My sweet hen Ella became broody again about ten days ago. The first two times she went broody I was annoyed because a broody hen stops eating and drinking sufficiently, pulls out her breast feathers, sits incessantly on her nest, and quits laying. However, this time I was eagerly awaiting a broody spell so that Ella could raise a new batch of chicks. I considered giving her fertilized eggs to hatch out, but decided to give her little family a jump start by giving her hatchling chicks. My landlady was as excited as I was so we decided to go ahead and get her chicks for April Fool's Day even though she had only been sitting a little over a week and it's recommended to wait two to three weeks.
Ella had been sitting on a clutch of seven eggs so we decided to get her a half dozen chicks. We picked out two black stars and two chanteclers. Then my landlady chose a golden laced wyandotte even though neither of us were big fans of my wyandottes. She figured being raised by Ella would make this chicken more friendly. I hope she's right! They are truly beautiful birds. In turn, I picked out a barred rock since I think they're pretty, so we should have a nice variety of chicken breeds. The folks at the Urban Farm Store were helpful and informative, but I was completely flabbergasted when we got up to the register and I realized chicks sell for $6.00 each here. I'd only paid $1.19 for my chicks in Walla Walla!
As we introduced the chicks to Ella we followed all the instructions and tricks on the web forums. Two hours before dark we put the little paper box of chicks in the nest box next to Ella's, making sure she couldn't see it but could hear the chicks peeping. This is supposed to make her think the little fluff balls are hatching out of the eggs she's been sitting on. Chickens get really docile in the dark so starting at twilight we slipped the chicks under her one-by-one, about 10-20 minutes apart. Each time we scooped a chick from the box, covered it completely with our hand, and slipped it under the hen, releasing the baby bird and retrieving an egg. We tried to not disrupt Ella too badly, but she pecked at me for the first time in her life. I was startled, but absolutely delighted that she was already protecting her babies.
This morning when I checked on them I found one of the chanteclers only partially covered and lifeless. We aren't sure if this one didn't manage to get under mama completely last night and died of cold or if she was booted from the nest by Ella. Even on the ride home last night one of our chanteclers was looking a little whimpy so maybe she just didn't have the resilience to handle the transition. In any case, we are disappointed to have lost a chick and we buried her in the garden.
However, we're grateful that Ella seems to have accepted the other five as her own. We made sure food and water was close by. Ella went for the nurishment immediately but she nudged the little baby trying to get to the food back under her feathered belly. I worried that she wouldn't let her little ones eat, but I've been checking on her every hour or so and I was pleased to find that by lunchtime two little black fluff balls were sitting on the edge of the nest near mama and everyone was eating. She has started clucking again softly and I think she's pleased. Ella is clever for a chicken, but I'm sure glad our April Fool's prank has worked!