Tag Archive | Ameraucana chickens

Baby Chicks Learning to Free Range

The baby Ameraucana chicks are three weeks old now.  This past week they have been learning to go out on their own into the big world and free range.  Seeing such small babies on their own can give a mother hen like me heart palpitations, but I can’t hold my little ones back.  They need to understand how to find food, hunt for insects, avoid danger and return to the safety of the shelter at night.  Although they are quite tiny, these chicks are old enough to be on their own.

The babies love freedom.  They run together in a little flock.  All twenty-three of the original hatch are still with us, hale and hearty.  On a sunny spring day they sprawl in the sunshine lighting the barn doorway and spread their wings to collect the warmth.  As a group, they move from place to place finding adventure and keeping in constant contact with a steady stream of peeps and chirps.

Thursday was the first time the little birds ventured from inside the barn out on the grass.  Once this wonder was discovered, there was no stopping those chicks.  They found the grass and greens delicious and also teeming with juicy bugs.  I am teaching them to drink from a pan by sinking their plastic waterer in the center of a rubber dish full of water.  The chicks have quickly caught on.

It is amazing how fast baby chickens grow.  The tiny roosters already test their strength in mock fights.  In no time the birds will be fully feathered and starting to fly.  A baby chicken is actually quite a good flyer because its body is small and light in comparison to the size of the wings.  This tends to give the small birds an advantage against predators.  They are very good at escaping.  Although they appear delicate, millions of years of evolution have made these small creatures tough and capable of caring for themselves.

Rough Life For A Chicken

Chicken society can be brutal.  Ameraucana chickens are known to be less aggressive and more tolerant of other birds than many breeds.  That does not preclude them from becoming vicious at times.

This hen is part of the flock, hatched at the same time as the rest, raised as a sister.  Yet, one morning in the middle of the winter when I did chores, I found this hen with her head all bloody.  I thought the weasel who attacked my flock in December had a relative trying to prey on my birds.  I locked them up tight at night for awhile.  The hen began to heal.

Then one morning, again, her head was all bloody.  She was also acting afraid of the primary rooster and trying to stay away from him.  I closed her away in her own smaller pen and her head healed.  Just about the time she was starting to look good again, she escaped from her pen and went in with the others.  Everything seemed fine that day.  She went to roost with the rest of the flock.  The next morning, there she was again, her head pecked into a bloody mess.

This time I ensured her enclosure was completely escape proof.  I gave her a nest to use and after a few days she began laying.  She was separated from the other birds by wire so they could still see each other and interact.  When her head was well healed I tried once again to introduce her to the flock.  Within minutes, as I watched, the rooster went after her, attacking her head.  Quickly, I scooped her up.

I don’t know why the rooster took such a strong dislike to this hen.  She looks like everyone else.  She lays an egg a day.  She is docile and submits to the rooster.  Perhaps she said something to insult his male pride and he won’t forgive.  Who knows?  Chickens are ruthless.

So, to keep her company and fertilize her eggs, I placed the auxiliary rooster in her pen.  He is the back-up in case the main rooster dies.  The birds hit it off immediately.  He is a perfect mate, considerate and gentle, always finding little tidbits to entice her affection.  She cuddles up close to him at night on the roost.  They are so happy together.

Every day the main flock goes out to free-range in the afternoon and returns to the roost about an hour before sunset.  When the coast is clear, I lock the main flock up and let the hen and auxiliary rooster out to roam.  Their happiness is complete.  I’m hoping the poor hen will grow feathers on her head again.  With all the trauma the skin has endured, she may remain a bald bird.

 

Winter Chicks

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The chicks I was forced to hatch in January due to the loss of my best rooster are a month old now.  There are nineteen babies.  One died at day three, a common time for newly hatched chicks to perish if they have an internal birth defect.  The rest of the flock seem to be doing well.

The first month of their lives was spent in cardboard boxes in our house.  Their lives began in a bathroom in two joined boxes with a 60W light bulb for warmth.  At two weeks they outgrew that space.  I moved them to two larger conjoined boxes in our unheated woodshed.  With foam board insulation around the boxes and a 100W bulb they kept warm.  When the temperatures dipped below 30F in the woodshed I ran an electric space heater.  The babies thrived and grew quickly.b

Two days ago we moved them outside to an insulated hen house.  I’ve sealed all the windows and doors with plastic sheeting, used plywood to create a space with a ceiling about three feet high, and installed a 250W heat lamp.  At night I close off the heated area with plastic burlap to a space about 3 ft x 5 ft under the lamp.  Their water and food are inside with them.  So far they have stayed warm and their water hasn’t iced up.  We are lucky to be in a thaw period with temperatures in the 40sF during the day and no colder than 15F at night.a

The little guys are growing fast, making more insulating feathers by the minute.  They love the freedom of forty square feet of floor during the day.  I can hear them chirping away as they romp and flutter about in the hen house.

