Hen of the Year – its a long story!

My Hen of the Year Award goes to the nondescript black hen in the photo.  She has no name but she’s a bit of a hero to me.  “Platinum”, the Silver Laced Wyandotte on the left comes in as runner up.  It’s a bit of a sad story, but with a heartwarming ending.

HensOfTheYear

We have had a bad year for spotted tailed quolls – or a good year I suppose – depending on whether you see it from the poultry’s point of view or the quoll’s.  Quolls are kind of like a fox that can climb trees, seriously efficient little hunters.  One has been systematically working it’s hungry way through any of our poultry that decided on the more adventurous life of roosting on the outside of the electric fence, rather than in the cages provided on the inside.  I had kind of given up on trying to do resolve it this year since we had a few feral birds that would roost 15m up in wattle trees and there was no way I could stop them.  I reasoned that most of them were destined for our bellies anyway, so ending up in a quoll belly wasn’t such a bad thing.  Then of course some of our hens decided to hide their nests and go broody in the bush.  Where possible we have moved hens with their eggs or chicks back into a safe area, but it is surprisingly hard to find where the birds are nesting in our scrubby bush.  You can walk right past them and not see them.  We even lost a couple of turkey hens who had hidden nests, poor things.

Anyway, one morning we had an Araucana hen come out of hiding with a bunch of tiny chicks in tow.  She was near the house and I thought I might be able to find where she was nesting if I watched her closely.  However it was not to be, she managed to disappear again while I was inside and I couldn’t find where she was hidden.  Hope reigns eternal and I figured I would just try the next day.  Then, in the middle of the night, I heard a loud squark.  I charged outside and was just in time to see her in her death throws with a quoll firmly attached to her neck.  He fled in the torchlight but there was nothing I could do for the hen.  Concerned for the chicks I hunted around for a while and managed to find 3 tiny fluffy little things.  What to do with them?  I really didn’t feel like setting up a brooder box at 1am in the morning so I hit on another plan.  Platinum and the black hen had been sitting on eggs which were just in the process of hatching, perhaps I could get them to adopt these newly hatched little ones as well? So I gathered them up, took them down to the chook houses and carefully shuffled them underneath Platinum.  I chose Platinum over the black girl as she is the more placid of the two hens, the black girl is very flighty – and more inclined to peck.

With a wish and a prayer I headed back to bed, but as I got back near the house I heard some sad and soulful peeping in the dark.  More hunting revealed a couple more fluffy chicks and I deposited them with Platinum as well.  This time I decided to have a drink of milk before going to bed so sat in the house for a little while before heading over to the caravan where we sleep.  Once again there was peeping in the dark, so I spend more time fossicking around in the dark finding chicks and delivering them to my patient hen in her box, and that wasn’t the last time!  Finally, around 3:30am I got back to bed, having found and delivered 10 chicks to a nice warm hen with no more peeping to disrupt my own pathway to bed.  It was cool and it rained before dawn, so I was surprised to find yet another 2 chicks looking rather lost and lonely but quite healthy when I got up the next day.  I gathered them up too and managed to put them into the box with their brothers and sisters without disturbing the hens too much.

Over the next day the two hens continued to sit on their own eggs while happily looking after their suddenly expanded family.  They competed a bit, both of them clucking at the fostered chicks to call them over to themselves.  They hatched another 3 chicks of their own.  The black hen was out and about first, so the dozen impostors who were older and more vigorous went off with her, while the 3 younger chicks, being younger and slower, stayed behind with Platinum.  It was all a great success and I was very pleased with the outcome.  The two hens continue to sleep together in their box and the chicks happily shift from one to the other of their foster mothers.

Imagine my annoyance when almost immediately yet another feral chook appeared with her own bunch of tiny fluffies trailing behind her.  One of the chicks was pretty slow moving and the hen left it behind, so we popped it under a lamp for the day to keep it warm and put it under Platinum once she had settled for the night.  She took it under her wing with barely a second thought.  She must think that this is how the whole process works now.  Lydia and I had searched hard and actually managed to find the new hens nest complete with hatched eggs so when it was good and dark, around 9:30pm at this time of year, we trooped out to catch her and shift them all to the safety of inside the electric fence.  It was rather frustrating to find that she had not returned to her nest but had taken up hiding somewhere completely different.  Grrrr!

The next couple of days were busy with the mad rush of Christmas events etc etc and I just didn’t have the time to do anything more about locating and moving the chook and her chicks.  One afternoon, when I went out to feed everything, I realised that I hadn’t set eyes on them all day.  Feeling rather guilty I started a search and sure enough I found a bunch of feathers that were pretty fresh and rather looked like they marked the demise of the mama hen.  I felt pretty bad.  The chicks must have been alone half the night and all that day and further searching failed to reveal any sign of them.  I dwelt upon it as I went back to feeding the stock.  Many possibilities crossed my mind as to their outcome, from being eaten by the quoll after he killed their mum to being taken by crows or currawongs during the day. Moving along I came to the box where Platinum and the black girl were settling in for the night.  I tossed out a handful of grain and the chicks came racing out from under the hens wings to have a snack before bed.  Chicks were everywhere scrambling over each other and ducking back under the hens with grain, and it dawned on me that there were more than the usual 16.  Sure enough, another 8 had been added to the number so 24 chicks were now comfortably snuggled up with our two foster hens!

I remembered then that I had seen the black hen that morning out and about with her chicks not far from where I found the feathers of the deceased mama hen.  She must have heard the lost chicks peeping first thing and gone out and gathered them all up.  It warmed my heart to think about it!  Such a great hen.  So since then she has been taking her 20 chicks out with her during the day.  It is a bit of a challenge to fit them under her wings at night, but Platinum is happy to share the workload and she keeps some of them warm under her too.  So, these girls have earned my appreciation and respect and a whole email dedicated to them.  🙂

We have now fenced in the large area between our two chook runs, so the mama hens can keep their growing chicks in there.  We are hoping this will mean that we finally have all our poultry under control, and that the new generation will learn to roost within the fencing rather than up whopping big trees.  Also all the adult hens are restrained within fencing too now so no-one can go and nest in the bush!  If they go broody we can choose to let them sit or to break them from the mood instead.  That is the plan anyway, we’ll wait and see what the reality brings.

I’m finishing with a family photo of us with all of our old VWs.  We are considering the possibility of selling a couple of them so I thought I should commemorate the fact that we currently own them, as the situation may not last for long.

Happy New Year

Cathy

Family2013         FamilySilly2013

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