This summer was an experiment to see if I could let my hens produce enough chicks to supply us with chickens in the freezer this winter. It started off great with a broody hen, a clutch of 10 eggs and a good hatch rate, 7 of the eggs hatched. I moved her to the chicken tractor and locked her in with a nesting box and her babies and they ran around exploring the 40 square feet of grass, then disaster struck and something dug under one night, killing 4 chicks and leaving them dead in the tractor, taking one away with it and leaving a frantic hen and 2 remaining chicks. They have developed into a good size and are incorporated nicely into the coop, though I think they are both cockerels.
When they were a couple of weeks old, there were three more broody hens, each with about 10 eggs. Daughter and I were too attentive to them and as they were hatching on 3 consecutive days, I tried to make the chicken tractor more secure and moved the first hen when her brood of half a dozen hatched over to it. The other two hens were also moved with their nests of eggs to the tractor, but that was a huge mistake. The two still sitting tried to take over the chicks and abandon their nests, so we moved them back to the coop and boxed them in to hatch. One, an older hen, first time broody killed the first three she hatched, getting very agitated once they started hatching, hatched out a couple successfully and the third hen hatched out a couple and abandoned the rest. Not having an incubator, I had no choice but to just move her with her chicks to the chicken tractor. The security that I put in place ended up being a hazard, 4 chicks got under the floor, two of them injured by the flooring and by being pecked trying to get back above it. I quickly removed the flooring and set up logs and large rocks around the exterior perimeter to thwart whatever had gotten in before. A couple of nights later, a predator again attacked and took several chicks totally away, no evidence that they were ever there. I had moved the two injured chicks to a brooder box in the garage to heal. The two hens that killed chicks and abandoned the nests, were culled out and put in the cull pen and the attentive hen took the remaining 4 chicks and they were put in the coop with a barrier to protect them. Unfortunately, they were escape artists, which allowed them to get on the wrong side of the barrier, while Momma Hen became frantic trapped on the secure side.
Again, I admitted failure and just removed the barrier, hoping that Momma Hen would protect her littles and she did, except one died with no apparent injury. When the garage littles were healed, I tried to introduce them back to Momma Hen and she would sit them at night, but ignore them during the day and they were not old enough to fend for themselves. They were returned to the garage until they were fully feathered and reintroduced at night. Momma Hen ignored them, but a broody hen would sit them at night and they would leave the pen through the welded wire and hang out in the garden during the day. About a week ago, one of the garage chicks died with no injury visible.
The littles can still squeeze out of the pen and this afternoon, the German Shepherd caught one of Momma Hen’s 3 and killed it. The remaining garage chick is becoming more accepted by the other chicks and sleeps with them now and ranges near them during the day.
Somewhere in this mix, another hen went broody, sat a clutch that we determined to just leave totally alone. When she would leave the nest, we could do a quick count and though she started with 10, she added 3, lost several (they later turned up buried deep in the nest straw) and at 25 days had not hatched a single egg. They were removed from the nest and she rejoined the other hens like nothing every happened.
Out of about 50 eggs, we have 5 chicks. Not a very good success rate and I am disappointed.
In about a week, we will get a call from the USPS that they have a box of chicks. Since the experiment was unsuccessful, I will be raising 20 Red Rangers in a brooder box in the garage until they are old enough to go to cull coop. I will save one of the young cockerels to be next year’s rooster, save the pullets that hatched this year and survived and cull fewer of the older hens than I had planned.
With 8 Buff Orpington hens, 3 23 week old Americaunas, I am only getting 1 to 5 eggs a day, none of them blue. One of the hens is again broody, but there is no rooster currently, so tonight I blocked off the nesting boxes. She is sitting on the coop floor in front of the barrier, Momma Hen took the remaining 3 7 week old chicks up to the perch for the first time.
Before next spring, the chicken tractor, which is too heavy for me to move by hand and too unsteady to be pulled by the John Deere, will be raised off the ground, set on cedar posts, a solid floor put in it and a chicken wire run established so they can be out of the tractor without getting out where the dogs can get them. I will also run a low strand of electric fence wire around the cull coop and the chicken tractor turned brooder coop. We will try again next year with lessons learned this year, hopefully, we will be more successful.