled chicken for the casserole he was in.  I now know that I really need to buy a pressure cooker, as the time to cook this type of meat would be greatly reduced.

Now… I feel I have found something interesting about myself by doing this.  I have always said that you should never name an animal you intend to eat.  I have previously felt pangs of guilt and at times almost like being sick when I have eaten animals I have named.  I recall my old pig Han… when I ate him I tasted mud, yet everyone else said it tasted delicious.  When I ate Reggie, I didn’t feel the same.  I don’t know if this is down to being annoyed at Reggie or that I have become cold and removed in my old age.  It might also be that I have thought long and hard about what I would do with Reggie… and when I exhasted all other options, it was time to eat him.

I do have two chickens that are almost three years old… at the stage that they will no longer be producing eggs (or sufficient eggs to warrent keeping them).  I am curious if I will feel bad eating them, yet they don’t actually have names, so probably not.  Despite this, I intend to keep them around a little longer… until I can buy a pressure cooker into which I will graduate them.

 

Trying out different methods of raising chicks

Yesterday, while I was watching my chickens eat their food, I noticed that I was (unintentionally) using three different methods of raising my chicks.  I thought about it and realised that there may be an interesting there may be a lesson here, which was why I put together the following video.

I am currently using three different methods.

  • Group 1 – Raised without a mother, in an enclosed pen.
  • Group 2 – Raised with a mother, in an enclosed pen.
  • Group 3 – Raised with a mother, free range.

I have noticed some differences in their personalities due to the ways they are being raised.

Group 1 seems a little too attached to me (which I like, as it will make caring for them easier later.  If I have to pick one up to check it, it will be used to me).   They don’t damage the ground as much as group 2, yet they still do chick like activities (chasing each other and playing).

Group 2 appear to have learned to really go to town on the ground, scratching the lawn up terribly.  I have to move them regularly or they will destroy the grass.  These chicks play a lot, involving their mother in their games.  They watch her and seem to learn how to behave from her.  These chicks do not like me to pick them up and freak out when I have to touch them (when they escape from the cage I need to put them back).

Group 3 is very used to the other chickens, yet it does watch the chicks from group 2 a lot… almost like it wants to play with them.  It is very used me… perhaps too used to me.  It gets in the way a lot and I have to be careful not to step on it.

I think that Group 2 is probably the best… they learn all the skills they need to be chickens (or so it seems to me) and they are also protected from predators.  They also have the freedom to eat their feed without competing with the full-grown chickens.

I won’t bother placing any chicks out without a mother, and without an enclosure.  I doubt they would last very long with the cold, predators, and my dog Orlaith (who feels they are play things).

With every step backwards there are several steps forward.

It all seems to be happening here at the moment.  One of my chickens who had been brooding on a whole collection of eggs has finally come through and seven live chicks have hatched.  This, combined with the other seven which I hatched from my incubator (yes, they are still alive, and they are definitely growing fast).

I have to say, and I may have said it before, that allowing a hen to brood, hatch and raise the chicks is so much easier.  I don’t have to worry about keeping the eggs warm and protected till they hatch… I don’t have to keep the newly hatched chicks warm… I don’t have to do nearly anything at all.  That said, I do need to do one thing… protect them from birds of prey.  I have lost too many chicks over the years to leave it to chance.

Reggy the Rooster meeting his newly hatched offspring.

When the chicks hatched, which occurred on Saturday, I left them with their mother who spent the day on the eggs to ensure they were all able to break out of their eggs.  The next morning (on Sunday, for those of you paying attention) the mother was off the nest and roaming around the garden.  She was showing the little ones how to find food.  While she did this I checked her nest.  I checked the nest and I noticed that there was no chance that the other eggs would hatch… they were cold and obviously too late for them.

I then arranged for the mother hen and her chicks to be eating near one of my larger hutches, which I then carefully placed over the group.  I now had them trapped in a place that they could be protected.  With them safe I cold return to the nest and check that over more carefully.  I found several eggs left unhatched, one dead chick (possibly crushed) and one which shell which had started to be broken, yet it appeared the chick was dead.

You can see the egg with the crack in it to the top left.

