Experiments in Flock Management

Each year there are decisions to be made about how to manage the flock of hens.

Said decisions typically include choosing whether or not we’re adding to the flock in the Spring (or Fall); if we are adding to the flock, how many and what breeds we’ll bring in; when to bring them in; and how long they’ll stay sequestered before integrating them into the flock at large. Part of the whole decision making process is deciding which of the hens will be retired. Another part is when transitions will be made – and how. It’s important to not make too many changes or to stress the flock out – it can really affect their health.


February 21, 2014

A number of years ago it occurred to us – that while it’s fun to get a smattering of this breed and that breed (one year I think we added something like 10 different breeds) – it sure gets to be a challenge in the coming years what breed came what year. That’s when we decided that when we add to the flock, we typically add half a dozen or a dozen chicks of a particular breed at a time. It sure makes it easier to keep things straight.

This year we brought in 13 black Cuckoo Marans and 12 California Whites.

It was about 4 or 5 weeks into observing chicks that we realized we had a couple roosters.

Both roos, unfortunately, are black Cuckoo Marans. I really wanted MORE of those incredibly dark brown eggs, not less. But oh well.

As you can see in the picture above, the roos grow at a substantially faster rate than the pullets. At 8 weeks old last weekend it was becoming obvious that we were going to need to pull the roos out of the enclosure for the chicks and integrate them with the big girls.

Let’s just say they weren’t amused – and catching them was a little bit comical. But catch them I did and they were sent out to make it in the wider world.

They tried and tried to get back to their little girls, but to no avail.

Over the course of the last week we debated whether or not we’d open the baby enclosure up to allow the rest of the babies out into the rest of the flock.

The Cuckoo Marans are certainly big enough.

The California Whites – not so much.

So – we decided to separate them out – bringing the Cuckoo Marans out and leaving the California Whites in.


Before….


During


…and….


After.

It took the Cuckoo Marans a whole day to leave the inside of the coop and venture out to get food and water – they wanted their sisters!

Just in case you weren’t aware – chickens are NOT solitary creatures. They bond to one another – and they mourn when they are separated.

The goal in this flock management experiment is to let the California Whites grow a bit bigger over the next few weeks, and THEN integrate them into the rest of the flock.

The great thing about the way that we keep our babies sequestered (the separation allows them to see one another as the babies grow), means a very smooth integration to the flock at large. Without that opportunity to become visually comfortable with one another, it can spell disaster (and sometimes death) for the babies that are being integrated. That simply hasn’t been a problem for us with the method we use.

So we wait… for the California Whites to grow. And the roos to start crowing…

Mommy Material

About a month ago a pair of my Cuckoo Maran hens went broody.

Some broody hens just stay out of the way, are relatively docile, and are over it all in a few days.

Some broody hens are persistent. They just won’t give up – no matter what – unless they get babies.

Occasionally, I’ll have a broody who is not just not nice – but who is downright mean.

This particular pair of Cuckoo Maran hens that went broody last month are of the persistent AND mean variety.

I tried kicking them off of the nest.

I tried keeping them outside of the fenced run so they couldn’t get back in to the coop and the nests they were so committed to.

I pretty much tried it all.

But to no avail.

What’s worse – these two particular girls have a propensity to take eggs that the other girls are laying and somehow transport them from one nest box to the other to collect a nice sized clutch of eggs.

There was – of course – more than one broken egg in the process!

About two weeks into this persistent broody behavior I decided maybe I should look for some fertile eggs to let them hatch. The problem being – I usually only put one broody in the broody mama section of the coop at a time – and these two were determined to be broody together. What a pain! So I started reading up – and what do you know – sometimes that will work out, so I was willing to consider giving it a whirl.

I just couldn’t decide what breed of egg to find.

And then when I decided – I couldn’t find fertile of that breed!

Recently I talked to a couple of chicken owners who had had success with switching out non-fertile eggs from under a persistently broody hen with store-bought day-old chicks – effectively tricking the broody hen into believing she’d just hatched out a clutch of eggs.

We tried this once before.

It didn’t work well.

But after more research, we decided we know better how to pursue this and that conditions were right. We were gonna give it a whirl.

So yesterday we moved our two broody hens into the broody mama section of the coop, gave them each a nest with 5 eggs on it, and left them to settle in.

We also picked up a dozen day-ish old chicks from Burns Feed. My goal in breed this time? The youngest chicks I could find.

Fran, the amazing chicken lady at Burns Feed recommended the Light Brahmas and the Blue Laced Red Wyandottes – they were both the youngest good layers she had on hand.

As it turned out, there were 11 of the Light Brahmas, and I couldn’t bring myself to just leave a few of them behind, so I got them all and added in one of the BLR Wyandotte – I’m gonna call her Lucy because she’s going to have a red head.

So – late last night – after it was good and dark, after all of the girls had settled in for the night, John, Jessica, and I and the box full of chicks made our way out to the coop.

I started by reaching under the more settled of the two hens (Bertha) and replacing one egg for one chick – she seemed perfectly fine with it. Then I tried the same for the other hen (Mable) – she wasn’t so sure about this!

By the time I got to the 3rd chick for Mable it became clear that Mable was NOT mommy material. We grabbed her up and sent her packing to the other part of the coop!

So – wow – that meant Bertha would have to mother TWELVE chicks. I wondered if she could even FIT 12 chicks underneath her! But I managed to trade out all of the eggs under her (she’d stolen some of Mabels) and replaced them all with chicks – and then added the balance.

All we could do was leave them for the night and check first thing in the morning to see if Bertha was mommy material or not.

John set the alarm for 5:30 am this morning.

Success!

Bertha is MAJOR mommy material!

Can you believe she’s got ELEVEN chicks under her with just this one out checking things out?

I’m so impressed!

She’s not even phased by the fact that she’s the mother to an even dozen!

Woo Hoo!

Now – all I gotta do is sell the Anconas…. Anyone want 3 laying hens?

More chick shots as I’m able.