Not that I ever had any, but I have totally lost control, and so have the hens. Broody hens and ducks everywhere. That is what I get for neglecting to hunt down and collect all the eggs from random sitters longing to be mothers. On June 26th the first of the ducklings began to hatch. Mary Francis never did show up.
Yet there was no “quack” only “peep.” On June 26th I put Donald, the baby “duckling” with a hen who had been faithfully sitting on her eggs she stealthily laid in the cattle trailer.
Chicks freshly hatched can go for three days without food or water. This is why when you purchase chicks by the mail they are fine to travel for three days. When a hen goes broody and begins laying her eggs to incubate, she will build up a stockpile of eggs, one a day, for a period of about 8 to 10 days and begin sitting. The first egg, which was laid ten days before the last one, would not begin to develop an embryo until the mother begins to warm them all by sitting on them. This insures that the entire little flock of chicks would hatch out at basically the same time. This also helps the squeamish feel good about eating fertilized eggs, there is no chick in there until incubation actually begins. Whew!
Not in our case, as everything got out of control. When some of the broody hens would get off their nest for a brief respite, another hen would go into her nest and lay a fresh egg, which is what happened with the ducks. This means that some of the eggs will hatch out while the rest will hatch out much later, making the baby chicks wait for mom until she is really ready to get out of her trance and get off the nest. One of our hens had a darling Welsummer chick hatch out and over the course of the next two days another Welsummer cross and an Australorp cross.
The Welsummer chick is the dark brown one, which is a breed from Holland, laying very dark chocolate brown eggs. They are able to be sexed when hatched by the distinct markings on their head, the more prominent triangle on their head meaning they are a pullet and more fuzzy markings meaning they are a cockerel. Not always foolproof, but these two seemed to be pullets. The lighter one is a cross between a Welsummer hen and our beautiful Americana rooster named Liberty who is over 5 years old, going strong. Americanas lay green eggs.
This hen with her three chicks was in a nesting box about three feet off the ground and it was time for her chicks to get some food and water and the other eggs had not hatched yet. I moved her, her remaining eggs and her three chicks to the cattle trailer so the chicks could be safe and free to eat and drink and still be close to mom.
All was well, for a while.
The mom who had adopted Donald the Chick had hatched out another and the five chicks began to play musical mothers to the utter distress of both moms. Each one would get off her nest and wildly scratch on the ground and cluck a mama noise that means there is food. The poor chicks would sometimes get right behind her feet and would get slammed against the trailer wall. One chick smothered on the nest with all the eggs. The mom with the darling Welsummers lost all three of her babies and was most distressed. Sad. I had to get them out of the trailer before all was lost. Now there are three Mama hens in the barnyard with three chicks between them, but they do not like to share their babies and each one tries to steal the chicks as her own. Once they get off their nest with their chicks they do come out of their trance and so the remaining eggs are doomed.
The Khaki Campbell ducklings did hatch out on July 2 and the Mama ducks are fierce protectors.
There were still some eggs yet to hatch.
Daddy Duck came in the barn to see what all the commotion was about and was promptly dismissed.
The next morning everyone decided to go for a swim and then I could see one egg that was just hatching.
Since it was a day younger than most of the rest of the ducklings it was smaller, but soon caught up.
18 ducklings in all and about 8 eggs that were abandoned. Unfortunately I learned my lesson that the small swimming pool was a favorite toy for them all, but the next day two little ones must have not been able to get out of the pool and drown. Out came the pool for a shallow dish.
One more of the ducklings died on the nest overnight, I guess it suffocated with all the mass. The moms decided they had enough and took them all into the meadow for a few days to hide in the irrigation ditches and tall grass. All 15 ducklings are doing well and Daddy has been accepted into the flock again. The whole family now comes back home in the evening for food and then goes back to their safe haven of tall grass.
The three Mama hens are still fighting over who gets to have a baby and the three chicks are doing well. Ajax had one gently in his mouth the other day and was getting plummeted by the three moms until Natanielle whacked him to let it go, unharmed. Whew. One more broody mom to go, who is sitting on about 7 eggs which I am not sure will hatch. Guess who else is sitting in a trance on an empty nest?