Not Quite the Fairy Tale I’d Imagined

unfinished nursery coop and run

The theme of this post is: FAIL.  Fail fail fail.  Epic fail.

I feel like crap.

I’ll start at the beginning….

Last week on Wednesday, I flew down to CA for birthdays for my cousin’s kid and my dad.  I was gone five days.  Over the 10-or-so days before I left, I had been building a nursery coop and run for Sofia and the eggs (yes, I was building it.  Not “we,” not “Brian.”  I alone was building it because Brian was protesting the idea of hatching babies at all).  My plan was to move her into it before I left for CA because then she could finish setting in a nice, quiet place and the babies would be safe from the moments they hatched.  The problem was, when I told Brian I wanted to move her, he panicked.  He said he didn’t want to be the one who had to take care of her in a new place while I was away.  What if something went wrong?  (he’s still gun-shy from the summer heat wave when we lost two pullets on his watch – not his fault, btw)  He wanted me to leave her in there until I got back and then move her.

So, that is what I did.  I told Brian to check her multiple times each day to make sure she wasn’t starving to death (which can apparently happen) and she hadn’t abandoned the eggs and that no surprise babies hatched.  He watched them without incidence during my trip.  All was well.  The only problem was that when I got back, I decided to do some last-minute reading about broodies and their babies to make sure I was as educated as possible in time for the hatch.  And in that reading, I found that you are NOT to touch or move the mama after day 16.  Great.  I got back on day 18 and I read that on day 19 (last night).

After that, I hemmed and hawed and fretted about what to do.  Should I risk moving her anyway?  Would she abandon the nest right before the hatch?  Or, should I let her stay in there and on day 21, I would sit with her and babysit her during the hatch to make sure she and the babies were safe from the other chickens and then move her right afterward?  Confident that I still had another day to figure it out, I left her in there last night.  Today would be the day I had to decide – to move?  or not to move?  THAT is the question.  Or, at least… it WAS the question.

Just to throw a wrench in things, this morning I got my one wisdom tooth extracted (I only had one… I don’t know why) at 7:30am.  Brian dropped me off at the dentist, they doped me up (not enough, by the way), used scary power tools in my mouth, removed the tooth, stitched me up, and sent me home with a prescription for vicodin.  I was told to use the vicodin right away to “get ahead of the pain” and that if it wasn’t enough, that I may want to take Advil along with it.  Well, it didn’t hurt because it was still numb and I was still loopy from the anesthesia but I took the pill like a good girl and sat down to watch some tv and recover.  About thirty minutes later, my mouth, jaw and face were suddenly busting with unbearable pain.  Through the haze, I remembered about the Advil, took some, sat back down and promptly went to sleep.  For the next few hours, I drifted in an out of drug-induced sleep.  I apparently watched several dvr-ed programs I’d been saving, and then deleted them, but I can’t remember the storylines.

Anyway, around 1:30pm I awoke relatively refreshed and pain-free, realized that the sun had come out, and thought I could handle a little time hanging in the grass with the chickens.  So out I went into the lovely sunshine… the chickens enthusiastically burst out of the run into the grass and I popped into the coop to check on our resident almost-mama.

<please note, the next several events all happened within a few seconds, but I’m including all my thoughts, which were coming rapid-fire, so it seems longer> The first thing I noticed was that she was not in her nest.  OH NO!  Did she abandon it?  Maybe I just caught her when she was grabbing a bite to eat?  Still drugged up and not thinking particularly logically, I didn’t look on the floor near the feeder or waterer for her… instead, I went straight to the nest to feel if the eggs were still warm.

They were ice cold.  My heart stopped.

But then I noticed one egg that looked broken… no, not broken… cracked in half and empty.  OH MY GOD!  Did one hatch?  A whole day early?!?!?!  It must be dead.  The others killed it for sure.  And what about the others?  Can they be saved??  My head was spinning (stupid drugs) and I quickly decided to scoop up the eggs from the nest and put them into the warm, soft pocket of my fleece.  Maybe I could save them!  Maybe they could be warmed back up!!  After I had them stowed in my pocket and held against my body (for heat), I finally started looking around.  Blanche was in another nest, screeching at me each time I got near.  Everyone else was outside, free-ranging.  Wait… no… not everyone.  Sofia was on the floor of the coop, crammed face-first into a corner, blending in nicely with the shavings.  I hadn’t even noticed her before.

