Two days ago, I was stirring the poo in the coop and singing Christmas carols in hopes that the agitation of either my voice or the pitchfork would magically turn the muck into heat generating compost. Alas, I found no black gold but there was something there. A peeping squeaking sort of noise that penetrated my radio headphones in a way that said “I am not an atmospheric anomaly. You need to pay attention to me.”
I glanced around thinking the hens had found a mouse and were torturing it, but the hens were mulling about quite tranquilly and there was no sign of the feeding frenzy behavior that erupts in the flock when there is something new and interesting to investigate, mutilate, kill or eat.
The peeping continued. A disoriented starling maybe? One that came into the coop looking for shelter or food and couldn’t find the way out?
I removed the headphone from my ear (I use only one) and now that I could hear in stereo I was able to follow the peeping noise to its source. It was coming from inside the wall. (In the coop there is an outer wall of plywood and an inner wall of political yard signs – the gap between the two is stuffed with hay. There was a small gap in the political signage and then hens had made the most of it. Nestled between the walls, I found 13 eggs and one chick, half a shell still stuck to its butt. It was 32 degrees in the coop and no mother hen in sight.
Knocking the remaining shell off the chick, I warmed it in my bare hands and waited, hoping the mother hen was just out for her morning constitutional. But she didn’t return. This snafu had to have been perpetrated by one of my dopey Dorkings. They love the idea of setting a clutch of eggs, but they are easily distracted and won’t even try to defend a nest. Quite frankly, I’m amazed she spent enough time on the nest to bring one egg to the hatching point.
For the next hour or so I was busy trying to set up housing for my Tuesday surprise. At first I set up one of my brooder tubs in the white room. The first heat lamp I put on it had a burnt out bulb. The second one worked, but the 85 watt bulb that I normally use with these tubs wasn’t throwing off enough heat to compensate for the 45-50 degrees of the room. So I opted for an incubator set up in the house. Most of the work I did with one hand because I really was trying to keep that one chick warm. Sometimes though, I needed both hands free and that chick went into my coat pocket. He took the whole messed up circumstances of his birth with joy and kept peeping away merrily, just happy to be alive.
Once my chick was safely drying off in the incubator, I went back to the coop and collected the remaining eggs and left two duck eggs in their place. Mother still had not returned. The chicken eggs went into the incubator along with my chick. I had everything stabilized by the time I had to leave for an appointment.
By bedtime, Tuesday night, the chick was thoroughly dry and warm and still singing Christmas carols – solo. Not a single one of the other eggs had so much as jiggled. Wednesday morning brought more of the same. The Solo chick, now clearly showing Speckled Sussex chick markings, moved back to the white room Wednesday morning after I ran an extension cord in to power a 250 watt bulb. She would definitely be warm enough, but had only the seedlings to keep her company. The derelict mother was indeed proved to be a Dorking who briefly sat the ducks eggs and then gave up on motherhood altogether.
Wednesday evening, I candled the remaining eggs. Three or four of them were completely dark inside – full grown chicks that were probably dead in the shell. The rest of the eggs were suspect, some showed venous development, others I couldn’t tell. I put the dark eggs on one side of the incubator and all the suspect eggs on the other side, hoping against hope that at least one of those dark eggs would pip.
Thursday morning, one of the “other” eggs exploded. In case you were wondering what that looked like here it is.
It smelled as bad as it looks. A hint of sulfur and a truckload of skank! I tossed the rest of the suspect eggs right away and put three darkies in my other incubator. The first incubator got scrubbed with bleach.
Thursday afternoon, I consulted craigslist and found a fellow an hour from here who had day old chicks. He was selling them for $8 a piece (which is pretty outrageous). But he wasn’t particular about how many chicks I bought as long as I wasn’t particular about what kind I got. So now my Tuesday Surprise has companions.
And here they are – the Speckled Sussex that I found lying abandoned in a bed of hay on a chilly morning and two Silkies that were hatched out in a high tech climate controlled incubator. I have no idea whether they are boys or girls, but already I’ve come to think of them as my Magi. Gaspar, Melchor and Baltazar.