Michelle Dunn helps bring some chicks into the world

We all know we shouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch, but when our hen Pots went broody on 14 eggs, I was hoping for a good clutch of chicks. Three weeks later she left her nest with five chicks in tow. Five?! From 14 eggs?

I examined the remaining nine eggs. Three were stone cold, but six of them were still warm from the heat of the chick inside. When I held them to my ear I could hear movement and tapping.

This sometimes happens if hens continue to lay eggs in a broody’s nest. All of the eggs will develop but the oldest eggs hatch several days before the rest are ready. The hen will usually wait a couple of days, but then she will abandon the remaining eggs in order to look after her successfully hatched chicks.

If the abandoned eggs are only a day or so off hatching, it is possible to save some of them. I put the eggs in a dish on top of the warm Rayburn and covered them with a damp cloth to prevent them drying out. For two days I turned the eggs and talked to them. Not only could they hear me, some of them cheeped a response back to me. When they began hatching I carefully helped them out of the shell. This operation can’t be rushed – the chick is still attached to the membrane in the egg and if you rip this before it has properly dried, the chick will bleed to death. It takes several hours for a chick to hatch, and then the new chick must be encouraged, occasionally stroked and kept warm.

I succeeded in hatching five of the six eggs. The five chicks were healthy but needed to learn The Way of The Chicken. Chicks start to bond with their mother when they are hatching, so unless I wanted to rear these chicks myself I needed to get them to bond with Pots. Pots was in a small pen with her five chicks, so I introduced my five chicks after Pots had settled for the evening. Pots attacked me (there’s gratitude for you) but allowed the new chicks to snuggle under her. Within three days I was able to let Pots out with her 10 fully-bonded chicks. Result!

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