“Did they kill your baby, Sofia?  Why did you get off the nest?  There were more babies that needed to hatch!”

I reached down to touch her and she immediately puffed up, growled, and tried to attack my hand.

“OH!  Wait!  Do you have a baby in there?  Do you have a baby with you?  Show me!”

I kept trying to touch her to move her but she kept trying to kill me, so I moved to plan B.  I got a stick and poked at her gently.  That did the trick.  Finally, she moved her wings a little, and I saw a flash of black and heard tiny peeps.  A BABY!!  And it was alive!  Clearly she’d been giving the other chickens the same treatment as me, so it was no wonder it was alive!

My momentary happiness about the baby quickly tapered off as my brain returned to the eggs in my pocket.  Mama and baby were clearly fine for the moment, so I left them there and went back outside into the sunshine with the grazing chickens.  One at a time, I pulled the eggs from my pocket to examine them in the sun.  I could warm them with a heating pad… or one of the heat lamps… or even in my cleavage (I read a great story, with pics, on BYC once about a lady who finished incubating and hatching two eggs that mama had abandoned on the last day)!  I really wanted to save them.  I turned the first one over, looking at it, feeling it, I raised it to me ear to listen for peeps.  Nothing.  Then I saw it.  The tiny hole with the tip of a beak, peeking out.  My heart dropped even further.  They were hatching today.  Just in case, I started chipping away at the shell, but there was no movement.  Eventually, I fully hatched the chick and scrutinized for any sign of life.  Maybe if it had a whisper of breath, it could be warmed and saved.  But, no, it was dead.  Nothing to be done.  I found a second egg with a tiny hole with a beak peeking through.  I hatched it too and hoped against hope, but it was too late.  Two big, beautiful, fully formed chicks that had tried to burst forth into the world were stopped short when their mama followed their older sibling out of the nest.(I will note here that the trouble laid in the fact that our nests are raised, which is supposed to be ideal for layers because they break fewer eggs that way.  However, when baby jumped out, mom had to follow and then couldn’t get the baby back up to the nest and was forced to choose between one or the other).  The other four eggs were not pipped yet.  I didn’t open them.  I couldn’t look.  I was too sad.

I had no camera at the time because I didn’t know I’d need it and I was too spaced out and freaked out anyway.  Plus no one wants to see sad picture of tiny dead beaks that are poking out of tiny perfect holes.  I am so sad.

ANYWAY… BACK TO THE LIVING…

Sofia, with a baby hidden beneath her wing

I don’t have a picture of the baby yet.  I’ve hardly seen it myself.  It is rarely out from under her wing.  However, I can tell you that it is perfect, fluffy, black and white (as all the babies are/would have been), healthy, and SUPER-DEE-DUPER CUTE.  Poor lonely baby, though.  No siblings to play with.  It will be a lonely life until it is grown.  I called around to feed stores today, hoping they had chicks in.  I would try to buy one or two and stick them under Sofia tonight or tomorrow while she was sleeping.  Apparently that often works and she’ll take care of them.  Unfortunately, the soonest any will have chicks is two weeks from now, and by then it will be too late.  Anybody out there have a one- or two-day old chick that I could buy?  Any kind would be fine…

Anyway, back to my story… after brokenheartedly disposing of the failed portion of the hatch, I turned my attentions back to mom and baby.  I had to get them out of the big coop and into the nursery – pronto.  Even though it seemed that maybe Sofia could protect the baby well enough from the others, there was no way for me to feed the baby in the main coop.  I had to put baby food in a baby feeder that it could reach.  The others would surely knock it over and eat the food nearly immediately.  And that’s not even considering the baby water.  That would be knocked over for sure.  They needed their own home.

