We never planned to breed baby chickens preferring just to keep hens for the eggs and the enjoyment of seeing them roaming around the garden.
That’s why we never intended to introduce a cockerel to our garden and believe me, it was quite by accident – given that she-to-be-he arrived as a small white, clucky ball of fluff – part of a small flock of ‘hens.’
Still, we got used to the idea and so far Roger, (well what else are you going to call the only cockerel in a group of hens, who struts around the garden happily fanning his tail for hours on end?) has fitted in well.
In fact, Roger has lived a fairly quiet life – apart from one little fight with our drake when he got too inquisitive about the newborn ducklings and the odd wing-swipe from one of the Welsummer hens who occupy the chicken tractor and who insists on maintaining her virtue.
However, in September things changed. Three of the Welsummer hens began remaining on their eggs and we began to realise there was something going to happen. There were five eggs in the clutch altogether and towards the end of September they began to kick out one of the eggs.
I wasn’t sure whether this was happening through accident or design and so I began placing it back in the nest a few times only to finally discover it again on the ground one day, only this time, it had cracked open to reveal a dead chick.
Over the next few days, another three eggs were kicked out one by one, with each egg cracked to reveal another dead chick. We understood it was late in the year and maybe it was just too cold for Irish chicks to be born and survive outdoors and so we had no hope left for the last remaining egg.
Then on November 5th , we heard the unmistakable sound of a small bird tweeting coming from the Welsummer’s nesting box and sure enough, we peered in and there was a tiny but very lively little chicken.
We assumed the mother hen would look after it but later that day we found the little chicken outside of the nesting box. while the four Welsummers remained huddled together in their cosy nest of straw.
I kept returning it to the nest but when darkness came and I was still finding the little chick outside it was clear that none of the Welsummers were feeling very maternal and that the little chick had no chance of surviving the cold wet night and so I decided that the only thing I could do was bring it indoors.
I set up home for the little chick in a little box filled with bits of warm material on top of a hot water bottle and made a separate little feeding station out of another little box with a jam jar lid full of water and another filled with food.
I fed it on crushed layer pellets and bird food and gradually introduced her to daisies and bits of lettuce, but I didn’t hold out much hope for the little bird having got off to such a bad start.
But, I was wrong about that and soon she was demolishing her food and seemed to be looking for more, so I added some dandelions and bits of lettuce and cabbage to the mix. It seemed this little chick was a real survivor.
She is quite tame and will happily sit on my hand preening herself before walking up my arm and squashing herself as far into my armpit as she can get and going asleep.
As I write this, it is now the 14th December 2015 and she is still happily ensconced in our spare room. On several occasions in the last week I have tried putting her outside with the hens and leaving her there for a few hours, but each time they have ignored her and poor little Tweetie ends up out in the cold and this time of year in the west of Ireland it really is cold and wet, very wet.
I have a feeling this where she will remain at least until I can think of some other way to keep our first ever surviving chick alive.
P.S. I am just updating this post to let you know that little Tweetie died a month after I wrote this. I don’t know why, there were no signs of illness – she just didn’t wake up. It is sad, but it is all part of keeping hens and other animals. Nature has its own design and we are just one small part of it.
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