I checked the eggs and found them cold, so any life within would be dead… or so I thought. As I was crouched there, counting the eggs and taking a couple of photos for this article I noticed the egg which I thought contained the dead chick that failed to break from the shell moved.  It took me a moment to realise, as it only moved a little.  I picked the egg up and spoke to the chick, and it moved again… very slightly.  The shell was cold and the chick was obviously close to dying.  I had to make a choice, so I decided to try to help out the little one out.  If I didn’t, it would surly die.  I knew there was a great chance it wouldn’t live, yet I couldn’t stand idle while this little chick died… I had to do something.

I carefully peeled the outer layers of the shell from the chick, trying to break the sections which would allow it to be free.  I noticed significant blood, which I worried was from the chick, yet I couldn’t stop.  After a minute of work the chick was free, yet cold and tired.  I placed the chick with the rest of it’s family, in the warmth of the sun.  I had hoped that it would be warmed by the sun and be able to live with the rest of the flock.

Seven is enough

This, sadly, was not meant to be.  Whilst I did check on the chick every hour, and it did show signs of improving, when I checked on it later in the day the chick had died.  I suspect it was due to the sun going behind the clouds a couple of hours earlier.  I did try to warm it up, yet it didn’t help.

So, good news was that I have another seven chicks… the bad news is that I couldn’t save one of them.

It may be time to diversify my interests.

My Rooster, Reggie, has been causing a little bit of a problem lately.  He is a great Rooster, and does his best to protect the flock… the only issue is his crowing.  He crows at various times throughout the night and day.  This isn’t really a serious issue.  We live in the country and he isn’t located close to anyone’s house.  His crowing does make me feel a little embarrassed when I wake up at 5am and he is making noises, yet to be honest I don’t really hear him.

The other day, my neighbour approached Kitty to explain that she hasn’t been sleeping due to the amount of crowing from Reggie.  To be honest… I don’t believe that the Rooster is keeping her awake.  We live near a busy road and if the loud trucks at 3am don’t wake her, I doubt the Rooster would do anything.  Despite this, I am considering getting rid of Reggie.  I do not intend to kill him, I am thinking of giving him away to live with other chickens.

Loosing Reggie will put a serious problem in my side hustle of hatching and selling chicks.  Without Reggie I won’t have fertile eggs to incubate.  I have decided that I will hatch a couple more dozen eggs, and keep the hens for egg production (I can easily sell them).  This will mean that, in around 6 months I won’t have any more chickens to raise and eat.  I need to therefore consider an alternative.

Which is why I am looking into quail.

Quail is something I have been considering for around 10 years.  Kitty was interested in our trying to raise them back then, yet at the time I had Rabbits, chickens, Geese, ducks and pigs… I was already way too invested in all that and I didn’t have time to spare.  With the reduction of the time I will need to spend with the chickens, I think it is time to get into Quail.

 

I still have a lot to learn before I purchase my first breeding flock (I have plenty of books on the topic), yet I have already started setting up some spaces for them.  I have an old cage which we used to use when we kept canaries.  I also picked up a great little box for $10 from the pet store.  I hope I can use it to keep my breeding quail.

What will I do with my quail?  Well, I mostly intend to use them as a source of meat.  Apparently, they breed rapidly and grow to full grown quickly.  They also produce eggs, and I am sure I could both use them, and sell them.  Finally, it would be fun to have the little birds on the property.

Hopefully I will have some news soon on the progress to owning some Cortunix Quail.

 

 

 

Did you know that chickens sing?

Did you know that chickens can sing?  They don’t have the nicest voice, yet their calls do signify that an egg has been laid.  After a chicken lays an egg she will cluck and call, making a big production about the egg she has laid.  If you pay attention and notice this, you can get the egg when it is fresh from the chicken.  I have had a lot of trouble collecting eggs this season, with my dog Orlaith being a much faster gatherer than I.  She usually, unless I am paying attention, finds them and eats them.  For a few days I was more alert when the chickens sang their song after they laid their eggs.

With a dozen eggs collected I decided to set up the incubator in the studio.  It is a very simple procedure once you have learnt it.  If you are interested in incubating eggs there are many great companies which make them.  The model I use was pretty inexpensive… I bought it off eBay a couple of years ago for less than $100.

