Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Hatchings and musings


One of the hens has gone broody. About ten days ago I went to let them out and found Edith the Welsummer sitting determinedly in the nesting box. I thought she was laying and left her alone. The next day there she was again and sitting in a curious way, her feathers held out so that she looked like a great feathery flatfish. I rang my friend Penny who hatched the hens for us last year.


"Lift her out and see if she goes back in. If you lift her two or three times today and she always goes back then she probably is broody. If she's not serious about it she will get distracted when you lift her and wander off."


So I lifted her and every time she had a quick drink, a couple of peckfuls of corn and beetled determinedly back into the hen house again and settled down. While she was feeding I checked to find she was sitting on four eggs, one of her own and three bantams.
So out came the books and I was on the phone to Penny again. Apparently she needed a broody coop, a quiet place to sit undisturbed and where she and the chicks when they arrived could be separate from the main run. The coop (which is basically a wooden box with ventilation and a lid) doesn't have a floor but sits on the ground as the damp is good for the eggs. Ian made one, tweaking his back in the process, and on day three we moved her in, adding another nine eggs for her to sit on. I know it sounds a ludicrously large amount but that's what the books say a big hen like a Welsummer can sit on.
Now hens are creatures of habit. For the first couple of days she sat happily enough in her box all day but when she was taken out to eat, drink and defecate she clearly had no sense that her eggs were in the box and clamoured to get back into the run and the nesting box. We don't want her to be off the eggs for too long. I have read that up to half an hour is fine but as the time lengthened and she cloc-cloc-clocked nervously, clearly feeling it was time she was back, we decided to let her go where she wanted to be. Then after a few minutes of settling down we lifted her and carried her back, protesting, to the new box where she settled back again.
Then a breakthrough, on about day three in the broody coop she got it and went back in herself and settled down. If you hatch chicks in an incubator you have to turn them five times a day but if the hen does it herself she carefully moves and rearranges them, making sure that the ones on the edge are moved inside and the ones cosily in the middle of the nest have their turn on the outer ring. She has damaged one egg while doing this but she still has twelve.
I find this utterly fascinating, our first very amateurish attempt at raising stock. It will be about another week to ten days before they hatch. Yesterday I was up at the farm next door where my friend has been hatching chicks in the incubator. There were nine which had emerged that day, tiny buddles of fluff cheeping and falling over themselves. The eggs cheep noisily before the chicks break through. I can hardly wait for the sound from our own eggs. I wonder how many we will get?
The weekend has been full of people: younger son and his fiancee, ready to exchange on their new house so they will have it a couple of weeks before the wedding, and elder son and our two year old grandson for the night on Saturday. Ian has been laying the slate floor in the new greenhouse, despite his bad back.
And yesterday another blogger came visiting, exmoorjane a long way from home. I walked out along the track to meet her. A car turned in but didn't slow. That can't be her, I thought, doesn't look right at all and indeed it was someone going to the farm for an interview as a nanny. And then another car and it must be her. She looks just like I thought she would and she stops and I get in and we drive down to our house.
It is hard to find words to describe this sensation again although I have had it now a few times: you are clearly a stranger, we have never met before, we haven't even talked on the phone, yet I know you, I know what has been happening in your life and you know mine. Words fall out. We don't stop talking for four hours until she drives away.
And again there is that strange overlapping of worlds and connection, things that seem like more than co-incidence. I have been concerned since last week about a friend who may have cancer and who wants to turn away from conventional medicine and treat it with diet alone. She is consulting a nutritionist. Jane may be about to work with the same person. It was the same when I met Mountainear and found that she used to live round the corner from me many miles away from where we both now live. When I walked into her house I saw the great Chinese horse I used to see in the window of her other house years ago. I cannot now remember where the quote comes from but for a long time it sat above Ian's desk:"Deep assignments run through our lives. There are no co-incidences."
And today is a quiet day. The wind has dropped and it is still and soft, not quite rain, the green of the valley muted but still rich. There is bread in the oven. Everywhere is very silent. I water in the greenhouse and muse about co-incidences, or the lack of them.

26 comments:

  1. I found your final 2 paragraphs strangely moving - its the second time in so many days that this metaphysical topic has landed in my lap. Curious. I googled and was suprised to learn the words are J G Ballard's.

    Look forward to news of the new arrivals - if you can bring yourself to part with a trio of bantams I'd love to o/fer them a home.

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  2. My grandmother used to raise chickens, and I was always delighted if some hatched while I was visiting. It's quite fascinating to watch.

    There are no coincidences. I truly believe that. Every single thing happens for a reason even though at the time we may have no idea what that is.

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  3. I also like the notion of their being no coincidences. Just this past weekend, I also had an unexpected reunion with someone, and may yet write about it.

    Since I know nothing about raising chickens, other than what I read hereabouts, I am very interested in reading about your broody hen and her brood. I never knew about peeps from eggs before the chicks emerge ... of course it makes sense, but I'd never thought of it.

    Lucky you and Jane, being able to spend that time together!

    xo

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  4. I remeber my boys getting sooooo excited when they heard the eggs cheeping...then watching them 'pip'then having to overcome the urge to help them out ...a no no otherwise the chick may bleed ...but try telling 3 little boys that ......

