Our broody hen hatched three eggs today! This morning when Cherisse let the chickens out she saw a broken egg. Later we saw two baby chicks and by late afternoon there were three! The mama hen had a lot to juggle—she showed her babies how to drink, clucked at them to hide under her when Koa briefly appeared in the coop, and got the three unhatched eggs repositioned under her.
When we got the chickens, about 14 months ago, from McMurray Hatchery, the first thing I had to do when removing them from their shipping box was dip their beaks in water. Chicks don’t instinctively know how to drink, so you have to show them. A mama hen does all the work raising her young, teaching them, keeping them warm.
Throughout the day we watched these babies—not even a full day old—get bigger, more mobile, discover water and food, and dive back under their mother for a warm nap or protection. They flapped tiny wings and tottered all around their new home. We have no idea what they will look like—the eggs are RI Reds, but the father is Featherfoot, the cochin. He is huge—more than twice the size of the hens—and, of course, he has feathered feet. We also don’t know the sex of the chicks, and if they turn out to be male we will have to decide what to do; we don’t want more roosters. Many chicks don’t survive, so we don’t want to get too attached to them. Yet somehow I feel that under their mother’s care, and in a clean, roomy house, they have a pretty good chance.
While we’ve spent a good part of the day in the chicken coop, another natural drama is taking place in the hives. Thursday Cherisse picked up our two replacement queens and after spending much time re-examining the colonies for signs either had another queen, she placed the new queen cages in each one. The bees will have to accept the queen—if they don’t they will kill her (and if they don’t have another productive queen in place, the colony will expire). In her extensive reading, Cherisse learned you can make the queen more acceptable with a spray that is primarily sugar water with extracts of lemongrass and spearmint. There is a commercial spray you can buy, but some controversy surrounds it because it contains lauryl sulfate, which might be harmful to the bees. So Cherisse found a recipe and made her own. She sprayed this on the bees in the colony, and on the queen. The bees crawled over the queen cage (in each hive) without appearing to be aggressive (they didn’t try to attack her). The cage has a candy plug which the colony bees will eat away from the outside, while the queen and the two nurse bees caged with her work on it from the inside. We will need to wait until at least tomorrow to check on them.
So much life is unfolding around us, it is very hard to focus on work. Tomorrow, though, we will have to turn our attention on the gardens…if we can pry ourselves from the much more entertaining chicks.