Our chickens turned a year old in April, and in my estimation, were well old enough to start brooding out babies. While the breeds we bought were eclectic (Rainbows from Hoovers Hatchery; dominique and black sex link from TSC, and an americana), I had initially purchased them for meat birds with the hope that I would get some good broody hens in the mix. I want to go on record as saying I have learned my lesson on why picking breeds is so important.
I have not been impressed with my chickens thus far. Firstly, lets talk about rainbows, these are not colored egg layer rainbows, but a Hoover’s Hatchery mixed bag of their own making for unique color patterns. I will grant, they certainly deliver on the color patterns. Roger and Drumstick, my roosters have beautiful plumage. But they are MEAN to the hens, pure bullies. I ended up giving my americana away because they picked on her so much. They pick on all the hens, but her the worst. The Rainbow hens lay large eggs consistently, but have shown zero inclination to go broody and have a much darker side that we will get to in a sec.
The dominique and sex links are also reliable producers of eggs but as of April at a year old, had not gone broody. Since I am impatient and wanted a fall kill of chickens for the freezer, I decided to incubate about 10 of my own eggs and I bought 18 buff orphington eggs from a nearby farm. The incubation process was traumatic. If you struggle with waiting and not “messing” with stuff, don’t do it! Notice how I have issues with instant gratification but keep getting into long term return projects? I enjoy the suffering, what can I say. After the obligatory waiting on the hatching, in which I promise I kept the lid on the incubator closed tight and the humidity generally where it was supposed to be, I had only 3 out of 30 some odd eggs hatch. Very disappointing since I paid close to $1 an egg for the buff orphingtons (and only hatched one of those).
Now, you probably know this already, but three chickens is not much of a freezer full. So, as providence would have it, right around time of my failed hatching, one of my local TSC stores was expecting a huge batch of peeps to come in and just happened to clearance out all of their week or so old chicks, including a huge lot of buff orphingtons (SERIOUSLY, $1 for confirmed pullets as well as the mixed gender tub, who can say no!?!). Have you ever tried to sneak 15 peeps into your house with your spouse home? Its not easy, let me tell you. However, my husband is quite wonderful and once he accepts my crazy ideas, his normal response is “in for a penny, in for a pound” and we double whatever my original plan is.
So now I had 18 babies to raise and once they were outgrowing the water trough we had them in (minus the water of course), we transferred them to the coop in Toby’s dog kennel lined with cardboard to let everyone acclimate. (Toby was nervous when I drug the kennel out after having it under the bed for months, he wasnt sure what was going on but was certain it couldn’t bode well for his freedom). After a few weeks in the makeshift brood kennel, the chicks were turned loose on the bigger birds and we now have a seamless flock. I will say, integration went really well. It could be that there were 18 babies to only 8 big birds that helped, but no one got seriously injured and life was good. It is really quite funny to see the peeps dart under the feet of the roosters and take whatever treat they were enjoying.
Once we had the birds I needed, of course we had a hen to go broody. So I gave her 8 eggs to sit on and marked them so I could still get the fresh eggs every day. Otherwise, like any good broody, she would’ve sat on 30 I think. I’ve previously written about my trial and tribulations with the snakes, but life only got worse when the chicks were ready to hatch.
One day, I had a pipped shell, and the next day I went to check and saw no pipped shell and no babies. Odd. On day three, I had another chick about 1/3 of the way hatched. Now is a good time to explain that during the entire broody process, I had one rainbow that will not leave the nest box. She doesn’t want to sit on eggs, she just paces or walks on top of the broody. She is not my favorite. So while I was in the coop watching the egg hatch for a second, the mom was pecking at the egg (helping I guess?); along came both my rainbow chickens to peck as well. And then one of them simply picked up the egg to take off with it! Evil, evil cannibals. Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. After retrieving the egg from the chicken and the blood that was almost spurting out of it with a screaming chick inside, I kicked all the chickens but the broody from the coop and into the run and gave the broody her egg back. However, she also started to peck at it viciously. So executive decision was made, these hens don’t get babies. I really wanted to have a hen raise the babies so I didn’t have to do the work, but c’est la vie. I had already planned to add my yearling hens to the freezer this fall, but this seals the deal. So I put the hatching chick way underneath the broody and ran inside to set up a brood box with some heat. Which at that time what I had was a cardboard box from Chewy.com (great boxes, btw). And went back out to collect the now mostly hatched chick and one other that had pipped to hatch inside.
If you have never had to “help” or watch a chick hatch, it is excruciating. Throw in zero humidity control except for a bowl of water and a wet paper towel under a heat lamp, and you have a fun time. However, I knew they would get eaten outside, so i figured these odds were better for survival. I had my chick expert, Cactus Makes Perfect , on the text dial asking what I was doing with my life throughout the hatching process. Despite my idiocy, both eggs hatched and one additional pipped egg hatched the next day. At that point I was on twice a day egg watch for pipped shells, but the eggs keep disappearing and the broody has two left that still seem viable that she snuck in with the original 8. My three peeps are doing wonderfully though and were a week old on Friday.
However, very soon, they will outgrow their chewy box (as well as the “run” we made from another box to give them more room); and my water troughs are full for the cows and horses. I was never a fan of using the dog kennel, and Benny’s massacre of my gimpy chick had given me serious pause that it was the right way to go about things. What I really wanted was a committed brooder box that would serve no other purpose so I could trust myself not to “re-purpose” when I dont have chicks. So yesterday, in the absence of any big projects, we built a brooder frame, and today, we finished it!
One of the awesome things about rehabbing a farm is that you end up with a LOT of scrap lumber. I even created a shelf to organize the lumber. So the frame had zero out of pocket expense right now, though I am sure we paid for some of the lumber in the past and some came as free from my husband’s work. All we had to purchase was hardware cloth, hinges, and a latch. Screws and the nail gun we had on hand. Total time involved I would say is less than 6 hours and the money spent was less than $45; $10 of which at least was in screws. I would think you can get by with less time and labor, but we improved and improvised as we went. Ok, lets be super clear: I held boards in place, passed out screws like they were snickers on halloween, and said “good job” a lot.
- 8ft long 2×4
- Apx. 75 feet 1×4 (I lost count somewhere around 71 feet, but this should be close )
- 25′ hardware cloth (24″ wide)
- 2pk hinges
- Hook and eye clasp
- Staple and nail guns
The frame was very simple to build, placing one 2×4 in each corner and creating a 3′ by 4′ cube. With a brood box, I really wanted something that Benny would at least have to work to break into. So we added 1x4s to the outside of the 2×4 frame to create an even surface to staple the hardware cloth to.
Once the frame was built and the hardware cloth installed, we created a half door on the top of the brooder (thank you Lumnah Acres for inspiration!). By making half of the roof a solid piece attached to the cube, we really added stability as well as not having to piece together the hardware cloth over a huge top frame . Add in some hinges and a hook and eye closure, and I feel comfortable that something is at least going to have to work for a peep meal!
Our three chicks are still inside for the time being, but in about 2 weeks they will move into the brood box in the coop with the big birds and start getting used to the place. Unless of course they learn to escape the chewy box sooner…