So, hopped up on pain killers, and freaked out over the tragedy and unexpectedness of the whole thing, I ran inside and got a big cardboard box.  I brought it back out, filled it with clean shavings, and tried to grab mama.  After several failed attempts using my hands, shielded with my sleeves, I grabbed an empty feed sack and grabbed her with it.  I tossed her in the box and before I could reach for baby, KA-POW!  She popped back out of there like she was on springs and was on top of the baby in the blink of an eye.  Clearly this was going to be trickier than I had planned.  So, I sat back and thought for a minute and decided on a bath towel.  Big, strong, and soft, I figured I could scoop her up and wrap her tightly for transport.  I ran to the house, got a big bath sheet (huge towel) and again prepared for battle.  She was crammed in a corner, clucking softly to the baby and growling at me.  My first couple of attempts about did me in.  I tossed the towel over her and grabbed her around the wings so she “couldn’t move.”  Yeah right.  She shot out of my hands like a rocket both times.  Screaming, growling, and flailing the entire time.  I very nearly gave up and was starting to brainstorm about feeding and watering the baby in the big coop, when I gave it one more shot.  This time I tossed the towel over her head-first, and I wrapped and grabbed.  She came peacefully.  Strange, I thought… until I heard little peeps coming from inside the towel.  I had managed to scoop her up with the baby still under her wing.  With the baby in there, she was just fine with the whole thing.  No struggling at all.  So, I tucked my bundle under my arm, grabbed the box of shavings and headed for the garage.

nursery coop, from another angle

I had been planning on enclosing the run with wire mesh and adding the back, hinged part of the roof tonight (you know – before the hatch).  Since things got ::ahem:: bumped forward a bit, I improvised with an old computer case in front to the access door to the run and tossed the shavings in through the roof opening and safely unwrapped my bundle-o-chickens inside the coop.  Then I went inside and made up a baby waterer of sugar water just like I did for my mail-order babies last year.  I placed it in the coop and mama took a good long drink immediately.  Clearly she had been too busy guarding the baby to be able to drink, and the sugar was probably good for her energy too.  A few minutes later, I was just fretting about food for them when the UPS man showed up like a hero with my order of organic chick starter feed and vitamins from McMurray hatchery.  That was another thing I didn’t think I’d need until tomorrow.

So, that’s about it.  Sorry, I know it was a long story without enough pictures.  It’s been a hell of a day.  After mom and baby were happily moved in, I worked on attaching the wire to the run until the adrenaline wore off and my body reminded me that someone had recently pumped me full of narcotics and sawed a large tooth out of my jawbone.  Sweaty, dizzy, and exhausted, I gave up.  Mama happily clucked to baby the rest of the day, sometimes showing it how to scratch at the shavings or peck at the walls.  I haven’t seen them eat yet, but baby shouldn’t need food for another day or two, so there’s time.  My next challenge is figuring out how to give layer feed to mama at a level where baby can’t reach.  Apparently that is the best diet for her at this time, but the calcium in it will hurt baby’s kidneys.  For a day or two, though, she can eat high-protein chick food.  I don’t think it will hurt her.

In Summary:

Coulda – moved her into the nursery coop before my trip

Shoulda – moved her last night anyway

Woulda – helped her with the hatch and maybe saved some more babies had I known that they could hatch today.

Moral of the Story:

Hindsight is 20/20

Upcoming posts: finishing the nursery coop and run (with pics and details), actual pictures of the baby, news about the other roosters, and SEEDS for the garden… I promise!

Night night!

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5 thoughts on “Not Quite the Fairy Tale I’d Imagined

  1. WOW!!! What a day/night is right.

    I’m glad one survived and your little Momma has one to take care of. I don’t think you need to add any others. It’s got Momma, though my advice would be to leave them in the coop but you already know how I feel on that one.

    My first chick hatched on day 20 with the other three pipping and then hatched by morning. My big nest was 5″ off the ground, so I made a ramp in case the chicks got out they could go back up the ramp.

    I put the feeder and waterer in the nest with them. You don’t need to give Momma layer feed. She will happily show the little one how to eat the starter crumbles. She won’t starve. My little Momma was broody for 2 months before I got her the eggs, so she went almost 3 months.

    She’s now big fat and fluffy again back to laying and no longer broody.

  2. I did almost the very same thing when my chickies hatched, except She wouldn’t leave the other eggs and the baby was down below by herself. When I moved them I was running around for a couple hours with the eggs in my bra trying to set up a nursery up. I candled them when they stopped hatching. Only 4 out of 10 were babies. Congrats!! A baby!

  3. Awe, I’m sorry it didn’t go better. But at least you have 1 baby. I vote that you keep this little one. After all, what is 1 more chicken? I can’t wait to see pictures of it.

    Hope you are feeling much better soon!

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