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  5. love coincidences and squawking over them. Glad you had fun with Jane, what's not to like. Did she stuff her face with cake, dance on the tables and then roll about on her back waving her legs and singing Roll Out The Barrel?? No, oh dear, maybe on her way home she'll drop in and do just that. She will insist on doing it in public I find, so it's best to keep her at home. It's why Adrian insisted that their new house had a cellar.

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  6. I'm so jealous of your chickens. I'd love to keep some but we haven't got the space.
    Sounds like it was a good time meeting jane. I've only met one other cooer but we also found we had lots in common.

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  7. I love coming here and basking in the lush green of your home. Life moves through your space in such a wonderful, wonderful way.

    I hope you get lots of chicks!

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  8. Ooooo listening to your accounts of your hens and broodiness etc brought it all back. I am glad for the time being not to have any chickens - but delighted to be able to share in yours.

    Yes I am not so sure that there are any coincidences . . .

    How lovely to meet Jane. have spoken to her on the phone and followed her blogs etc - so I too feel that I know her and yet not at all . . .

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  9. this is fascinating. i have missed so much of life, being in a city all my years. never seen a hen go broody. never seen a little puffball of a baby chick. never got to meet exmoorjane, either, though i read her writing!

    i do love this blog.

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  10. Firstly, how exciting to be expecting chicks. It sounds quite labour-intensive, though, picking the hen up and bunging her back in the right box every time she forgets about them, but when you look at the size of their heads I suppose you can't really expect much to be going on inside. And how lovely your afternoon with Jane sounds - and amazing about all those coincidences.

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  11. A little shiver ran down my spine when I read the end of your blog.

    Loved hearing about the chickens. I would love to have hens. I reckon you will become completely wrapped up in these chicks when they come! Hope it goes well.

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  12. I once had a hen who raised a little family of Bantams, hatched out the eggs, and one day walked proudly out, with wings protectively outstretched, and four little banties sheltering under them.

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  13. Ahhh, your chicken ministrations have certainly been keeping you busy. I'm sure it will all be fine, and the first time is always going to be the hardest. Soon your eggs will start to Cheep and yellow fluff will be bursting out all over! Lovely too, to read about your meeting with our Jane! Quite envious! Wonderful!

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  14. Lovely, lovely blog, full of my favorite things - chickens, children, friends, and then that wonderful quote re no coincidences. That's how I felt when I met Kat in Peru, only I wished we'd had an entire afternoon to chat.
    I know that you travel a lot with work, and I have, from time to time, imagined how different our travels are in terms of scenery and distance - but we share that love of coming home to the really important things in our lives.

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  15. How lovely, Elizabeth. I have always adored your writing but now it has a deeper resonance having met you and sat in your kitchen and looked at your view and, indeed, seen the incredible flatfish of a hen spread out over eggs. I very nearly 'got' hens looking at your little brood/flock/whatever!
    And oh yes, to synchronicity - always gives me that little shiver down the spine too. Forewarned in my case - so really IS a reason for many things.
    btw, ignore Milla - I do NOT sing Roll out the Barrel - it's always It's a Long Way to Tipperary (stupid girl!).

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  16. Goodness gracious, I never thought I'd write these words, but I was transfixed to read about your chicken exploits. And I totally relate to meeting "virtual" friends - unnerving but good to do. Excellent blog.

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  17. One of our hens has gone broody, so that's very helpful. However, I'm such a wimp I can barely stand touching the hens, so I'm monitoring the situation until Mrs Malc returns tomorrow.

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  18. We raised ducklings once and the excitement was phenomenal! Good luck with yours Elizabeth xx

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  19. I was really fascinated reading this post from start to finish!
    Can't wait to hear about the chicks. My great aunts used to have broody hens in the Lake District & some of the things they told me came back into my mind when I read your post!
    I cannot imagine meeting a fellow blogger! Several of you seem to do it!

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  20. I'm catching up after a rather hectic few weeks. Wonderful insights and verbalisations of feelings I often experience too. Thank you.

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  21. Hi I'm sort of peeking at your blog through mopsa and elizabethm. Living not a million miles away you often touch on topics close to my heart too...
    As for this birthday party - well, I'm speechless, it's totally unbelievable. Materialism and consumerism with a hefty seasoning of celeb wannabe thrown in for good measure – something’s sure spinning out of control.

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  22. uh oh - last comment meant for exmoorjane but I can’t seem to publish comments on her sight - I was frustrated, using the back button and inadvertently published it here...help!

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  23. ok, my dear, you absolutely must click here:

    Birth of a chicken

    to see what those little chicks look like before they hatch.
    amazing photos.

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  24. Lots to think about in this post, Elizabeth, as I often find my echoes of my own life in yours... but not the hens! How goes the new arrivals?

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  25. Thanks for the comment on my blog.

    The welsummer in the photo is so beautiful and so perfect, I have recently acquired some ex battery hens and there is certainly a huge contrast between them and your photo but they are coming along. I used to have Marans and Light Sussex years ago.
    I wonder if you have some chicks by now, I have always wanted to hatch some but have been afraid that I would get too many cockerals.

    I agree with Kaycie, everything happens for a reason.

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  26. Synchronicity :-)

    Look forward to hearing how the chicks get on.

    Zoë

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