Chickens love apples and these babies are no exception.  They will peck a whole apple away in a day.  They also quickly learned to drink from a pan.  I teach all my baby chicks to drink from a pan by placing the beginner waterer they first learned to use inside the pan.  In no time everyone drinks from the new water source.  They eat chick mash like little feathered piggies.

These winter necessity chicks were a real burden to raise in the house, but I think the effort will be worthwhile.  At least four of the babies appear to be little roosters that look very much like the father we lost to a weasel back in December.  They are silver splash in color with lots of white on their breasts and body feathers.  I am hoping to produce some laced chicks from the splash color.  Although splash and laced are not accepted purebred Ameraucana chicken colors, I find the laced coloration very beautiful.  Each white feather has a band of black around the outside edge.d

So, if I’m lucky, breeding the splash color may result in laced babies one day.  Hopefully on a nice warm spring day and not in the depths of winter!

Fox!

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Here are some of this year’s chick hatch, all different ages together in a nice little flock.  They are safely within the wire and net enclosed run.  That’s because we have a fox!

For most of the summer, the chicks’ house has been open so they can go out and free-range at their pleasure or come in the house to get food and water or to roost for the night.  The doorway was covered with wire and had a small opening just big enough for young birds to squeeze through.  That way the adult chickens could not get in. In the morning when I did chores, I would spread scratch grain in their run and call them.  Soon, all the chicks would come rushing for their favorite scratch treat.

About two weeks ago while the chicks were eating their scratch, I counted them.  There are supposed to be twenty-three, but one was missing.  Because the birds move around quickly when they eat, I assumed I counted wrong and didn’t think much of it.  Then I began to have premonitions about a fox.  I shrugged them off.

Four days ago when I fed the chicks, none responded to my call.  I could hear them talking in the hedges and stands of daylilies and within other cover in the yard.  Suddenly, no one wanted scratch.

Then, when I went to tend the horses, I discovered the half-eaten body of one of my young black roosters in the paddock.  I looked the body over and suspected a fox attack due to the nature of the injuries.  That evening, rather than going to their roosts when it got dusky, the baby chickens came running to me.  I’m their mother.  They stood around staring at me and yammering.  I took them to their house and made them go inside.  It was a struggle.  The young birds were afraid to go in.

That’s when I realized a predator, probably a fox, had entered their coop the night before though the small opening and stole the rooster as he slept.  I counted my babies that evening and got nineteen!  Oh no!  I locked all their doors and reinforced the wire fence around the run.

The next morning one more little black hen was waiting outside the coop to join her siblings.  She had hidden in the hedge for the night.  So now I have twenty chicks.  The loss of a black rooster is not such a disaster.  He would have been sold for $2 otherwise.  Sadly, I don’t know what other babies were stolen.  Probably some lovely little pullets, knowing my luck.  I’m glad to say my most prized ones are still with us and not fattening some nasty fox.

Also that morning I discovered the three most recent rabbit graves, one about two weeks old and two dating back to spring, had been newly dug up overnight.  It was obviously the work of either a fox or small dog by the size of the holes.  So, I’m pretty sure it’s a fox.  There was nothing edible in the graves.  That didn’t stop the creature from digging them up again the next night.  Now they are weighted with rocks.chick2

All the chickens must now spend most of the day penned up.  I have no idea when this fox may try another sortie against my birds.  They are allowed to free-range for about two hours in the evening while I and the German shepherds are outside.  So far no fox has shown its face.  The older birds are indignant about the restrictions, but the younger one actually seem relieved.  They happily go to roost in their safe, locked-up house at night.  During the day they act content to be within the protective wire of the run.

Watch out, Mr. or Mrs. Fox.  Your days are numbered.  If I see the animal in the yard, I will get rid of it for good.

 

Morning on the Farm

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It’s a beautiful July morning, sunny with a bit of a breeze.  The dew is still on the grass.  Time to do the farm chores.  When I step out the door, snapdragons and a heliotrope greet me.  The blue flowers have a wonderful, sweet fragrance.

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Otto and Holly tag along.  They love to follow me everywhere.

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The fig tree has four good-sized fruit with many more small ones on the way.  Time to give this tree some fertilizer to help ripen the crop before frost.

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My new yard centerpiece, impatiens on a log.  They actually sit on the septic tank clean-out cover, marking it so nothing heavy (like a tractor or horse) goes across it.

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Day lilies and bee balm brighten the garden beneath the crabapple tree.

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Vista and Maddie, hard at work mowing the orchard.  Cheap laborers who love their job.

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Kai and Cary are out enjoying a little morning sun before their major nap of the day.

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The black raspberries are ripening!  Time to make some jelly.

