Friday, June 15, 2012

Broody Beasties

Spring isn't exactly busting out all over here, but babies are... sort of.

Before we left for our road trip, we put my very critter savvy cousin in charge of our chickens, goats and bunnies. And just like a child does when left with a sitter, my babies decided to use this opportunity to do something completely out of character and negate all of my pre-vacay  preparations, by choosing that one eventuality for which I was not prepared - my girls went all kinds of broody.

The majority of our flock (besides the old biddys) are around 15 months old. That means that this is only the second Spring of their lives, and the first one during which they were fertile. Add to that my genius move re: bringing home days old baby chicks from the feed store to sneak under an amiable Mama bird for raising, way back in April. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was fanning the flames of passion in my hens, particularly the Australorps, many of whom caught baby fever in a BIG way.

We had just one laydie sitting when we left. A plump and cranky 'Lorpie named Blackberry who got very puffy and growly when we came anywhere near her. She would sooner die than give up her eggs! That being said, every second or third day, we'd find that she'd eaten one of two of the eggs (Ew.), presumably because she wouldn't leave her eggs for any length of time or for any reason at all, including eating and drinking to keep herself alive. We tried bringing pellets, water and water soaked stale bread to her, to see her through this all-encompassing bout of urgent maternity. She sat and sat. Weeks went by, no babies. But it was just the one hen, so it was harmless, right?

Yeah, no.

By the time we got back, there were 6 hens sitting and mountains of eggs. We had 2 Ameracaunas and one Australorp sharing a single nest box, crammed head to tail in there, each parked on top of 10 or so eggs. Were there any chicks to be had for all this trouble, any? Nope. Not a one.

But there was something, oh yes indeed, there was something.

The smell. Dear God, the smell.

On a warmish, windy day, the breeze would carry the funk to the trampoline, where the girls merrily bounced. Until the evil blast hit, that is, then they'd come running inside, coughing and whining.

Think about it - near on 3 weeks or a month since the coop was mucked, dozens and dozens (maybe a hundred?) rapidly aging, Mama-warmed eggs, and 6 hens eating, sleeping and pooping in the same place for 3 weeks or a month - this is a recipe for epic stank if ever there was one.

I, of course, was in the very beginning stages of recovering from my car accident, and therefore was of no help at all, except to suggest that maybe it was time to transfer the eggs to our incubator for whatever time remained of their gestation, and release our hennies from their self-imposed bondage. I'd read that dipping (or dunking) a broody hen in cool/cold water "resets" her by lowering her body temperature, which naturally increases while sitting, thus breaking the spell and freeing our gals to eat and poop in new locales. How was I supposed to know that Bill would take my drug-induced, second-hand farm babble as gospel?

Well, he did. On Sunday, Bill dunked the hens while the kids clumsily moved eggs from nest to incubator. A few rotten eggs were discovered in the process, a few of which were broken inside the house. And we'd thought that the hot funk wind had been bad...

The eggs that were somehow deemed hatch-worthy were crammed into the incubator and set to finish "cooking" in the back room.

Today was the fourth, and last, day inside. The smell near the incubator had been funky. As of this afternoon, it was a gag-worthy, sulfury, toxic cloud that overtook our house. Not having had any hatch, wiggle or show other obvious signs of life, we ditched the lot. :(

A large can of Lysol and some liberally applied white vinegar spray later, our air is almost back to normal. The hens are coming back to life as if woken from a long, half-forgotten dream, with no detectable traces baby envy left whatsoever.

That's the chickens. Geniuses they are not, but (mostly) sweet none the less.

We also had our pregnant Alpine doe kid during this same fertile frenzy - a single, big, fat healthy buckling.

He was born at my cousin's place, as she very generously offered to take a very pregnant Sidney and her half sister, (unfortunately not pregnant) Sophie, home for the kidding. Sid's little guy will not come home with our girls, as he will be given to the breeder as payment for the stud fee. But - we get a sweet doe in milk in the bargain, so all's well that ends well.

So goes our second Spring of living in the Hollow. Summer, if it ever arrives should be...interesting.