It isn’t quality, and I have read of some people saying it only lasts a few years, yet I have found it to be not too bad.  I did have trouble with the instructions, as they were in Chinese and the English wasn’t great, yet I worked it out in the end.  I have heard that some of the better quality incubators are made by Greatlander, and Janoel… yet I will stick to my no name brand for now.

 

With the eggs, you need to ensure that you place them so that the pointed part of the shell is directed downwards!  This guarantees the air sack to be at the correct location.  After this, you need to check the incubator daily to safeguard against the water running out (it needs to be at the correct humidity) and then it is mostly just playing the waiting game.

I am not sure what I will do with the chicks once they have hatched.  I don’t want to keep them as I can’t breed with them.  I may try to swap them with someone else or sell them.  For now, I am just starting the process of hatching the eggs.  I will work out the rest later.

 

 

“I can’t deal with high maintenance chicks”. – Jeremy London

Image

Our two ducklings

In the last week we have had some ducks and chicks hatching.  We have four hutches in our chicken house with two which had ducks sitting on eggs, with the other two holding Hens setting on eggs.  We have around 12 Muscovy ducks (with one drake) and 5 Hens (with one rooster).  In an effort to produce some additional ducklings/chicks we refrained from collecting eggs for a couple of weeks, which led to one of our laying hutches having around 18 eggs  with the other birds sitting on around a dozen eggs each.  Before the birds sat on the eggs Kitty told me that she was concerned that the eggs would go bad from just sitting there, and should they be fertilised the babies would be dead.  I told her that this is not the case.  Chickens and ducks usually don’t sit on eggs to keep them warm until they have amassed enough to make it worth their time.  The cells within do not become viable until they reach the right temperature, so they will keep until then (for a short time).  Once the hen sits on the eggs for enough time the babies start to grow, and then all the eggs should hatch around the same time.  I don’t know what number is a suitable number for the animal to decide whether to sit or not, and to be honest I thought that 18 eggs was too many.

The brooding started when one of our older hens started sitting on the eggs and was doing this every time we checked for the next day or so.  All was well until a few days later when a Muscovy duck joined her, and the two animals were sitting on the same batch of eggs.  I was worried about this as there may be too much warmth, however I trusted that they knew more than I about this, so I left them alone.  A few days later I noticed that the eggs that had been laid in the other three hutches were now occupied with two ducks and a few days after that another chicken took position in a hutch.   They sat on these for around 4 weeks… so long that I was doubtful that the eggs were fertalised and I believed that they wouldn’t hatch.  I am happy to say that I was wrong about that.  On Thursday, while working near the chicken house, I heard a faint “cheeping” sound.  The geese that were foraging nearby also heard it, as they were looking around for the origin of the sound.  I looked in the chicken house window and noticed a small duckling sitting next to the chicken.  Later that day there were four more in the chicken’s hutch and one wondering around the chicken house.  This was great news as I am very interested in arranging for the chickens and ducks to breed without my intervention.  I have raised hatched birds before, last year I borrowed an incubator off a neighbour (he was interested in using it having recently bought it, yet he didn’t have the time nor the electricity to spare as he was off grid) and I laid 24 eggs to hatch.  21 of these eggs produced ducklings, which was a great bonus to the family and were great for the flock.  Before this time we had 2 ducks and a drake that were the parents to this brood.  These original animals were given to me by another neighbour, who had decided that ducks were not for him.  After this we had around 10 male ducks and 11 female.  We ate the young males when they were large enough and I bought another drake to ensure genetic diversity with by breeding with the new females (which was timely, as the older drake died while the new drake was in my quarantine area.  I don’t know how he died and I suspect it was because he was old).  We lost a female, one of the mothers, who died one night.

Since that time the ducks have been supplying us with eggs, keeping the grass low, and also polluting my dam when they go for a swim (another problem for me to solve).  I had another brood of ducklings hatch the next year by some ducks that wandered off into the bush and laid eggs in secret locations.  The only issue was that ducks are apparently very bad parents.  The mother would wander about the property with their babies behind them and crows would swoop down and pick off the young one at a time. The ducklings that survived (mostly because I caught them and raised them myself in an enclosed area) were butchered once they reached a suitable size.

