December 24, 2009

Chicks can't share

broody hens, La Ceiba, HondurasTwo broody hens after a yogurt break

These two silly hens both went broody at the same time. They began laying their eggs in this little jardinera (planter box) outside the hall window. This jardinera gets too much shade for anything to grow so the hens started using it for their dusting box. Hens roll around in a dusty area to rid themselves of insects like lice and mites. (Apparently that works.) For whatever reason, and much to my annoyance, the hens quit laying their eggs in the coop several months ago.

broody hens, La Ceiba, HondurasI thought this was very smart of them to lay their eggs in an area protected by the rain. It was also very handy for me, since I could just open the window and gather the eggs for the day. Nice! I moved the little nesting bowl out there for their convenience and mine. Not to be discouraged by a lack of eggs, both hens shared the nesting bowl with only one egg.

I had a thought that it might not be such a good idea as my hens don't like to share their chicks, but I didn't do anything to try to "break the broodiness" of one of the hens. They seemed fine with sharing. So they sat and sat and sat side by side, until finally about 10 days ago their little chick hatched. (See the close up in the photo below. The chick is peeking out between the two hens.)

hens with chick, La Ceiba, HondurasThings seemed to be going okay until about the third day. Because the jardinera is about two feet high (60 cm.), I had to help the chick to get back in each afternoon. As I was returning the chick to the jardinera, I noticed one of the mother hens' head was all dirty like it had been digging into something head first. When I picked up the other one, I realized that it wasn't dirt, but was dried blood and one of the eyes of the other hen was swollen shut. So, the two mother hens apparently had a fight over the chick. Not good.

I decided to remove the hen who had gotten the worst of the fight and leave the chick with the stronger one. I put brown-headed one out with the other chickens for the evening and she settled in with one of the roosters. I didn't know for a couple of days whether her eye was going to be alright, but I soaked with a warm, wet cloth and eventually it opened and seems to be okay.

However, the next morning when I was feeding the chickens, I saw the orange headed hen and there was no chick with her. I rushed to the jardinera, thinking that the chick must have died but there it was, with the other mother. Since that time, the 'weak' mother and the chick have been inseparable, while the 'strong' mother has gone off for amor with one of the roosters. The mother hen squawks and squawks every afternoon about 4 p.m. because she can't get her chick back into the jardinera and I obediently go out, often in the pouring rain, to catch the chick and deposit her back into the little nesting bowl.

I couldn't put the chick and mother in the chicken coup because that is being occupied by another mother hen with five older chicks. That hen also chose a jardinera for her clutch of eggs, but it was very difficult to catch five chicks every evening to put them back in their jardinera, especially since all the commotion attracts the dogs who think chasing chicks into hiding is a great game to play.

So, after catching the chicks one evening, I locked them into the coup for a couple of days with their mother (and food and water, of course) until they learned that was their home. They now obediently go inside every evening for safety − very important right now because we have had some cold weather and very heavy rains for the past couple of weeks. In the way of chickens, the older chicks or their mother would attack the younger chick so I have to keep them separate, at least until the chick gets a little bigger.

bantam chickens, La Ceiba, HondurasChickens roosting on the terraza railing

bantam chickens, La Ceiba, HondurasEventually I want to teach all the chickens (again!) to go into the coup at night. The others currently roost on the terraza railing at night which makes for a not-so-nice mess on the terraza floor. What a minute! Didn't I say that six months ago?

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