Thursday, July 06, 2006

Chickies and Duckies

This past Tuesday, we picked up our last batch of chickens and ducks for the year. We wouldn't have ordered more ducks if the previous batch had survived. The combination of cold weather, a lousy mommy hen, and having to go to fifth grade camp conspired together to kill off a bunch of our babies. One Indian Runner duck out of six survived, and about half of the meat chickens survived. All of the leghorns (egg-layers) survived, though.

But I'll back up a bit.

Maybe a week before the chicks were due, I collected the two broody hens that have been trying to hatch eggs in the manger and put them into Lucky Lollie the collie's old dog house.

Whoops... I forgot to mention that the chicken-eating varmint, Lucky, died a couple weeks ago. No, I didn't have anything to do with it. She appears to have died of old age. She has been laid to rest in our garden, and there are flowers growing on her grave.

So, her pen has been put back to use as a chicken pen. All of the chickens (and one surviving duck) from the previous batch have been installed into the pen. I have a hanging feeder and waterer, along with a deep dish of water so that the duck can clean her beak. Ducks like to dip their beaks about up to their eyeballs and clean all the snot and dirt out.

So, everyone has been installed and seems to like the pen better than that big brooder. The broiler chicks are getting big, and could be processed into 'Cornish Hens' right now. Some are even too big for that.

So, next time you see a 'Rock Cornish Hen' in the grocery store, know that it's probably a Cornish Rock chicken (maybe a rooster) that's maybe a month old.

The broilers are big and fat, but the little leghorn pullets can still fit through the wires. I really need to get some twistie ties and hook chicken wire to the lower part of the pen.

Here is a picture of Paul and Gabe with a leghorn, a meat chicken, and an indian runner duck. They are all the same age.

Paul (on the left) has a leghorn and a meat chicken. Gabe (on the right) has the half-grown indian runner duck.

The duck is running around happily, but I'm sure that she'll be happier with more ducks. Right now, she's the odd bird out. She's too big for anyone to pick on, though.

I tossed some hay into the old doghouse and put two dozen eggs in the middle. Then, I grabbed the two broody hens out of the goat manger (a buff orpington and a white rock) and tossed their fluffy tails in there. I locked them in for a day (blockaded the door), then let them out. They are now happily stuck like glue to their eggs. They're essentially sharing a nest, and will also share the chicks. It isn't uncommon at all for birds to do that. I'll be sure to get some good pictures once they hatch.

But Tuesday, we went and picked up another dozen broiler chicks, plus six Indian Runner ducks. I have always wanted Indian Runner ducks. What's not to like about an animated bowling pin? Seriously, they have a long body, and they run around with their bodies in an upright position.

The first thing I did was to get an old dog cage and put it in the pen. I put some hay in it, put a tarp over it, and installed yet another broody that had been trying to hatch eggs in the nest boxes. I stuck all the broiler chicks under her. She seems to have accepted them but isn't doting on them like a mother hen should. It might be because the broilers have probably had lots of instincts bred out of them -- including the ones that allow a chick to respond to its mother. They kind of wander the pen separately. I blame it more on the chicks than the hen because buff orpingtons are supposed to make very good mothers.

They seem to all be doing better now, as you can see.

Anyhow, I had locked them into the dog crate the first night and the next day. I let them out yesterday, and they mostly all made it back last night. I had to help a couple babies get into the cage and under mommy. I just checked them now and they are all in the cage. They aren't under the cluck, though. I think it's too cold for them to be out from under the hen, but they must have a different opinion.

Now, the ducks were a different story.

I put a black australorp hen on some duck eggs quite a while back. They disappeared, but the dumb cluck just kept sitting on the bare nest.

So, when the chicks and ducks arrived, I moved the dog house she was using as a broody house into the chicken pen. I put some food and water in it, installed the baby ducks, and blocked it off. We kept an eye on everything until it started to rain. Actually, the rain didn't deter us as much as the hail.

As soon as the hail ended, Paul went out to check on things. He came back broken-hearted with a limp duck in his hands. The hen had pecked it to death.

I went out and found another baby duck that was almost gone. I was trying to decide whether to try to save it (its skull was exposed) or kill it when it died on its own. So, I had to dig another grave in the garden.

That leaves us with four Indian Runners and a Rouen duck that someone else had failed to pick up.

I really wanted to throw that hen as hard as I could against a tree. What a lousy mommy! Instead, I just tossed her out of the pen and had Paul collect the surviving (and mostly unhurt) ducklings and put them into a box for now. Meanwhile, I prepared the brooder. It's still out in the garage because Mary suggested that we put them into that same little red bucket that we have used since we started raising poultry. They will soon outgrow it, though, and end up in the bigger brooder. I have to make sure that the bigger brooder is cat-proof before putting them in.

So there we are... six leghorn pullets and about a dozen fat little broilers in the pen. Another dozen broiler chicks are under a buff orpington hen right now. The black australorp that I had tossed out of the pen is back in -- installed upon a batch of guinea eggs (she probably won't hatch them, either, but I'll give her a chance). The ducks are here in the living room peeping. Soon, they will be big enough to go out and run around. Meanwhile, the kids are doing their best to turn them into pets. I hope they succeed.


I had started writing this a few days ago, but decided to post it after I got some more pictures.

A few things have happened since then. The saddest thing is that I suggested to Paul and Gabe that they toss the old water out of the little wading pool that the ducks use and refill it. Then, I asked them to get me so that we could let the baby ducks try their webbed feet.

The part they forgot about is "get me". Also, they thought that the ducks would like a bubble bath, so they added soap.

The end result is that three ducks drowned. I'm not sure how, with the kids right there. I suspect that they put three in, then went to get the others. Meanwhile, the soap in the water caused the natural oil to go away, and soaked the feathers. I was really bummed, and the kids were heart-broken. A lesson learned, for sure.

So, we have the original two Pekin ducks (big white things named Walter and Wilma Waddleduck), the half-grown indian runner duck, the baby indian runner duck, and the baby rouen duck. That'll have to do for now. I guess there's always next year.

Meanwhile, the two babies do seem to be rather tame. They have imprinted on us humans.

As I have mentioned before, the meat chickens grow a whole lot faster than the egg laying breeds -- especially the leghorn.

Here is Paul with the old pekin drake -- Walter Waddleduck.


Blogger Chickpea said...

Wow, some hard lessons learned. It sounds like your boys have good hearts, though, even if they need to learn a thing or two about ducks (and following dad's instructions precisely). Still - rubber ducks float perfectly well in a bubble bath. I can easily see why they thought the ducklings would be at home in a bubble bath.

4:35 PM  

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