An older photo of the Chickenhouse. Taken around April 2010.
An older photo of the Chickenhouse. Taken around April 2010.

I am in the process of building a new house which I am calling “the duck house”.  This is an enclosure, like the chicken house, yet will be for the ducks.  It will have a nice place to swim and will allow us to keep the ducks from the dam.  The main reason for the enclosure is to prevent loss of the young to the crows.

On Friday, when I returned from work I  discovered that I lost all the ducklings.  It was very disappointing after the elation of their hatching.  We searched about for the ducklings and we couldn’t find them, which was actually very surprising.  The previous year I had covered the chicken area with bird netting to prevent the crows from taking the young.  I couldn’t work out how the ducklings could have disappeared until my dog noticed that there was a dead duckling under the chicken house.  I then realised that the ducklings were getting out of the chicken pen by walking under the house, a space too low for a chicken or duck to use.  The baby ducks were then out in the open and I suspect that crows picked them up.  The one my dog found may have died when it couldn’t work out how to get back in to the yard.

Anyway, that was a big disappointment, yet I have learned that I need to fix this exit from the yard to protect future babies.  I set to work and using some old garden fencing wire I blocked their avenue of escape.

On Saturday my children called me outside in the morning to show me some baby chicks walking around the chicken yard.  I rushed out and noticed that some of the eggs which the ducks were sitting on had hatched.  I believe that 6 chicks hatched from one duck, with 1 from the other.  The ducks didn’t seem to care or notice the chicks that were following them around and the caused me to be a little concerned.  I did not want to lose any more animals and I considered taking them from the area and placing them under a heat lamp.  I decided not to do this, both to give them a chance to grow up with the group as well as the fact that looking after them is a real hassle!  All seemed well until the next morning, when I discovered 6 dead chicks in the chicken yard.  I investigated their bodies so that I could try to determine why they died.  All were intact and had no injuries.  I suspect that they died from exposure, as they were spread out over the whole yard.  After the death of the chicks and ducklings I believe that the mother rejected them and they had no protection.  Both groups appear to have died due to not being cared for sufficiently.  I don’t have any proof of this of course, yet I have decided  that I can not leave the care of the young with the mothers.  Kitty and I decided that should any young hatch this year we would take them and care for them ourselves.

I left the old eggs in the hutches, intending to clean them out when I cleaned the chicken house at a later date.  The day after I lost the chicks, when I returned home, Kitty showed me a surprise.  She had found two new ducklings which had hatched and she had caught them and placed them in a cardboard box.  Although two ducklings are very high maintenance for such a small outcome, I put them in a large cardboard box with wood shavings (I had saved these from some wood working I had done earlier in the year), a container or food and one of water as well as placing a red halogen heat lamp over the box.  I bought this a few years ago from a pet store and it is meant to be for reptiles, yet it serves this purpose.

 

On the Saturday I was woken by the children who had seen some chicks walking around the chicken yard.  There were four chicks following a hen around the yard, and later that day I noticed two more join them, taking their number to six.  While the hen seemed to be providing excellent care to these babies I felt that it would be wiser to remove them from the pen and place them under a heat lamp with the ducklings (who were nearly a week old now).  I waited till the end of the day to ensure that no more chicks hatched and then placed the chicks, and the ducklings, in a specially designed growing box.  I placed this in the garage (as the smell of the ducklings in the house was starting to get a bit strong) and check on them every evening.  This appears to be the solution to the problem as they are growing well and I have not lost a single baby.  Every couple of days I drag the box out of the garage and allow them to experience real light for the day, as well as take them out I expect that once they grow their feathers and appear well I will let them out of the area and allow them to grow by themselves.

Image

While this is not a massive amount of chicks and ducklings, I am very happy that I have any at all when I consider the morality rate they experienced earlier.  This experience has caused me to reconsider my original plans for allowing the birds to raise their own young in favour of raising them myself.  I believe and hope that I will reconsider this in the future and after some changes I will allow the mothers to look after the young. I will look into investing in my own incubator in the next few months so that I can have a steady stream of birds for the table.