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Black-eyed Susans make a lovely wildflower accent beside the iris bed.

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The recent rain has spurred the garden to exuberant growth, both vegetables and weeds.

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Finally made it to the barn!  The first and third chick hatch eat together peacefully.  The second hatch is too busy catching bugs and hasn’t responded to the breakfast call yet.

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Little guys and big sisters share the water dish.

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Someone else would like to have breakfast with the chickens.  Two chipmunks live in our barn.  They were being pretty decent little guys until one decided to chew the nozzle off a gas can.  Not sure what the attraction was, hydrocarbons?  Maybe it’s time to bring home a Barn Friend cat from the Humane Society to send the chipmunks packing?

With all the distractions, it’s a wonder I ever get the barn chores finished!

 

 

Chick Update

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The third hatch of Ameraucana chicks finished this morning.  Currently there are 14 babies.  Very cute and alert little guys who are already eating the chick mash.  I’m glad to be done with hatching for this year, it is a chore.

The first two hatches are growing well.  They spend every day free-ranging around the barnyard.  The first hatch from 4/19 has eight young birds, including a beautiful silver pullet (right front.)  It is hard to catch these guys long enough to get a good photograph.  Here I slowed them down with some scratch grains for a pose.a4

a3The second hatch from 5/14 has thirteen chicks.  They are growing fast and have nearly completed their first fledging.  These little guys are real adventurers and even harder to capture in photos than their older siblings.a2a5Here the two hatches mingle at the feeders.  The older chicks chase the younger ones some, but they are getting more and more tolerant with exposure.  By fall they will be one big flock.  I must set up the feed stations inside pens with narrow entries so the adult chickens can’t steal the food.

Chick Hatch Tribulations

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The second hatch of Ameraucana chicks is safely in the brood boxes.  This time we got 14 healthy babies, a good hatch for me.

Sadly, so many of the 42 eggs in the incubator did not hatch.  Seventeen babies made it from the eggs, 3 died in the first day or so.  Many other eggs pipped or partially hatched then the chicks died.  Some of the babies that do escape the eggs are crippled and I must dispatch them.  I hate culling chicks!

I have been researching why the hatch rate is so poor when the fertility rate is near 100% and have come up with an answer.  It is the incubator.  I’ve been using a Hova-Bator styrofoam unit I purchased new several years ago.  It has a fan to circulate the air and help even warming of the eggs.  It also has an automatic turner.  I bought that one to replace an older still air model by the same manufacturer.  The styrofoam incubators are fairly affordable at around $200 for my current model.  Think I paid $189 about 4 years ago or so.

Last year and this year I sold hatching eggs locally, the same eggs I hatch myself.  Other people using more expensive models achieve 100% hatch rates or close to it with my eggs.  My hatchability is 70% at best, closer to 40% usually.  Technically, I’m only out a couple dozen eggs when the babies die, but it is still heartbreaking to see so many perfectly good chicks going to waste due to poor equipment.

I’m not sure what is going wrong with the incubator to cause this problem right at hatch time.  The chicks that die before completely hatching, I cannot explain.  I believe the crippled chicks become irreparably harmed trying to get loose from the shell.  They injure themselves and have nerve damage.  This is said to occur when conditions are too dry in the hatcher.  That is hard for me to believe since there is the correct amount of water in the  reservoirs and the inside of the view windows are nearly obscured by condensation.  I’ve been able to rule out faulty genetics or other factors that cause crippled chicks due to the success rate of people using better incubators to hatch my eggs.

For the last hatch, I even took the precaution of not opening the incubator at all during the first 24 hours that the chicks are breaking from the eggs.  No heat or moisture escaped.

Sometimes I have wondered if the hatched chicks moving about and knocking into their siblings who haven’t hatched, causing the eggs to roll, are somehow disturbing the process.  But, the year I partitioned the incubator with cardboard to limit movement, the results weren’t better.

So, I’ve decided to take the plunge and invest in a better incubator.  The next step up is in the $500 range.  These models are made of solid plastic and metal and are easily cleaned as opposed to styrofoam with all the pores that can hold bacteria and viruses and requires aggressive sanitation after every hatch.

The more expensive incubators have advanced heating units and better humidity control.  The viewing windows are also much better and they can hold up to 48 eggs as opposed to my current 42 egg capacity.  When you reach the $700 level, the incubators are cabinet models that can accommodate 200 eggs and have separate drawers for incubating and hatching so both these processes can go on at once.  This shortens the time between hatches and increases potential chick yield.

Investing in a better incubator should actually pay for itself in a couple years with increased sales of chicks.

Although I haven’t made a decision yet, I’m leaning toward the Brinsea 40.  This unit can hold 48 chicken eggs and gets very good reviews from users.  There are other choices and I’m still looking.  For certain, the styrofoam incubator has seen its last year of service on our farm.