April 22, 2009

The law of the jungle and cannibalism

broody bantam hens, La Ceiba, HondurasBroody hens
Is La Gringa is running a sweat shop?

broody bantam hens, La Ceiba, HondurasBantam hens (miniature breeds) are notorious for their broodiness. For those who don't know being 'broody' (culeca in Spanish) means that the hen desires to hatch her eggs and will sit on them for the three weeks that it takes for them to hatch, only leaving her nest once a day to eat, drink, and go potty.

broody bantam hens, La Ceiba, HondurasWe have at least one broody hen (out of four) almost 365 days a year. While the hens are broody, they lay no more eggs, but as shown in this photo, a helpful friend will share her nest and drop an egg for her. We should go into the hatchery business!

The hens generally lay in the coop and suffer the frustration of me coming in and stealing their eggs every morning. One of our wild tree hens (another story) apparently wised up to the human ways of stealing eggs. She made a little nest in the mulch and camped out in a little hidden corner that was protected from the rain. I didn't find her until she already had a large clutch of 16 eggs.

bantam eggs, La Ceiba, HondurasSince I didn't know how long the eggs had been there (and didn't want any nasty surprises when I am cooking), I decided to let her hatch them. She had way more eggs than the little hen could possibly cover and keep warm − apparently the other hens were helping her − I removed all the ones which looked like rooster eggs. Some say that the eggs which are more pointy will be roosters, while the more rounded egg shape will be hens.

The problem was that all that human disturbance drove mama hen away in fear and attracted the attention of the dogs and the roosters. I shooed them all away but when I went to check later to see if the broody hen had returned to her eggs, I found one egg broken open and all but two of the eggs were gone!

I immediately suspected Chloe the Rottweiler since I didn't think that the chihuahuas could have carried off the eggs in their mouths. El Jefe told me to go check the other side of the house and sure enough, I found the remains of crunched up eggshells. Very, very bad dog. Egg eating is also a very, very hard habit to break once a dog starts. I was upset!

I also wondered if it was possible that roosters had eaten the other eggs. El Jefe thought that was crazy but the broken egg I found didn't look like it could have been done by a dog. It had a large hole in the top and part of the egg still inside. Dogs would have done more damage to the shell, I thought.

bantam rooster, La Ceiba, HondurasAs I dejectedly walked back into the house, I heard some squawking and looked out the back window to see: One of the wild tree roosters waddling over to a shady spot and dropping an egg from under his wing for his picnic. He pecked it open and slurped up the egg inside! Ahah! I had learned from the Organic Chicken group that chickens CAN carry eggs and it was true. They sort of scoop them up under their wing and hold their wing tight to move them to another location.

Eventually the hen came back to sit on her remaining two eggs and eventually the other girls helped her out by depositing more eggs. Feeling guilty, I didn't want to disturb her again and possibly be responsible for more egg carnage, so I let her be.

One morning, we heard the distinctive "peep, peep, peep" of a baby chick outside. We discovered that one of the chicks had hatched and had been taken over by another hen. Since the eggs were from different batches, the poor mama hen had to continue sitting on the rest of the eggs so she apparently allowed her first chick to be adopted. Chickens aren't so dumb as people think.

When a cold front was predicted, El Jefe and I decided to move her and her eggs to a metal dog crate inside for protection from the elements and the other animals. Here in La Ceiba, Honduras, 'frente frios' or cold fronts usually mean only slightly cooler weather but tons of rain. I wasn't sure how safe her spot would be from a deluge. What a wise decision that was! It turned out that we received 5 inches (12.7 cm.) of rain that night. It also turned out that the first chick pecked his way out of the egg the next night. Good timing!

bantam hen and chicks, La Ceiba, HondurasThe strange thing about chickens, at least these chickens, is that while they seem to have a strong desire to continue the species, the other hens will kill the baby chicks. I don't know why this happens, but it often does. For that reason, I wanted to try to raise these chicks separately for at least a while. I don't know if we can keep them separate for the full recommended 6 weeks but we'll see.
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