I don’t want to share this part of farming, but I feel that it’s necessary. It’s not part of the fun stuff; it’s part of the “THIS SUCKS BEYOND ALL THINGS THAT SUCK!!!” stuff.
Read no further if you don’t want to hear about animals dying (yes more than one……..)…….
The first Sunday in December, Mean Mama Hen hatched four little chicks. We worried she’d do horribly in the cold with them, but she didn’t. She did just fine. We only had to intervene twice, and that was when they were too little to make the jump back onto the little platform to get back into the coop, so Ted got them back inside and put a little piece of plywood across the pop door to make a little barrier so the chicks couldn’t get back outside until they got big enough (once they could jump the little 2″ of plywood, they could easily make the jump to get back onto the ramp and head back inside the coop).
Then the day after Christmas, another black hen hatched a dozen chicks. We didn’t even realize she had a hidden nest of eggs, and I only found out when I went to lock everyone up for the night and heard frantic chicks chirping. I located the hidden nest and found all the chicks piled on top of each other, trying to stay warm. The hen had hatched the eggs and jumped down from the hidden nest because one of the chicks fell out; she’d taken that one little chick and hidden it away under her and left the other 11 to fend for themselves. By the time I found them, five little chicks were dead. I brought the others inside by stuffing them inside my shirt and keeping my jacket zipped up tight so they wouldn’t fall out as I trekked through the snow back to the house.
I warmed up the little six chicks inside by the fireplace and took them back to the hen in the coop. She accepted them readily, and all seemed fine………
The next morning, I was dismayed to hear frantic chirping from the coop when I went out to feed everyone. Mean Mama Hen had her four young chicks, but the new mother hen had abandoned all seven of her babies (the six I’d warmed up plus the one she’d jumped out to keep warm)! I thought maybe she was just hungry and would come back to them once she ate; I scooped them up and put them inside my t-shirt once again to keep them warm and waited for her to finish eating…and waited…and waited….after 20 minutes, it was apparent that she didn’t want anything to do with the new chicks! I brought all seven inside and put them into the incubator with the lid ajar to keep them warm for the day.
That night, I came flying back into the house and snatched up all seven of the little chicks because the new mother hen had stolen two of Mean Mama Hen’s chicks, and Mean Mama Hen was ready to kill everyone in that coop over it! I tried to give the babies back to their mother, but she didn’t want anything to do with them – and then Mean Mama Hen just about flogged me to death because she thought I was making the little day old chicks cry so I just opened the box and let her take all seven. She kept carrying on until her two babies came to her from under the new mother hen, and then she settled into the nest box and was as happy as could be.
Then the arctic cold snap came. We made sure we had a big straw bale house set up for any stray cats running around, and we brought in our cats and set up an extra litter box. The dogs were all inside (as usual). We made sure the hens and roosters (all of them out there) had plenty of fresh water, plenty of cracked corn as well as laying mash, and loads of deep straw bedding. We put in three heat lamps and positioned one so it was only about 14″ off the coop floor, directly in front of the two nest boxes where Mean Mama Hen and New Mother Hen were bedding down each night; by that point, the chicks were going back and forth between the two of them, and they were sharing mothering duties (while one ate/drank, the other would keep the chicks warm, and then they’d switch). We thought all was well…….
Today, Ted went to put in more feed and cracked corn, and it was a horrible horrible thing that he saw – our four black Java hens (including Mean Mama Hen and New Mother Hen) were all dead on the floor near the heat lamp. All of the babies were dead except one. As near as we can tell, it simply got too cold at their nest level, and the mother hens refused to leave their babies. When they died, the babies got cold and started to cry, so another black hen came down to try to keep them warm until she got too cold and died, and then a fourth one did the same thing….the other hens and roosters were all fine because heat rises so since they stayed on the roosts about 4′ higher than the nest boxes, they were warm enough and okay.
We feel like absolute farming failures right now. We did everything that all the farming sites and books recommended: kept pop doors closed and blocked from drafts, made sure to put deep DEEP bedding in for all the livestock, hung heat lamps and ran them 24/7, gave extra food and extra corn, gave high calorie treats, and made sure their water didn’t freeze and was fresh daily.
It wasn’t enough. LEARN FROM OUR EXPERIENCE! If you have hens bedding down on the floor of your coop, just bring them inside for the night! If only I’d known…….we have a huge dog cage and would have just brought both mother hens and all the chicks inside for the night.
This is the lone survivor. She seems to be fine…..she’s warm in front of the fireplace, sitting on my lap. She now gets to be a house chicken for the next two months because we don’t have any other chicks for her to keep warm with and no other mother hens who will accept caring for chicks right now.