The last couple of years have been very challenging when it comes to maintaining a poultry flock, let alone growing one. After major losses to predators in 2016 — largely due to young birds roosting in the trees at night — I was left with very few hens in 2017, and only one ever went broody (ready to set on eggs).
After a couple of failed attempts with the incubator, I finally set a dozen eggs under her, of which only five hatched.
That produced four pullets (young hens), so things looked promising for this year. But the only one I was definitely going to keep was taken by a fox — with my cat Cecil in hot pursuit!
Fortunately the fox never returned. But meanwhile my two guinea cocks had become so aggressive with the remaining pullets that when they were ready to go broody they just didn't feel secure in the poultry house.
Two of them went off to brood in some undisclosed location and never returned. The third finally did go broody in the poultry house, but didn't stick to it and went back to laying. At least I didn't lose her!
Since my older hens had never gone broody until June, I decided to try again with the incubator, and so took delivery of two dozen Icelandic hatching eggs. But a momentary slip-up on my part led to the incubator overheating and ruining the whole batch!
In May Sandy went broody, so I set a bunch of my own eggs under her, in hopes of at least having more hens for brooding next year. But in the first two days she moved off the eggs twice, allowing them to cool, and only one (a cockerel) ever hatched.
I was concerned that once fledged the young chicken wouldn't have any companions, so I bought four guinea keets around the same age, hoping these would turn out to be better socialized to chickens than the older ones. For a while Sandy more or less adopted them, though they weren't very attentive to her, and she'd get really mad and peck at them when they wouldn't mind her (Chickens and guineas don't speak the same language, so they can't communicate).
Once Sandy abandoned her little family, the young cockerel failed to hang out with the guinea keets and spent a night by himself under the main poultry house. I left a radio playing in the shed all night, and apparently that kept the predators away, because he survived.
The next day I managed to shut him up in the chick nursery with the keets, where they all stayed for another few weeks.
Meanwhile, I decided to make one more attempt with the incubator. Surely, I thought, if I'm really attentive and do everything right I can get this to work!
So I set another bunch of my homestead eggs, plus two that I got from a friend, and — notwithstanding an 18-hour power outage — believe it or not, five healthy chicks hatched!
Here they are on their first day out:
About a week later I was at Tractor Supply getting chicken feed and found they were selling black sex-link pullets. These are chicks that have different plumages depending on the sex, so the pullets can be separated from the cockerels.
The mothers are Barred Plymouth Rock, and the fathers Rhode Island Red, or something else — all heritage breeds, I think. And Barred Rock hens are said to have good mothering tendencies, which are supposed to be hereditary.
So I picked up four of these (for $3 each!) and put them in with my other chicks, since they were only a few days younger. I now have ten young chickens and four young guineas, in addition to my six older birds.
I plan to cull the two older guineas, the hen that wouldn't stay broody, and the cockerels (young roosters), which look to be three in number at this point. That will provide me with a good supply of poultry meat (a welcome change from venison!), lots of eggs, and — hopefully — some good broodies to raise my new chicks next year!
Photos property of Jennifer Quinn.