That’s my egg laying chickens I’m talking about. As you, my plucky readers, will recall, my laying hens have endured predator pressure for the past two years, including golden eagles, ravens, puppies, and egg-eating skunks. That’s why I’ve been periodically locking my girls into their coop over the last few months.
The Farm’s version of “shelter in place” was an unqualified success. Once my hens got used to being confined, my egg harvest went from 2 or 3 a day to as many as eighteen. (I have nineteen hens.) While I loved not having to go on an Easter egg hunt, I couldn’t keep them locked in forever. They like grazing and eating bugs and generally running where they want, and I like the eggs this produces. So I once again started letting them out first thing in the morning.
Almost immediately the number of eggs in their coop dropped to under ten. I found eggs under pallets, eggs in the old nesting boxes on the back of what is now the dog house. I found more under the turkey girl nesting in the hayloft over the chicken coop. One chicken girl has chosen the little yellow coop near the pond to lay her egg. That’s when I decided the girls and Tom will now remain locked in until lunch. By eleven, the majority of the hens will have laid their egg in either the corner of the turkey barn or behind the wall made of pallets that I raised to create a private nesting area for the turkey hens.
Needless to say, the chickens use this area because, as I mentioned above, that was not where the turkey girls chose to lay their eighteen eggs. Finding a nest of turkey eggs in the hayloft was one of the big benefits of locking the birds in for a week or so. Prior to incarceration, Tom’s two hens were laying out by the perimeter fence and losing their eggs every night. Locking them in forced them to discover the hayloft. While the hayloft isn’t the best place for a turkey mom to keep her babies— the one year I allowed the turkey girls to lay up there, they lost a number of babies over the edge of the loft—I don’t expect much from these eggs. Last year’s turkey hatch out was only 6 birds from over 2 dozen eggs. I’m definitely not counting my turkeys before they’re hatched.
This, if you remember, is why I ordered turkey poults from the hatchery this year. I figured if I wanted turkeys in the freezer, I was going to have to buy them from someone else. Just as scheduled, sixteen 2-day-old poults arrived last Wednesday. Or rather fifteen live poults arrived. One was dead in the mailing box.
While it’s not uncommon for a baby bird to die in transit, and is the reason most hatcheries send an extra baby or two, the next day I lost two more poults. That had me watching them more closely. There was no pasty butt, and nobody was acting sickly. Instead, over a period of a few hours, one would weaken and stop dashing around like the other hatchlings. Then its legs would visibly splay while standing. Finally, its legs would give out. No amount of heat from the lamp or my vitamin/vinegar water, something that usually brings failing bird babies back to health, helped.
Today, I’m down to a disappointing 9 poults. It’s time to do some research, so I can figure out what might have gone wrong. The only thing I can relate this to is what happens to baby birds if they’re helped out of their shell while hatching. It turns out the struggle to escape their shell is what turns on all their bodily systems and makes them strong enough to survive.
The turkey babies weren’t the only new arrivals on the farm this week. Babs kindled, producing 4 baby bunnies–double the number from last time. They’re all doing well, despite that we seem to have skipped Spring and dropped right into Summer. It’s pushing toward ninety degrees this week! So much for my cilantro and broccoli, which is sure to flower now. Bitsy is due as well but hasn’t yet delivered. I’m driving her crazy because I keep checking the grassy nest she’s built at the back of her home. Each time I alter her careful construct, she gets back to work, changing the opening to the burrow to a new direction.
As if she thinks she can hide it from me? Bitsy, get to work and deliver those babies and I promise you I’ll leave you alone. You, but not your babies. They’re just so darn cute!