Baby Transplants

I apparently have a rare and unusual little hen on my hands. Follow, the broody hen in the coop, hatched an egg last night! That’s not really all that unusual, though. The unusual part is that she accepted a “baby transplant” in broad daylight, without me being sneaky. You see, the accepted method of getting a broody hen to accept chicks she didn’t hatch herself is to wait until the dead of night (as in, when you and the hens are all so tired you wish you were dead), sneak into the coop with a flashlight covered by a washcloth, and stealthily remove as many eggs from under your hen as you are placing chicks under her.

Yeah, that wasn’t gonna fly with this crowd. First of all, there ain’t no sneakin’ up on Follow. I’m fairly certain she neither sleeps nor eats. Secondly, I don’t do “middle of the night” things unless there’s an emergency, and I don’t like chicks to be an emergency. They’re very breakable. However, there is a strong possibility that if the mama hen doesn’t accept the transplanted chicks, she will straight up kill them. That complicates matters.

So, I did what I do best: improvise. See, not only does the mama hen have a chance of killing the babies, the rest of the flock can become aggressive and kill them. I had to move Follow out of the coop and into the brooder. I accomplished this by filling the bottom of a three gallon bucket with pine shavings, yanking Follow off of her nest, and then hurriedly putting the eggs and chick from her nest into the bottom of the bucket. Follow wasn’t pleased. She fluffed up, growled, and then scrambled to get INTO the bucket, which worked out. I then transported three gallons of eggs, chick and pissed off chicken across the yard, into the shed, and into the brooder.

I put her, and the bucket, into the brooder, and tipped it on its side so it would function as a nest box. As soon as I did that, Follow saw the food and water I’d put out for her and the chicks, and went crazy eating and drinking. She was… distracted. Hmm.

I ran into the house, grabbed the little cardboard box with the two chicks inside (Casanova crosses, hatched out by a gal who wanted to try incubation for the first time!), and carefully ran back to the shed with a box full of terrified and peeping chicks. I had read that, rather than bonding by smell like mammals, chickens bond by sound – well, there was a lot of chicks shouting “Mama, help! Mama! Mama!” so we had the sound thing going.

In the ensuing distraction and mild chaos, I removed the rest of the eggs in the box (five, because Follow is a consummate egg thief) and put in the two new babies. Follow kept eating, and drinking, and more or less ignored the babies. I held my breath, waiting for some horrible nightmare of dead baby chicks to happen – but it never did. Experimentally, I put the babies on her back. She gave *me* the stinkeye, but ignored the babies. I reached in to mess with the babies some more, and received a growl. I could no longer tell which baby was hers. I don’t think she could, either.

The new babies weren’t entirely sure what to do with the big fluffy thing in the brooder with them, but when I put them on her back, they were quite pleased and snuggled in readily. I watched for probably 20 minutes, and Follow actually started to give all three babies some of the grubs I’d put in for a treat!

Transplant successful. Hot damn. Seriously, seriously unusual for a hen to just… accept chicks. Follow gets all the grubs she wants from now on, man! I can breathe easily for a while – well, until I realized that I now need to make an enclosure to reintroduce Follow and her babies to the flock when they get older. That can wait, though. That’s enough excitement for one day.


Why Rabbits Didn’t Work For Me (And How that’s OK)

It’s incredibly difficult for me to admit I can’t do something. When I decide something should happen, it takes more effort to stop me than it does to just… help me do it right. My husband calls it being “bloody minded,” and it’s one of my defining characteristics.

However, it goes hand in hand with one of my other defining characteristics, which is… impatience. When I want something, I want it NOW, and in conjunction with the bloody mindedness? Well. Sometimes, that ends up with friends pulling up in a truck, delivering 15 rabbits while we frantically scrabble together makeshift cages for them as they’re being unloaded.

Fast forward through the winter, and I have learned more about rabbits than ever before in my life. I have learned how to sex them, how to breed them, how to do basic veterinary care, feed them, supplement that feed, clean cages, crossbreed correctly, butcher, store and prepare them.

I have also learned, however, that I definitely didn’t know the finer details of what makes an efficient setup, and in the process learned that I can spend up to an extra hour a morning on a frozen day making sure four extra pens have accessible water. I have learned that some of them are better housekeepers than others, and that some dumb bunnies poop where they’re supposed to sleep no matter what you do (and as a result, how to care for a rabbit yeast infection). I learned that even though family members are incredibly supportive of what I do, not everything that I find acceptable is to them as well. A lot of people put rabbits into the same category of animals as kitties or dogs, and the idea of eating bunnies is distasteful.

I also learned that, on a scale of poop stink, rabbits are horrible. And that meant that the weekly cleanings of their cages did not get done on a weekly basis, because the way the rabbit cages were set up meant that I was using my hands instead of a shovel – and poop at the end of a shovel is far preferable to poop in a trowel just at the end of your arm.

All of this aside, though, what it really came down to is that I wasn’t enjoying the rabbits. I had no desire to write a blog called ‘Rabbits of Our Lives,’ and I definitely didn’t go play ukulele to them on clear days when I need to practice in front of an audience. I wasn’t able to walk into their enclosure, sit down with them, and watch them interact with each other like I am with chickens and goats. In the end, that’s really what matters: you have to love the experience of farming, or you’re not going to succeed. As far as rabbits were concerned, I was failing. I mean, I kept them reasonably clean, fed and checked them twice a day, and kept them healthy, but that was the end of it. There was no joy.

So I put an ad out in one of the myriad farming groups to which I belong, and within a day, my offer of rabbits and their hutches was taken up. This last weekend we drove out to meet the couple, who took the whole kit, and we drove away empty handed. And it was really freeing. Now that the rabbits are gone, I feel a huge relief. My mornings are a joy again – the most aggravating part is waiting for the lady goats to finish their breakfasts before going back into the pen – and I am done in 20 minutes if all I’m doing is basic maintenance.

If I do rabbits again, I will be doing it very differently than I did – but I don’t really feel the need. Hubby and I have agreed to try a different approach to meat animals – namely, chickens – and so until that stops working, we’re just going to focus on the systems we have in place. And maybe get an alpaca. Or a sheep. We’ll see.